SPECIAL REPORT: Nacogdoches provides social services to Burmese

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Nacogdoches clergy have a calling more than ever to lead 'welcoming' prayers.

"And receiving those who consider themselves as outsiders, may we help them become neighbors and friends," prayed Kyle Childress, pastor for Austin Heights Baptist Church. He was attending a vesper service that focused on the migration of people from foreign countries to the United States.

The prayer is being answered. Faith based organizations are volunteering to meet the needs of Burmese refugees in three categories...physical, language and spiritual.

"The people that are coming here are predominantly Baptist and catholic," said Bobby Smith, associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Nacogdoches. "Part of the reason they are coming here is because the government, the United States, is bringing them here because they have been persecuted in their own land and for their faith."

All denominations are and will be welcoming the Burmese to their services, but pastors know it isn't very productive. The refugees don't understand English.

"What I foresee happening is churches in town coming together and helping the Burmese people form a congregation where they will have a Burmese pastor who speaks the Burmese language," said Smith.

The Burmese may not know English now, but they'll be given the opportunity to learn it. Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Redeemer Lutheran Church and First Baptist Church are organizing English as a second language instruction.

First Baptist has offered the lessons for 25 years. "And we've been helping Hispanics and other people learn the language and get the ged and even become citizens. And I think adding this population, the Burmese population, into that mix is going to be wonderful," said Smith.

As families settle in to apartments they'll have certain physical needs. Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) has already provided blankets. It's ready to do more.

"The main thing that we need are beds with rails, dressers, couches, end tables. Just essential stuff that you would put into a home," said Patti Goodrum, Love INC director.

There are numerous opportunities to serve the Burmese refugees, as well as all people in need. The Nacogdoches Ministerial Alliance represents just about all the churches in town. It can provide suggestions. Likewise, Love INC is now forming furniture and clothing ministries to help anyone in need. A furniture driver will be in April.

As needs are met, refugees become more self sufficient. Refugees in other communities have opened restaurants and stores. There's nothing to say it won't happen in Nacogdoches.

"They're sad to leave their home country, but I do think from what I'm understanding, they see that promise of a better day for their children," said Smith. "Since they've been persecuted and in refugee camps, I think this is a good thing for them. It seems to be a very exciting day for them," shared Smith.

Right now about 30 Burmese are working at Pilgrim's Pride. More than 200 are expected to be hired.

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