Tribal Christians Find New Life in U.S.

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More than 1,200 political prisoners are in jail and torture is severe and widespread in Burma, a country that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has recently called on the U.N. Security Council to consider action against its government.

The military government is also responsible for the destruction of more 3,000 tribal villages in eastern Burma since 1996 and the displacement of more than a million people.

Those tribal people, called the Karen, are Christian and they've been living in refugee camps in Thailand. Recently CBN's Chuck Holton followed the journey of one Karen family from a Thai refugee camp to their new home in the U.S.

The Htoo family is part of a tribe called the Karen, which lives in the mountains of northern Burma. The tribe is primarily Christian, thanks to the efforts of American missionaries in the 1850's.

Just after World War II, the country of Burma was taken over by a Buddhist military dictatorship. Since then, the government has engaged in genocidal persecution of the Christian ethnic minorities within their borders.

The Karen tribe is one such people group. And they've been fighting to defend their people since 1947, making their struggle the longest running civil war today.

Christian World News first met the Htoo family in February at their home in the Thai refugee camp at Mae La. Their daughter, named Mercy, learned English at an American-run school outside the camp. When asked why the Karen are still fighting the Burmese, Mercy answered this way:

"If you do not have a country, some people look down on you, they think you are nothing. So my people, they fight for our freedom, and I pray that they will have freedom soon."

After years of lobbying, the U.S. government agreed to allow up to 10,000 refugees from Burma to resettle in the U.S. Saw Yet Htoo and his family were thankful to be among those chosen.

They had just arrived at their new home in Fort Wayne, Indiana when I caught up to them a second time. And Mercy was very excited to show me around her new apartment.

CWN: So show me your kitchen.

Mercy: This is our refrigerator.

CWN: You have a refrigerator. Are you excited about that?

Mercy: Yeah!

CWN: Have you ever had one before?

Mercy: No.

CWN: Do you know how to use it?

Mercy: No. We just put stuff in it.

But more exciting than a new house is the chance to feel something they've never felt before.

"We are very happy; we can go anywhere we like. It is freedom," Mercy said.

Catholic Charities is a faith-based initiative that helps these refugees get settled, arranging housing, jobs and education. Aun Young Tune was once a refugee himself, but now works with Catholic Charities in Fort Wayne, where there is already a small community of Karen.

He says there are about 3,000 refugees from Burma in Fort Wayne.

Learning to speak English is only one of the challenges these families face. Another is transportation, because they have a very difficult time getting driver's licenses.

As part of the arrangement, these families must find work and eventually repay the cost of their resettlement. But to do that, they have to find jobs - a daunting task for someone who hasn't been allowed to work for decades.

In the meantime, Saw Yet worries about the fate of the Karen back in Burma.

"I hope to make enough money to go back to my country someday and help my Karen people," Saw said.

Though excited about the challenges that lay ahead, these Karen refugees may find integrating with American society one of the most difficult things they've ever done.

 

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Chuck Holton

Chuck Holton

Christian World News

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