While Americans are familiar with the July 4 holiday, the Karen people celebrate a different day in July.
To the Karen, July 13 is significant because on that day in 1813 Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson arrived in their home country of Burma, which is now called Myanmar.
“That’s the day the gospel came to Burma,” said Mack Thompson, pastor of Ridge Road Baptist Church in Raleigh.
This year, the church helped a Burmese congregation celebrate the 195th anniversary of that event with a worship service.
Many Karen people are settling in North Carolina after fleeing their homeland where the military government is carrying out what many believe is a program of ethnic cleansing.
After realizing the Karen people in the area had no place to worship, Ridge Road allowed them to use the church chapel. The Burmese congregation now meets at 2 p.m. each Sunday. A few of the Karen people also attend other services at Ridge Road.
The church adopted a Burmese family last year, Thompson said.
“We helped them get settled in Raleigh,” he said.
The Burmese congregation hasn’t officially constituted as a church, but is instead more like a fellowship, Thompson said. Its leader is a fifth-generation Baptist pastor from Burma.
“We’ve tried to do everything to help them find their own destiny,” Thompson said.
At the July 13 service, the two congregations sang hymns together, with the Ridge Road members singing in English and the Burmese people singing in the Karen language. They said the Lord’s Prayer together in similar fashion, and scripture was read in both languages.
Six of the Karen members were baptized by Thompson. “That was one of my finest moments as a pastor being able to share that with them,” he said.
Thompson encouraged N.C. Baptist churches to consider adopting a Karen family.
“I think they’ll contribute to the country,” he said.