June 6, 2008

Although I don't have such an exciting summer travel itinerary as some of my colleagues, I am finding that when I open my eyes and heart to what God is saying, I am able to see more and more ways to embrace the multicultural community right on my doorstep - sometimes literally.

I'd like to introduce you to my friends, of whom I am an admirer. When you see them, you may not know the stories they carry with them, the long history of faith and hope, the hearts of courage and loyalty. You are more likely to notice that some of the children are wearing pajama pants although it is early afternoon. You may wonder about the crude tattoos scratched onto a man's forearm, and you will very likely find it odd that he appears to be wearing a skirt. But when you offer a simple, cheerful "hello" and look into the man's face, you will receive such an unexpected gift. The smile, while slow coming, is worth the wait.

Since July 2007, I have had one of the most significant experiences of my life in meeting the Karen people, who now form a unique mini-village in the heart of downtown Langley. The Karen (pronounced Kaw-REN) are one of the larger indigenous people groups in Burma. However, the majority of the people who now live in Langley have spent most if not all of their lives in refugee camps on the Thai border. The young adults, teens, and children know no other life, their parents having fled the world's longest civil war in modern history and the genocide of their people. Running from their villages and farming communities, leaving behind a quiet pastoral life, the men, women and children suffered unspeakable, unthinkable persecution, actions I wish I had never even read about. Many headed for the jungles where they went into hiding, using the denseness of the forest and the secrecy of caves to provide shelter. They brought with them a few meager possessions, for many, their Bibles and their hymn books. Food was scarce; most days they lived on boiling bamboo into a soup and eating out of leaves. The Thai government would only allow the refugees to enter camps if they could hear the assault of gunfire, so the families waited in the nearby jungle and then risked their lives yet again when the firing came near.

After spending 20 or more years in the refugee camps - an entire generation -- the Karen people finally received a welcome from numerous countries in the UN, and Surrey, BC accepted the first group in November 2006. Now, over 200 people live in Langley, and more are on their way. Langley has gained the reputation for being the place to be. Who would have thought?

And now, the story of the Karen people, once so far removed from me, crosses paths with my story and we build new chapters together. So what am I doing this summer? I am excited to work as a volunteer and advocate for the Karen, and with a different pace in my summer teaching, to dedicate some of my time and expertise as a language teacher and program designer to being an active member of my community and theirs.

Sometimes the doorbell rings, and a small group of Karen boys greets me with their quiet smiles. They call and wave to my two sons, and then off they all go, hockey sticks in hand. The children need no shared language: hockey and laughter are universal.


Last updated Jun. 6th, 2008 at 4:23pm by Melinda Dewsbury