From turmoil to a new beginning

A GROUP of almost 30 Karen people added a different dimension for last Sunday's worship at Kerang Baptist Church. 

The Karen group sung in their native tongue during the Baptist Church service.

The Karen group sung in their native tongue during the Baptist Church service.

Karen people are an ethnic minority, displaced by ongoing turmoil in Myanmar, commonly still called Burma.

The Karen visitors largely referred to the country as Burma.

That nation has experienced over 70 years of continuous conflict, with racially based division continuing to fuel one of the world's longest running civil wars.

A number of the group visiting Kerang spent years in refugee camps in Thailand, including pastor Yo Shu Johnson who was born in and grew up in one of those camps.

Mr Johnson met Kerang Baptist Church's current pastor Bob Field at an 'ordination retreat' and it was their friendship that led to the invitation for the group to travel from Melbourne for the day.

He presided over much of the service, sharing his story with parishioners. 

Although Pastor Johnson's parents came from Burma, he has never had the opportunity to visit the country as he would not be safe there.

He said he could not have imagined he would become a pastor in Australia. 

He also shared his belief in the power of prayer.

A highlight was hearing the group sing two songs in the Karen language, producing a moving and melodic wave of sound.

The visit was enlightening for local parishioners, particularly the speech given by youth pastor Du Way.

Born in Burma, he lived in a Thai refugee camp from the age of 14 after fleeing there with his parents.

By the time he came to Australia in 2009, Du Way had spent half his life in the refugee facility.

Although grateful for the assistance offered there, he explained the food was far from plentiful and was largely limited to rice, yellow beans, fish paste and chilli.

"Sometimes I'm thinking my life will be ending in this camp," he said.

He did the best he could there, receiving an education.

Du Way said educational opportunities were limited and as soon as he finished the available schooling he automatically became a teacher for younger members of the camp community.

He found his way to Australia following a year-long process that included an interview and a health check and eventually the granting of a visa.

He expressed his gratitude to Australia and the Australian Government.

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