Bethel Hosts Herald Vision Conference for Chin Refugees
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Bethel College recently hosted nearly 550 Chin Burmese youth and young adults for the Herald Vision Conference of the Chin Baptist Church USA, which is made up of 82 churches across the United States. This was the first conference of its kind to be held in the United States. Attendees, ranging in age from 15-25, were primarily refugees who came to America to escape religious persecution in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma).
Participants came from all over the country, but a majority was from right here in Indiana, which is home to the largest population of Chin Burmese refugees in the United States. According to the Burmese American Community Institute (BACI), there are approximately 38,000 Chin Burmese refugees in the U.S. with 8,000 of them settling in Indianapolis.
Conference attendees gathered and worshipped freely together, something they do not take for granted, given the consequences of doing so in their home country.
“In the United States, human rights are valued,” says Conference Director David Thawma, who, with his family, has been in America about seven years. “That is not the case in Myanmar.”
The Chin are an impoverished ethnic and Christian minority in the 90 percent Buddhist country of Myanmar. While under a military dictatorship, the persecution of the Chin people ranged from keeping them from obtaining jobs, building churches or worshiping freely, to rape, imprisonment, destruction of property and forced conversion to Buddhism — among other atrocities. Though a reformist government has now replaced the dictatorship, oppression of Chin Christians continues.
Through the Herald Vision Conference, Chin youth and young adults heard the message that their voice matters. The aim of the conference, centered around Joel 2:28, was to bolster the faith of the younger generation through devotions, workshops and corporate worship, spoken entirely in Chin. The conference was also live-streamed online, with a reach far greater than the nearly 550 in attendance.
Currently, Bethel has two Chin students with one additional student enrolled for the fall 2014 semester.