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How a Western Slope church built bridges, constructed community

Pla So Kay, owner of a Habitat for Humanity home in Delta holds a worship blessing service with family at his new home.

Boys from both Delta FBC and Karen camped together in June.

Bringing Asian refugees into an established autonomous church can be a risky and demanding transition. When I am asked about the church that I pastor, I often say that I lead Delta First Baptist Church and the Karen Baptist Fellowship in Delta, Colorado.


Here is an edited timeline of our history with our Karen cousins:
 

  • In 2010, Steve Van Ostran came to Delta FBC and planted the seed of becoming a receiving church for Karen refugees living in Denver, coming from Myanmar by way of refugee camps in Thailand.

  • 2011, first contact with Karen migrant workers in Delta County. The first Karen family moved to Delta from Denver.  Delta FBC youth & leaders went to Denver to lead a week of VBS at Ebenezer Ethnic Baptist Church. This continued for six years.

  • Pastor James Conley went to Myanmar/Thailand on a pastors study mission.

  • 2012, new 41-unit migrant workers’ apartment complex opens in Delta with 30 Karen families moving in between February and August.

We helped organize, and hosted tutoring help for students in middle and  high school with local volunteers meeting twice weekly (2012-2014).  We registered students for classes, set up appointments for healthcare and transfer of government benefits, and whatever else was needed. Since 2016, we have seen more than twenty Karen men and women apply, test, and become naturalized US citizens.


Karen children and youth have integrated into established programs of the church including mission teams, Awana Club, VBS, and youth group.  Karen adults also have taken ESL classes through the public library and local school system.  Karen families participate in our main worship on Sunday morning then together share a Karen language worship service every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in a classroom (50 attendees).
 

Currently, fifteen Karen families live in Delta and they all attend First Baptist Church, and Karen Baptist Fellowship. COVID-19 hit our Karen community with six positive cases in April. Fortunately, each person has fully recovered and are healthy once again.  We were able to share food boxes from the church and cleaning supplies and instruction in Karen from Delta County Health & Human Services.
 

Community is so important to our Karen neighbors, yet they have adapted as others have through this pandemic. Our refuge families have enhanced our entire church family. Delta First Baptist Church has become more diverse ethnically since receiving our Asian sisters and brothers.  Are we fully integrated?  No.  Is there more work in our future?  Yes, definitely.  And still, we are the children of God together red, yellow, black, and white, and we are precious in His sight.


James Conley
Western Slope Facilitator