There was a morning in the little Karen church in Suan Pueng a few years ago that I finally came to a deeper understanding of the plight of the refugee. A few of the youth were standing in front of the church singing a Thai worship song, and the words cut deeply into my heart. Not for myself, but for the girls that were singing it.
The song was a prayer, asking God to 'heal our land', and it was then that I began to think about what it must feel like to not have a land to call your own. Not a piece of land, that's your own, purchased with money that can be worked for, but a land that accepts you as it's citizens and gives you the rights that should be granted to citizens of every country. The Karen are not citizens anywhere and many that live in this particular village come out of the refugee camp nearby, some having lived there for more than 10 years before finally coming out and living in Thailand.
We have known the people of this particular Karen congregation for around 4 years now. They are our brothers and sisters. We love their children as our own. Everyone that visits them is blessed by just being with them. They are a beautiful people, with hearts that reflect more of the heart of Jesus in their hospitality than can be explained in words - but anyone that has been there knows what I am talking about, because it is an experience that blows you away and changes your own heart forever.
When we met the people of this village, we had no idea that they had in fact just been through a very traumatic situation. Many months later, they shared this experience with us, and our hearts broke for them. The church that they worship in is a bamboo structure typical of the Karen people. However, bamboo structures are usually supposed to be replaced every 2-3 years and theirs has been around for almost 8 years and they have never been able to afford to replace it. The roof leaks, the benches are falling apart, there are holes in the stage - and most importantly, the church was built on borrowed land. When we met them, they had almost saved enough money to finally purchase a piece of land to be able to build a new, more permanent, more stable church building. The week before we arrived in their village for the first time, someone ran off with the money, never to be seen again.
It has been a long journey since then as we have walked alongside them through this situation. We challenged them to raise the money themselves as a congregation for the land again - through tithes and offerings from the minimal wages that they receive working in construction. We rejoiced with them when they were able to purchase the land last year. We came together in faith with them and found sponsors for the church toilets - the very first thing that was built on the land just a few months ago.
Late last year we were approached by a school in Bangkok that wanted to get involved in a construction project and we suggested this one. We will be starting the foundations with them next week and building some of the wall surrounding the church property.
This is so exciting for us and we know that even though they are not citizens in this land, or any land - having their own permanent church structure, on their own land that they as a church have purchased, is something very special indeed. They themselves are the church, and it is not any building or structure or government that can dictate their worship of God. Yet, we long to worship together with them in their new church building when it is finished :to rejoice in the faithfulness of the God who has brought us together as one family, across borders and cultures and regardless of language barriers and financial difficulty and lack of citizenship.
We will begin the foundations in faith, but we need partners to come alongside us and help us to join with our Karen brothers and sisters in this vision. They together as a church have raised a lot of money from their small salaries to purchase the land and begin the building. In order to finish the entire church building, we, together with the church will need to raise up to 850,000 Baht ($26,000).
Would you consider being a partner of something so special? If you have visited this village and would like to give something back to them as a community, this is your chance.
If you have never visited them, we challenge you to give towards this church as a step in faith that maybe, just maybe one day you may make it here to meet these beautiful people.
Every amount will help us to make this a reality. If you would like to give towards this project, you can do so here, (please make sure to specify in the note that the amount needs to go to the 'Karen church' and notify us by email so that we can correctly allocate the donation)
Alternatively donations can be made to:
please send checks payable to "YWAM Montana" to:
"YWAM Montana, 501 Blacktail Rd., Lakeside, MT 59922, U.S.A.".
Please don't write anything else on the check and include a separate note indicating that your donation is for "Project 3551, YWAM Ratchaburi".
(if you donate via YWAM Montana, please send us a note when you have made the donation so that we can allocate it to the church building).
(Photo credit: Karina Palamarchuk)