Karen Small Catechism opens doors with Burmese Immigrants

Categories: LWML

When refugees fleeing political persecution in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar (also called Burma) began arriving at their new home in Guymon, Okla., Pastor Mark Wescoatt faced a perplexing situation: How could he and the people of Trinity Lutheran Church share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the immigrants, when they didn’t speak their language?

Now, through a mission grant provided by the LWML Oklahoma District, the Lutheran Heritage Foundation has translated and printed a resource the refugees can easily understand: Luther’s Small Catechism, translated in their Karen language.

“We at the Lutheran Heritage Foundation are deeply grateful for the prayers and gifts of LWML women across the United States,” said Rev. Matthew Heise, LHF executive director. “With their support, thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ, all around the world, are hearing and reading the Gospel in their own languages.”

LHF translations make a big difference for pastors and evangelism teams seeking to teach immigrants in their neighborhoods about the Savior, Jesus Christ.

“I’m in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle, and I don’t have a whole lot of resources for working with Burmese,” Rev. Wescoatt said. “I’m trying to learn a little of the Karen culture and where they came from. The catechism is really helpful because it’s a gift I can leave with them at their homes, and they can read it and study it in their own language.”

More than 25,000 Karen people have relocated to the United States, settling in places like Oklahoma, Washington and South Dakota. LCMS pastors there are using the catechism to teach Karen refugees about Jesus Christ, and the book is also being used in the hills of Thailand and Burma, where millions of Karen people still live.

Rev. Ted NaThalang, coordinator for LHF projects in Southeast Asia, finds that Luther’s Small Catechism, translated into the languages of the people, is the single best tool for explaining the Christian faith to people who often come from a Buddhist or animist background.

“The hill tribe people of Thailand (some of whom are Karen) are migratory people and often haven’t been well educated,” Rev. NaThalang explained. “For them, the Bible isn’t easy to understand. But the catechism breaks it down into smaller, more understandable pieces.”

Rev. Wescoatt has baptized several Karen people and now has a few Karen people in his confirmation classes. At first, only the first section of Luther’s Small Catechism, called the Enchiridion, was available in the Karen language. Now, with the prayerful financial support of the LWML Oklahoma District, the entire catechism with the questions and answers section is available.

“Just a month ago, one of the young Karen women who was confirmed here at Trinity got engaged to be married to a Karen man who’s a Buddhist,” Rev. Wescoatt said. “But she’s told him, ‘No marriage until you get baptized.’ She wants me to talk with him about the Christian faith, but he doesn’t speak English. Without this Karen language catechism, I really wouldn’t have any way of sharing the Gospel with him.”

Rev. Kevin Moore of Hope Lutheran Church in Brewster, Wash., has also requested several Karen catechisms from LHF. Each year, large groups of migrant workers (many of whom are immigrants) travel through the Brewster area, and a wide variety of languages, including Karen, are represented.

“We’ve been doing our best to try to reach out to them, but the difficult thing is we don’t know who’s coming or what languages they will speak,” Rev. Moore said. “Lutheran materials in their languages are hard to find, and when you do, they’re really expensive.”

LHF’s books, however, are free of charge to the ministries and churches that need them.

For now, Rev. Moore is holding on to the Karen catechisms until he again meets up with the migrant workers who can use them. “We’re so happy to have anything we can use to tell them about Jesus,” he said.