Bethel Hosts Herald Vision Conference for Chin Refugees
During Independence Day weekend, nearly 550 Chin Burmese youth and young adults gathered at Bethel College 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).
On a weekend when many Americans celebrated freedom, it seems fitting that the Chin would be able to gather and worship freely together, something even more precious 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.
“Of all the conferences we’ve held in the last nine years, in terms of Christian values, this is the most significant,” says Lisa Greco, Ph.D., director of conference services for Bethel.
Evening services held in the Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center – Auditorium lasted about three hours each night and included singing with a live band, testimonies and candle lighting. Attendees came from 15 states including Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, as well as Washington D.C. Indiana has the largest population of Chin in the country – about 8,000. Of those, about 300 just graduated from high school, facing the decision of what to do in the next step of their journey.
Thawma worries that these young people, who are first generation in the United States, might lose their faith. That’s why it was especially important to him to choose a faith-based venue for the conference.
“I am recommending that the younger generation come to a Christian college, like Bethel,” Thawma says. “I want their faith to be strong. Bethel would be the best place to come.”
Currently, Bethel has two Chin students with one additional student enrolled for the fall 2014 semester.