Since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth to escape religious persecution, America has been a haven for refugees. This year alone, the U.S. has welcomed more than 70,000 of them.
As a result of decades of political violence, hundreds of thousands of the Karen people, the largest ethnic minority in Myanmar (formerly Burma), have been forced to flee the country. In 2007, the U.S. began allowing approximately 15,000 of them to resettle in America every year.
To accommodate these numbers, the U.S. government has depended on non-profit groups — mainly religious organizations and churches — to help the Karen and other refugee populations assimilate into American culture. This has been an enormous opportunity for the church to extend Christ’s welcome to the outcast.
One church in Greensboro, N.C., has done just that. In response to the influx of 3,000 refugees in their community, Friendly Avenue Baptist Church decided to sponsor one Karen family by helping them with basic needs, such as transportation, apartment set-up and language assistance.
Soon the church had three refugee families coming every Sunday and decided it was time to plant a church for those who spoke Karen. Over the course of the next two years, the church plant grew to 200, as word spread that Friendly Avenue really was friendly, a place where outsiders felt welcome.
Bryan Presson, 20-year missionary in Thailand and pastor of the Karen church, noticed that language barriers often forced his congregants to take low-paying jobs in factories located hours from their homes. And cultural illiteracy made them vulnerable to phone or mail scams. And they frequently faced prejudice and scorn from neighbors who weren’t excited about sharing jobs and resources in a downturned economy.
To read more about how this church multiplied justice for refugees, click here.