For Living Hope Christian Fellowship of Surrey, hosting Karen refugees from Burma is not a movie plot, it’s reality.
Beginning in 2006, Karen refugees started moving into low-income housing near Living Hope, including the Thein family, who were first part of Cedar Hills Mennonite Church, Living Hope’s predecessor. The Theins had first settled in Yarrow and were part of the Yarrow United Mennonite Church before moving to Surrey.
Bob Boehr, Living Hope’s pastor of discipleship and administration, recalls, “In the summer of 2006 I was asked to introduce Mr. Thein to talk about the Karen refugee situation to our church. The following week we had 90 Karen refugees attending, having the messages translated by Lulu Thein.”
Members of Living Hope welcomed their Karen neighbours, assisting them with transitioning to Canadian culture through language and legal support, and helping them find work. Originally that included work at greenhouses and fish processing plants; today many have found jobs in roofing, construction and translation. Young people are going on to receive post-secondary education and begin professions such as nursing.
The Karen have always been included in the Sunday morning worship at Living Hope and have their own worship celebration twice a month on Sunday afternoons. Karen children now make up 80 percent of Living Hope’s Sunday school population.
Once a refugee from Burma, Bless Len is a recent graduate of Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford and now ministers at Living Hope as pastor of youth and adults. Len is a bridge between the Karen immigrants and those born in Canada. “There are differences and similarities within two different cultures, but I am glad to call Living Hope my home church,” he says.
“The Karen have always been keen to volunteer where they can, but as the next generation of Karen get comfortable with English and Canadian culture, we continue to see more Sunday school teachers and other volunteers stepping up and leading,” says Boehr.
For a review of All Saints, a feature movie about the influence of Karen refugees, "Review: Refugees grow faith from seeds of hope."