Back to basics?

My life has been unexpectedly enriched by some of the improbable friends in it. Specifically, I am referring to my friends among the Karen population where I live. You never heard of them? Neither have most other Americans.

The Karen (pronounced kah-REN) are an ethnic group from eastern Burma. They have - like many other ethnic groups there - for many years been at war with the Burmese government. Several of my friends have disabilities from land mines and gunshot wounds.

The history of the conflict is a long one. Briefly, in colonial days the area of south Asia was controlled by the British. However, in World War II, all of South Asia allied themselves with the Japanese, fighting the British and their allies. Except the Karen.

The Karen remained loyal to the Allies, and were encouraged to do so by the British, who promised them an independent homeland after the war. Like the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey - who received similar promises - the Karen learned something about the value of the promises of western governments.

The result was open hostility from the Burmese government, one of the most repressive and brutal dictatorships in earth, and many Karen fleeing for their lives to refugee camps in Thailand.

Now, they are coming to the U.S. and being settled here as refugees. Some came to the area where I live, and we have developed good friendships with many of them.

That background brings me to this: A family of Karen Christians asked me a while back to come to their house and teach them the Bible. This particular family is a wonderful blessing in my life, and I was delighted to say yes. They are very enthusiastic about learning more about God and the Bible.


But only one of them speaks any significant level of English. And the one - a high school-age girl - is limited in reading comprehension and vocabulary.

Now, I have been teaching for some 30 years, and have taught in environments ranging from prison to university to church. All sorts of folks have been in my classes. And I considered that I had met and dealt with most challenges.


Teaching the Karen is by far the most difficult teaching task I have known. Every week, I feel lost, and pray, "God, I don't know what to do next. Help me, Lord!"

So we met yesterday and had a good time together. And I am already thinking about next time: What do I teach?

This is compounded by the fact that none of them has a good Bible in their own language, and so we are dealing with an almost entirely oral process.

This morning at breakfast, I was reading in Acts, and came to chapter 10. You might know it, the story of Peter in the house of Cornelius.

Here was a case of a people with no Bible as we think of it, and from a different culture - Romans in Israel. They also had a teacher who didn't know what to do.

So Peter stood and told them what he had seen regarding Jesus, and as he did, the Holy Spirit came upon all the listeners. There was a radical transformation.

Imagine! No invitation to "accept Christ as your savior" and no music playing. Nothing except the recounting of a true story to people whose hearts were hungry to hear.

So what shall I do next week? Tell the story of Jesus and his first followers, and see what happens.

Perhaps I, too, will experience a mini-Pentecost. I could do far worse.


Thank you for sharing! I've never had the experience of teaching in the difficult places you speak of and I've been in the ministry for a short time. I feel that I experience the challanges you are dealing with in that there is a language barrier amongs other obstacles but I'm dealing with an obstacle of age. I'm a 38 year old man and I serve as an associate minister in a church where I'm never allowed to preach to a congregation I can relate to but instead every 4th Sunday of the month I go to my Grandfather's church and he allows me to preach to his congregation. My problem is that most of the people are over 60 and are at the age of retirement. When I preach its like preaching in a morgue. Now everyone professes to know christ and say that they study the bible all the time. I know that people say that I shouldn't allow the age difference intemidate me but it does. Can you give me some advise on how I can approach them. Another thing is my grandfather is a very animated preacher with very little substance in his sermons. I'm a teacher type and like to give them information to invokes thought and causes a person to want to change for the better (or at least thats my experience at other speaking engagements I'm invited to. Another problem is, my grandfather is 76 yrs old and wants to appoint me as pastor of the church because he's ready to retire. Do you possibly have any advise you can give me. Your story is so inspirational and I to thing I will try the basic approach and maybe I will reach them then.


Hi Kevin,

Sorry for the delayed response. Been a little swamped lately.

Sounds like you are in a quandary. Seems to me the issue is what to do regarding your grandfather's church. It's a difficult question for me to address, since I know nothing about the details of the situation: Your heart, your grandfather's heart, his church's attitude toward you, their denomination or tradition, and more. So considering that I know nothing of these things, my suggestion would be to accept any invitation to preach, but spend a great deal of time in prayer, seeking God's heart and word for those people at that time. Don't preach until you are sure you've heard God, and then say what he tells you, and nothing more. Beyond that, it's the task of the Holy Spirit to work both in you and in the congregation.

I would not be concerned about the age difference. If they accept you and respect you, age isn't a major matter. Be concerned with being loving, full of prayer, and sensitive to the Spirit, as he leads you in each step.

I would be interested in knowing how things work out for you.

We live in a fast paced world where people don't have the time it takes to follow through with such a task like yours. Everything happens for a reason. Perhaps the lesson isn't only theirs. Perhaps maybe this to is a oppertunity for you to challange yourself in patience, and tactics as well. Or maybe not. I am not trying to be judgemental here. I think what you are doing is great.

Teaching is not as easy as it sounds. It's kind of like a "sales and marketing" tactic called "know your customer." It's a good thing your "customers" are willing to try to learn. That should make it easier. The easiest way to sell someone on anything is to apply it to their own daily lives so they can identify with the teaching.

Sorry I can't be of anymore help, but I will do some research and get back to you on that.

Leave a comment

Loading tweets:

Follow us on Twitter!

  • Rebecca said:
      We live in a fast paced world where people don't have the time it take...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Hi Kevin, Sorry for the delayed response. Been a little swamped latel...
  • Kevin Simmons said:
      Thank you for sharing! I've never had the experience of teaching in th...

home quodlibet journal theo blog sermons theology e-texts church history forum home