Our congregation is active in many outreach efforts related to poverty and marginalized peoples, including:
Refugee assistance, serving as a "sanctuary church," and the Ray Diener Memorial Water Fund to bring clean drinking water to some of the world's most impoverished peoples are a few of the ways in which we strive to fulfill our mission to "Serve and promote peace and justice in our neighborhoods and around the world"
For many years, the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren has been a "sanctuary church". Over the years, we have provided housing, financial support and other forms of assistance to refugees from several countries.
We are currently sponsoring members of a family from the mountains of Eastern Burma (Myanmar). They are from the second largest ethnic group in that country, the Karen (accent on the last syllable).
Burma is a composite of approximately a dozen ethnic groups, the largest being the Burmese. The Karen number about seven million. Together, the Burmese and Karen make up about 75% of Burma's population.
After World War II the British persuaded the Karen to try to live in a united Burma. They were promised that after 8 years or so, they would be allowed to vote for independence. The vote never took place. The present military dictatorship from the majority tribe began a program of ethnic cleansing, pushing rebellious ethnic groups further into the hills.
The oppressors attacked without warning, killing and raping. The best agricultural land was mined after crops were torched. Later, when Burmese had been recruited to move into these lands, the Karen were captured and used as human mine sweepers. Escape to Thailand was the only way out.
In Thailand from 1981, they were treated as unwelcome guests, not even second class citizens. At first they were scattered through the countryside, but fifteen years ago their oppressors began crossing the border into Thailand to hunt them down. For their own safety, the refugees were sent to about 13 refugee camps, some very basic, some more comfortable.
As stateless people in Thailand, the Karen could not own property, register births, deaths, or even attend school. In time the United Nations convinced the Thai government that these people deserved better treatment, including education. Thailand agreed to let one out of ten attend school. The others were educated in unofficial camp schools cobbled together by residents who had some education.
Once the United Nations recognized these people as refugees, the United States agreed to let a small number, primarily Karen, Kachin and Chin, the last two being much smaller groups but allied mountain tribes, into the country.
Our family consists of a mother, her sons, and her cousin's son.
For information about our congregation's refugee assistance efforts, contact Ken Chastain.
Within our church community, we were fortunate to have had a member who took the service concept to heart and identified clean water as an issue on which to work. Ray Diener, who was tragically taken from us in 2007, had been working with the Messiah College Collaboratory for Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research, specifically in the Water Purification Group, with communities in Honduras. That group has identified these facts highlighting the importance of caring about clean water:
Those who knew Ray realized the analytical nature of his thinking and his ability to project forward. It is not hard to realize that in taking on this water project he had selected something immensely important to humankind.
Our Church has chosen to recognize and pay tribute to Ray and his insightful nature by raising funds for the project at Messiah College known as Water for the World. This will be a church driven project that will reach out into the larger community for support in recognition of Ray's many community interests.
Our goal is to raise funding to support a portion of the Honduras water project for each of the next 5 years. For more information or to find out how you can be a part of this special project, please see our Ray Diener Memorial Water Fund Brochure or contact the church office.