In the year 2009, the Georgia Chin Baptist Church was established with 105 Church members; 75 adults, 8 youth and 22 children. They began meeting at a Chinese Restaurant on Rockbridge Avenue between Avondale and Stone Mountain. Melanie and I got word from some American Baptist leaders in the late fall that they were looking for a church where they could meet. They did not have a pastor at that time.
On the first Sunday of December in 2009, a small group of us representing Oakhurst, Margaret Blevins, John Shippee, Claudia Dickerson and I, went to that restaurant to worship in a single room overflowing with folks from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The smell of Chinese food filled the air. The place was literally crawling with children. Throughout the service, babies would come crawling down the aisle or even from under the seats to be scooped up by a mother or a nearby teenager.
The service was a blend of the unfamiliar and the familiar, a language we did not know but heard a tune we recognized, “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.” As we listened to other words unknown, we realized that it was the Lord’s Prayer. I recall listening to some young women on a tour raising money for a famine in Myanmar, of which I was unaware, and hearing them sing two songs in Chin but with the style of perhaps Brittney Spears.
And then when everyone prayed aloud, many voices at once, I was transported back to the Mt. Carmel Free Will Baptist Church where my Momma took me as a child. She would have been so surprised to know that they prayed just like her church in the hills of Burma.
A young girl named Zaney recited the scripture she had memorized for the day from Matthew 2, the same scripture I had chosen to preach on, the same text that we heard read today. I preached a sermon, translated in Chin, with a similar theme I would like to hold up today. Last Sunday, we celebrated Epiphany, the arrival of the magi. The wise men proved themselves wise indeed by finding another way home to steer clear of Herod. This would infuriate Herod, who would go searching for a child king that might threaten his reign. But Joseph, warned by a dream, took the child and his mother Mary by the dark of night to Egypt. So it was that Jesus began his life as a refugee. That should tell us a lot about what it means to welcome God into the world.
When we returned to tell Oakhurst to tell you about this group of refugees looking for a home, you welcomed them with open arms. There were some challenges as we learned to share space, but there have been many more blessings. Last January, Peter Tin Cung was called as pastor. Last June, it was our honor to participate in the ordination of Pastor Peter here in the sanctuary.
The Georgia Chin Baptist Church, like all churches, has had its struggles. Even within the Chin culture, there are different dialects. Five different groups have left to begin new congregations. Nevertheless, the church is still thriving, with 273 current participants. In fact, they are currently seeking to purchase their own church building. Whenever that happens, we will celebrate with GCBC and yet be somewhat sad. Like young adults who grow up and leave home, we want you to achieve independence, but we will miss seeing you on a weekly basis.
Over these years, we at Oakhurst have needed you as much as you needed us. God wanted us to see the world is not a “foreign” mission field. The world is right here with us. We continue to learn from you about faithfulness, courage, and hope. Most of all, we have experienced with you the love of God in Christ. As evidence of that, we will now hear a testimony form Biak Kung. Biak, along with David DarUk, who read scripture earlier, was present at the first meeting we had with the church four years ago.
January 11, 2015