NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - East Texas is quickly becoming home to people of different nationalities. Refugees from Burma, also known as Myanmar, routinely arrive in Nacogdoches. They come to work for Pilgrim's Pride or join families already living there.
Fredonia Hill Baptist Church in Nacogdoches provides the Karen people, an ethnic group from Burma, a place to worship in their native language of Karen.
Even before they had their own services, the Karen people would attend local churches without knowing a word of English.
"On Sundays we had that spritual need. Even though we don't understand English and the message that the pastor speaks we feel like we are in a church and we are here with a God," said Ker Paw, a Karen who speaks English.
Wanting to accommodate, the Baptists recruited a Burmese pastor only to find out the congregation wasn't understanding him either.
"The pastor was speaking Burmese. We speak Karen, so later we figured out we don't have the right person," said Ker Paw, with a smile.
Today, hymnals and Bibles in Karen are provided, but more and more Karen adults are choosing to integrate E-S-L classes into Sunday school lessons.
"When you hear the word God, what do you think about?," asked a Sunday school teacher to a couple. They waited for Ker Paw to translate.
Teenagers are taught in English, while the little children are mainstreamed.
"The younger children know English pretty well," said George Middlebrook, a member who has worked with other churches to help the refugees. The church provides transportation and job assistance.
One little boy was seen fluently singing a song as the words crossed a large screen.
Sermons are often delivered in English and patiently translated by Ker Paw. There may someday be an autonomous Karen church, but then again an integrated one may develop.
"We're actually looking at, in the weeks ahead, about getting some interpretation devices for the ears that would have a translator," said Pat Kelly, pastor of Fredonia Hill Baptist.
The majority of Karen people are Buddhists. About 15 percent are Christian. The largest Protestant denomination among the Karen is Baptist.
The ultimate decision on where to worship is left to the Karen people. Either way it will come with Fredonia Hill's blessings because "the spirit interprets all," said Kelly.
Ker paw said he already has a church family at Fredonia and he, his wife and two year old son are working hard to consider Nacogdoches their home, even though they miss their native country.
"One day this place will be like home, " said Ker Paw.