Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

The Grand Rapids Press – Far from the headlines, they live in the shadows in Malaysia . Cut off from their families, hundreds of young men are afraid to return to the persecution they faced in their native Myanmar . But they dwell in fear in Malaysia as well, exploited as virtual slave labor or forced to live in crude jungle camps as they hide from authorities.

“It is an absolutely hellish way to live,” said Kavita Shukla, an advocate for Refugees International in Washington , D.C. , a nonprofit advocacy agency.

Several dozen of these refugees are slated to arrive next year in Grand Rapids , reminiscent of the movement of some 200 Sudanese “Lost Boys” to West Michigan in the past few years.

Bethany Christian Services has been alerted to expect as many as 50 minors in 2006, according to refugee specialist Dana Anderson. Mindful of that, the Grand Rapids agency already has begun the search for host families.

It is one of 14 refugee resettlement agencies in the nation that specializes in placing unaccompanied minors and one of only two in Michigan .

“We are looking for families to become licensed foster parents,” she said. “We are really looking for families to help them acculturate and make it here in West Michigan on their own.”

That could be a considerable challenge, given the circumstances that made them refugees.

Members of the Chin minority in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma ), they faced a legacy of cultural, economic and religious persecution in their homeland.

As Christians, they routinely are harassed or jailed for practicing their faith in a Buddhist nation that has been under military dictatorship for decades. They are denied jobs and access to schools.

According to the Chin Refugee Committee, about 12,000 Chin live in Malaysia , of which 9,000 are registered with that committee. Most fled Myanmar for Thailand and made their way to Malaysia . More than 2,500 have applied to the United Nations for political asylum.

Their situation has grown more precarious since March, when the Malaysian government began an aggressive policy of apprehension and deportation to Myanmar of undocumented residents.

Over the past five years, Bethany Christian Services has placed more than a hundred unaccompanied minors from Sudan . Before arriving here, the “Lost Boys” endured years in a refugee camp in Kenya , the loss of many of their parents and a brutal civil war in Sudan .

Laurie Tibble-Hohnke, refugee foster care supervisor at Bethany , hopes the Chin refugees do as well as the Sudanese.

“They are doing beautifully,” she said, adding most are enrolled in college. “We want to be able to reach out. Now, we are asking West Michigan for help again.”