In Telling a Better Story

By Devin Tressler

If you ask Liang where he’s from, he’ll tell you simply, “Burma.” But if you talk to him much longer about his home, you find out that it’s complicated: He’s of the Zomi people from Chin State, in the country most of the world calls “Myanmar”. Where you’re from and what you call yourself is important there. Many of the Zomi people are Christian. In fact it was their faith that led the government of the mostly-Buddhist country (controlled by a different ethnic group) to expel them from the country.

Now there are many Burmese families living on Liang’s block. Although they come from different ethnic groups and religious backgrounds, and speak many different languages, what they all have in common is that the Burmese government displaced them, and the U.S. accepted them as refugees.

Liang and I have been getting to know these neighbors better and sharing with them what it means to have a relationship with Christ. We started an English conversation class in his home to help adults who, because of their work schedule, can’t attend any of the existing ESL classes around town. Every Monday six of us get together to study English, talk about American and Burmese cultures, and pray together. These neighbors from different religious traditions all respect Liang’s faith in Christ, and are eager for us to pray in Jesus’ name for them.

One neighbor, Sat Ha, asks us to pray every week that Jesus would help him “learn English and develop my life better.” Sat Ha comes to our class in traditional Burmese dress, and is Buddhist. Sat Ha belongs to the “majority Burmese” culture, which is supported by the government that has been expelling ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians like Liang. Although the two men’s ethnic groups have a lot of animosity between them, they now live across the street from each other in America, and Liang hosts him in his home to help him learn English. Their children are best friends, and Liang’s children invite Sat Ha’s to church with them regularly.

This is backwards from the usual way many of us Americans think of missions, isn’t it? I’ve wanted to be an overseas missionary for decades: to leave my own culture behind to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to new frontiers, and to see God change lives and nations. Though I’ve gone on short-term mission trips, God has always seemed to shut the door on my family’s hopes to live long-term overseas. But now God has brought this Christian family from the other side of the world and is using them to change lives here in my hometown! My friend Liang is an example of the love of Jesus on his own street—a love that reconciled us when we were God’s enemies and even has the power to reconcile human enemies as well. I thank God for bringing this refugee family of brothers and sisters in Christ to my city, and I believe God will change St. Louis through them and others like them.

In Acts 17, Paul writes, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

Indeed, Liang and I are both God’s offspring in Christ, and I am proud to call him a brother.

Devin is a friend of immigrant and refugee families in St. Louis, MO, and works with Christians who want to build meaningful relationships with these families in the city.

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