By Dick Duerksen
We have been storing a mattress in our garage, for months. It was given to us by a friend, asking that we pass it on to someone who needed it. We asked around, listened, asked, waited, and listened some more. There were needs for double mattresses and king-size mattresses, but no one needed a twin. So, it waited quietly in our garage, assuring that the passenger side of our car didn’t get any “garage dings.”
My wife, Brenda, has been leading a study group called “Reaching the World Next Door.” The group is searching for better ways to care for the refugees who live in our neighborhoods. We’ve learned that Oregon is home to thousands of refugees from the Congo, Rwanda, Syria, Iraq, and a score of other conflict-torn countries.
We’re not alone in the desire to help these folks who have been forced from their homes by hatred and war. Many of them have been living in temporary camps and have only recently received refugee status in the USA. Many Oregon church groups have developed very careful and helpful ministries to refugees. Adventist congregations like Rockwood, Lents, Gladstone, Sharon, Hood View, and Sunnyside, are actively involved assisting refugee families who have arrived from countries such as the Congo, Rwanda, Ethiopia, India, and Myanmar.
The Rockwood Adventist Church is a couple miles down the road from us, on 182nd Avenue in Portland. Thanks to the determined energy of Scott Hill, the congregation’s Pathfinder leader, and recent pastor, Gene Heinrich, a group of Seventh-day Adventist refugees from the Karen tribe in Myanmar now uses the Rockwood facilities as their church home.
Led by bible worker, Doh Soe, this Karen refugee company has grown to almost 60 members. Yes, their services are in the Karen language. Yes, they dress in traditional Karen clothing. And, yes, their fellowship meals are absolutely “Karen” scrumptious.
Brenda and I, joined by six other members of the study group, attended the Karen services last Sabbath afternoon, and were amazed how the mission field has come to us.
This group of Karen believers is helping send a missionary to lead evangelism at home in Myanmar during December. During the worship service, they asked everyone to pray deeply for God to protect Pastor Jimmy Shwe as he flies “home.” Though the Karen homeland is war-torn, and definitely not at all safe, the congregation is eager that other members of the Karen tribe in Myanmar hear the good news of freedom and peace in Jesus Christ.
We sang along with their hymns of dedication, joined their prayers, and added to the mission offering, with tears in our eyes and hope in our hearts. It is easy to fall in love with these brothers and sisters, who are so far from “Home.”
Our group had collected clothing, toiletries, a child backpack, portable crib, and other items we thought might be of value to our newfound Karen family. We shared those, wishing we had been able to do a better job of matching their true needs.
“There is a mattress in our garage,” Brenda told Pastor Soe. “It is just a twin mattress. No bed frame or even box springs. Could you use it?”
There was a brief discussion among the members, followed by a definite “Yes.”
The next day, a buddy and I loaded the mattress into our van and transported it over to the Rockwood church where a dozen Karens were meeting to study the Bible. They came outside, collected the mattress, and quickly placed it, and the fresh mattress cover, away from the rain.
“Is there anything else that you truly need right now?” I asked Pastor Soe.
“Yes. One thing,” he said. “We need more mattresses. Several more. Twin size is okay, larger size will be okay also.”
“Your members need these?” I clarified. “Do they need beds also?”
“No. Not wooden beds. And, not for our members. Some of our Buddhist neighbors are sleeping on the floor and we want them to have mattresses. Okay?”Yes! Okay.