Thursday, November 21, 2013

Blessing the Karen and the Karen blessing us

Dr. Robert E. Johnson, CBTS Academic Dean,
and Marcia and Duane Binkely (ABC/CBF Missionaries)
celebrate the graduation of 60 Karen leaders and pastors
at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Utica, NY. 
On Sunday, November 10, 2013, Central Baptist Theological Seminary and the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Utica, NY, celebrated a special day for sixty Karen church leaders and pastors and Duane and Marcia Binkley, ABC and CBF missionaries to the Karen/Burmese refugee resettlement communities across the United States.   This happy day coincides with recent celebrations around the United States, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Judsons arriving in Burma for their mission work to the Karen people.  Earlier last week, a conference celebrated this anniversary in Atlanta, GA.  (Press release:

The "Utica" group of Karen leaders and pastors from congregations around New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut traveled to Tabernacle Baptist fourteen times to undertake a course of study offered by CBTS and the Binkleys.   Entitled "Judson Learning Communities", the program served as an introduction to ministry offered by CBTS.  Under CBTS' FOUNDATIONS certificate studies program, this cohort received learning opportunities contextualized to the ministry needs of Karen congregational ministry.  Fourteen instructors provided different modules for learning new skills and building upon existing skills to serve in a new day for ministry in the United States, a context for ministry some Karen are still adjusting to as a resettling community.  Adjunct faculty included the Rev. Dan Buttry, ABC Missionary for Global Peace and Justice (conflict transformation and peacemaking), the Rev. Wallace Smith (church planting and new church starts), and the Rev. Dr. James Kelsey, ABCNYS' regional minister (church administration).

Tabernacle Baptist is a leader in Karen/Burmese refugee and resettlement ministry. For the past fifteen years, the church has grown in its welcome, hospitality and shared ministry.  On an average Sunday morning, Tabernacle offers two worship services (one in English with many Karen attending) and a Karen language worship service.  The senior minister is Euro American.  The associate pastor is Karen.  Together, they minister and lead the congregation into the ongoing experience of two cultures and languages joined together in their ministry.   I was the guest preacher back in August 2013, and here is the link to my reflections from that day:

Central Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) is located primarily in the Kansas City metro area.  I am a graduate (M.A. and M.Div, 2002) of CBTS and a one-time adjunct faculty member (Theology).  The seminary flourishes under the leadership of Dr. Molly T. Marshall, President and Professor of Theology and Spiritual Formation.  In recent years, CBTS formed an intentional partnership with International Ministries (ABC/USA) and the Myanmar Institute of Theology to provide opportunities for mutual learning and support between CBTS and MIT.  The seminary's D.Min course students visit MIT as part of their cohort experience, and other CBTS students and faculty are frequent exchange learners/teachers with MIT.   MIT students and faculty are also traveling to Kansas City as part of the MIT's ministry and D.Min study programs.  Such a partnership is further enabled by grants, particularly from the Henry Luce Foundation.  To learn more about CBTS and its dozen sites for ministry studies (including two new Korean language M.Div programs in Dallas and Seattle), visit

Rev. Jerrod Hugenot, ABCNYS Associate Regional Minister
and CBTS Alum (2002, M.A. and M.Div) offers a charge and blessing
for the FOUNDATIONS/Judson Learning Communities participants.
For my part in the graduation, I provided the "charge" to the students, serving on behalf of the ABCNYS Region.  As I prepared for this prayer of thanksgiving and word of encouragement, I realized that the blessing is indeed offered in two different ways.  I am glad to bless the Karen in my capacity as a denominational representative, supportive of the American Baptist mission tradition stretching back 200 years with the Judson missionary legacy.  Yet I am humbled to be in the presence of sixty Karen pastors and church leaders, who have risked greatly to come to this country, to be part of a different culture (and in the Northeast, certainly a different climate from their homeland during the winter months!).   Such dedication is a testament to their faithfulness to the gospel, a witness to those of us living in a time when "decline" seems to be our watchword and our worry.   As I suggest in my charge, these pastors and leaders are indeed missionaries among our congregations worried about the future.  The vitality and vibrancy of the Karen congregations are a blessing to our denomination and other Baptists around the United States.  Indeed, the legacy of the Judsons continues to testify to what God is doing in the midst of our world.

Here is the charge that I prepared (and had translated that morning by a volunteer Karen pastor):

The apostle Paul calls upon us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.  He encourages us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

For all being honored today, you are continuing in your faithfulness to God’s call in your lives.  God called you to the ministry, living in service to God and neighbor alike.  You have a love of Jesus in your heart and by the Holy Spirit, you share that love evangelistically and in humble service.

You have faced many challenges, yet this day symbolizes the hope and possibility found in your faithfulness to the gospel.  This past year, you have come to Utica to learn, growing in your love of God and your understanding of ministry in times of new situations and new challenges.  You have learned new skills and met fellow pastors and leaders.  May these classes and the instructors strengthen you for your ministry now and into the future.

At graduations, words of encouragement, or a charge, are given to encourage the graduates to use their education to its fullest and to keep learning and growing.

So may it be so:

For all those receiving a certificate today, may this program continue to bless you in your ministry.  May this time together in Utica continue in your contacts with other learners and keep encouraging one another in ministry.  May these times of learning be of continuing benefit to your congregations and to the glory of God.

Following in the footsteps of the Judsons, you are now missionaries in the land where the Judsons came from.  Share your stories with others, so that your experiences of challenge and faithfulness might inspire others to come to Christ Jesus.   Let your witness to life with Christ be an inspiration and a calling to others to follow Jesus. 

We give thanks to God for each of you gathered this day.  May God’s richest blessings continue in your lives.   AMEN!

1 comment:

  1. The Lord is Good! all the time! my people Karen.