Colorado church embraces Myanmar refugees
While Pastor Chuck Hayes was praying for God to open doors to multicultural ministry in his community, Taw Taw Soe was praying that God would lead his family to the right church in their new town of Greeley, Colorado.
Soe and his family settled in the United States after spending years in a refugee camp in Thailand during a civil war in their home, Myanmar’s Karen State.
After a positive and welcoming first visit to Greeley First Church of the Nazarene, Soe returned with his immediate family. On the third Sunday, he had about a dozen people with him. Soon, he was bringing up to 35 Karen-speaking people each Sunday.
Hayes had initially prayed for an open door among Spanish-speaking people in Greeley, but when the Karen-speaking group kept growing, Hayes realized that God was opening the door there.
First Church is now home to nearly 100 Karen-speaking immigrants, most of whom are refugees. With Hayes’ blessing, Soe started a Sunday afternoon Bible study in the Karen language because most of the adults still struggle with English.
“That slowly morphed into a worship service on Sunday afternoon,” Hayes said. “It kept growing. The board even voted at one point to give up our English-speaking worship time at 10:30 so the Karen could hold a service then. They said, ‘No, we like 1 p.m.’”
Today, the Karen-speaking group is almost as large as the English-speaking group. Some were already Christians, but others came to the United States with traditional faiths and are giving their lives to Jesus Christ through First Church’s ministry.
About 40 of the Karen attendees have become members of the denomination, and a number of them have been baptized, including a man from another faith who got baptized last Sunday. Another Karen member recently received a local pastor’s license.
Soe closely studied the Church of the Nazarene’s doctrine and Articles of Faith, and he is now working through the Nazarene Course of Study toward ordination as a Nazarene elder.
Hayes and Soe envision a future when the two groups become one.
“I think God will do everything in His own time,” Soe said. “I think we can grow, and in a few years we can probably even have the same service instead of two different services.”
A number of Nazarene churches across the United States are experiencing a movement of God among growing populations of refugees. Like Southside Church of the Nazarene in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Greeley church has blended its children and youth programs.
Some of the Karen teens and young adults have switched to attending the English-speaking worship service, and some of the English-speaking attendees attend the Karen service and help to run the sound system or PowerPoint.
“They welcome us as much as they can and they encourage us,” Soe said of the English-speaking congregation and leadership. “God is pouring out His Holy Spirit among us here, between the Karen and English [members].”