Burmese refugees find place to worship in their language

Sunday, May 5, 2013 | 6:20 p.m. CDT; updated 7:08 p.m. CDT, Sunday, May 5, 2013
Hillary Zo sings a worship song in Burmese Sunday at Broadway Christian Church. Burmese refugees met in the basement of the church for the first time to worship in their native language.

COLUMBIA — While the usual Sunday service at Broadway Christian Church was well underway, a new service for Burmese refugees began.

Down the hall and to the right, stairs led down to the basement where a group of about 30 refugees sang Burmese songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar. It was the first time in Columbia the refugees had a space to worship in the their native language.


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Many refugees have found sanctuary in the Columbia Refugee Garden behind Broadway Christian Church, where they grow some of their own food.

"They grow vegetables that they can't purchase locally," said Don Day, Community Garden coordinator and church member. "It also helps with the food bills."

The garden has been expanded three times, and now contains 148 plots with about 30 Burmese families using the soil. One thing was missing for the Burmese, though. They needed a place to worship. 

After a few months of looking for a place to gather and share in their Christian faith in their native language, Day asked Broadway Christian Church if it had available space. 

"Most Burmese don't speak English. At other churches, they don't know what (is preached)," Burmese refugee, Zosangpui Zo said. 

Most of the families that gathered Sunday had learned about Christianity from missionaries visiting Burma. They used their experiences with them as a sort of model for their service here in America. This week, they sang some traditional Burmese songs, as well as American songs that had been translated into Burmese. 

Broadway Christian Church's Senior Minister, the Rev. Tim Carson gave a brief welcome before the service began.

"We come from many cultures, but we share the same God, faith and Jesus," he said. "Our house is your house."

The leader of the service will rotate every week between people that know the Bible well, Zo said. This week Ahlun Tamdang spoke about how important worship is.  The group intends to hold a weekly service at 11:30 a.m. every Sunday at the church.

The service on Sunday morning ended just as it began, with an acoustic guitar strumming and the refugees singing together in their native language.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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