Karen Church in Louisville, Ky., celebrated a happy occasion on Sabbath, February 16, 2019, as their company was officially organized as the Louisville Karen Seventh-day Adventist Church, with 76 charter members. They were welcomed as the 99th church in the sisterhood of churches in the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference. Steve Haley, Conference president, and Steve Rose, vice president for administration, presided over the celebration. Stanley Chit, an ordained pastor with 40 years experience in the Myanmar Union, has been their pastor since 2018. He is assisted by head elder Be Hsee Arrow, and treasurer Mee Mee Tun.
The Karen people began arriving in Kentucky as refugees and immigrants from Myanmar, also known as Burma, 10 to 15 years ago. They tried worshipping at English-speaking churches, but did not clearly understand the language. Members contacted Jimmy Shwe, who had been their pastor with the Thailand Mission and is now a spiritual mentor of the scattered refugee Adventists in North America, and asked him to visit them in 2012. Training was held, and members were organized to worship in their own language.
By 2013 they were recognized by the Conference as the Louisville International Company with about 40 members. They were warmly welcomed to worship at the Louisville Korean Church. With the assistance of local Karen leaders, dedicated volunteers, and Korean brethren who gave both spiritual and financial support, the group has grown to include about 100 in attendance each Sabbath. The average age of this congregation is well below 40, and it includes almost 60 children and youth. None of these youth have yet had the privilege of attending Adventist schools.
Due to a long civil war, many Karen people fled to primitive refugee camps on the Thailand border where they lived for decades. Their children grew up knowing only refugee life. Between 2005 and 2010, thousands of Karen refugees were accepted for resettlement to the United States, which included hundreds of faithful Adventist believers. They have had to learn a new way of life in the United States, including a new language. Their faith and the response of the Adventist Church in North America has helped in this transition. Karen refugees can be found scattered across North America, and Adventist Karen believers have 55 worship groups in 23 states and Canada. The Louisville group is the fourth to be recognized as an official conference church. These groups grow in numbers, tithe, and offerings when they are empowered to worship in their language with their own leaders.
Traditionally, the Karen refugees were spirit worshippers or Buddhists, but large numbers responded to the Gospel message given by pioneer missionary Eric B. Hare, who established schools and training centers. Today many Karen refugees are faithful third- or fourth-generation Adventists. They are one of many people groups in Southeast Asia who have a distinct language and culture, but do not have their own country.
Adventist Refugee and Immigrant Ministries (ARIM) assists church planting efforts in North America among refugee and immigrant groups from the least reached parts of the world.
Kentucky-Tennessee | April 2019