Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

“Translation of faith”: converting Bhutanese refugees via English Bible lessons

Posted by Christopher Coen on January 21, 2011

This story just amazes me – an evangelical church in Abilene, Texas is converting Bhutanese refugees to Christianity by teaching them English using the Bible. Refugees who have been Hindu or Buddhist all their lives suddenly abandoning their faiths and converting to Christianity after a few of these “English lessons”. Of course, proselytization is supposedly forbidden in the refugee program, so why does the International Rescue Committee allow this? The Abilene Reporter News gives more details:

For more than 30 years, Pat Cranfill has lived, worked and worshipped in Abilene.

She is known by people closest to her as someone who loves to help and serve, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that she had an opportunity to put that servant attitude to work on an international mission field right here in Abilene.

Cranfill, a member of the congregation at Southern Hills Church of Christ, answered the call to her new “mission” field by initially helping some young ladies — refugees from Bhutan — find their way around Abilene.

That offer of help has grown into her participation in a program at Southern Hills that teaches English to refugees through Bible stories…

…According to Phil Ware, Minister of The Word at Southern Hills, when the International Rescue Committee began bringing refugees here a few years ago, it was clear that his church could step up and model Jesus to them…

…Using tools and programs like Let’s Start Talking, FriendSpeak, and the World English Institute, more than 50 Southern Hills members are engaged in teaching English to these new Abilenians.

“All the English is taught by reading passages of Scripture from the easy-to-read version of the Bible, which has been used internationally,” said Ware. “The lessons are simple, less colloquial, and designed best for someone with a very limited English vocabulary.”…

…”It is that the Bible is the message, and you are the example. You are not there as a teacher; you are there as a friend”

DeLynda Gray, LST/FriendSpeak coordinator for Southern Hills, said she has seen some very rewarding things come out of using the Bible to help the refugees learn English.

“When you have a different world view than we do the journey through the Bible’s parables and lessons can seem figurative,” she said. “What continues to amaze me is their devotion and excitement to learn. They are so thirsty for the Bible; they really want to go more deeply.”

Gray said several of the refugees have made professions of faith and been baptized into the Christian faith.

“That is pretty amazing in a culture that claims thousands of gods,” she said. “For them to claim the one, true God, and follow Jesus is wonderful.”

Such was the case for 31-year-old Moti Lamagdey and his 27-year-old wife, Tila, both Bhutanese refugees.

“I made a decision to follow the Christian faith and was baptized with Tila on December 12, 2010,” said Lamagedy. “I’m very proud of the decision, and God has blessed us both. I learned so much from the Bible classes at Southern Hills, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to be a follower of Jesus.”

Cranfill said for many of the refugees, once they’re shown enough concrete facts revealed in the Bible, it doesn’t take them very long to get it.

“When they get it, you can see a light go on in their eyes it’s really amazing,” she added.

Gray added that she has seen these English classes as a powerful vehicle for Southern Hills members — who have been tentative about evangelism — to feel confident about evangelism.

“We are God’s ‘community front porch’ this is where the real worship is done,” said Ware. “Lives are changed person to person the same way Jesus did it. Christian life is about touching people walking alongside each other, helping each other become who we say we worship.”

“It takes very little to share the Gospel with them,” Cranfill said. “If more people were willing, we would have Bible studies going day and night wouldn’t that be great to know we were using God’s mission field for that purpose?” Read more here

5 Responses to ““Translation of faith”: converting Bhutanese refugees via English Bible lessons”

  1. John said

    Coen, you idiot! You should be investigating the death of a refugee who arrived only four months ago!! It’s all over the news — she died at the hands of a callous abortionist in Philadelphia.

  2. My guess, based on my experience with ethnic-Nepali refugees, causes me not to scream, “Oh those nasty Fundies are converting those vulnerable people,” but instead to ask “Whose using who?” I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if many of these conversions are mere window dressing. I knew at least one ethnic-Nepali who explained to me that he ttended church because “I want the care packages.” Never, ever assume that ethnic Nepali refugees are stupider than the people who assist them. They’ve all survived things that many people would not have survived and come from a complex and multi-layered cultural background despite occasional signs of deprivation. (I knew a Nepali refugee once who was able to make the entire refugee center staff jump through hoops on command, manipulating human beings being a skill that helps survival in a refugee camp, yet had no idea how to change a light bulb. When I asked if she really did not know how to change a light bulb she looked at me and said, “Well, I’m not an electrical expert.”

    • But, I think missionaries and their domestic counterparts have made the personal choice to risk being used in order to spread their religious views. That doesn’t necessarily work the same in the other direction when refugees find themselves having religious viewpoints pushed on them as part of publicly-funded resettlement services, and post-services. The refugees haven’t made a personal decision to have these viewpoints pushed on to them. They are just busy trying to survive when they get here. Soem may choose to use the people offering help to get what they need or want, but others are in a vulnerable time of transission. I think we need some bright lines to demarcate appropriate boundries during refugees’ first year of resettlement.

      • Agreed. Completely. I don’t think my post and yours were incompatible.

        When I was at USCRI Albany, I saw another problem with the involvement of churches and such in the refugee resettlement program. USCRI-Albany was, at the time, the worst run organization I’d ever seen and the management clearly put public relations at a higher priority than efficiently running its own programs. (In part, because the very dedicated woman who ran the organization was skilled at public relations and didn’t have a clue as to how to manage things. Like many of us, she gravitated towards tasks she was skilled at and avoided difficult tasks where she had no idea where to begin.)

        Therefore, a surprising amount of her daily and weekly schedule was spent on meetings with people from various churches, some of which were very interested in proselytizing but all of which did some actual assisting of refugees. These meetings were put at a higher priority than meetings with employees. Many of the church representatives did not have jobs or busy schedules and enjoyed stretching out these meetings. Therefore the meetings were a high point of their week and often stretched out.

        Often I would come into contact with these “Church ladies” and I would regularly use them as a way to find out what my boss was doing in the organization because she would not tell us. (i.e. somewhere she obtained a booklet teaching refugees how to use household appliances. She told the church ladies we were giving them out with the furniture. We weren’t. I’d never seen the document. I assume this was not a lie, but merely a bureaucratic screw up, where intent had been represented as achieved action, this being a common mistake on her part. On my list of things to do was find some of these booklets and give them out with the furniture but I was busy with other things and it never happened.)

        Things were so screwed up that early on she promised a bored church lady that I would come to her house soon and pick up a large office desk that the woman wished to donate to the organization. Because we were constantly dealing with minor, unplanned emergencies, such as refugees being dumped on us with short notice by the national organization, and then scrambling to get them chairs, tables, beds and such, it proved impossible week after week to go and get this desk. However, a promise had been made to get the desk, so week after week, i had to call this woman and tell her we would not get the desk and she would do her best to chat with me as long as possible. She was a pleasant woman and would tell me many things about the goings on in my own organization and within one the refugee ethnic communities that were useful to know and I otherwise never would have learned, but it was a major time drain.

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