Church of God brethren from Karen tribal group of Thailand living in poverty and fear

The writer, a consultant to companies doing business in Asia, worked for WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong and the Ambassador Foundation for seven years. He has been married for 25 years to the former Gloria Jebens. The Sextons have two sons and two grandchildren. E-mail Mr. Sexton in Bangkok at and in the United States at

By Leon Sexton

BANGKOK, Thailand--You used to see their pictures frequently in The Worldwide News and hear stories about them from Ambassador College students returning from the project in Thailand. Evangelists and other ministers returning from visiting their model farm used to regale you with anecdotes about them in sermons. But now they are our forgotten brethren.

To members of the Church of God who have spent the Feast of Tabernacles in Thailand, the word Karen has special meaning. For five years starting in 1987, brethren belonging to the Karen tribal group in Thailand kept the Feast in Chiangmai with visitors from all over the world.

Few will forget the colorful tribal costumes they wore for special occasions and the beautiful songs of the children as they sang for special music. It was always the highlight of the year for the Karen members--who are refugees from Burma living in the remote jungle border regions of Thailand--to meet and fellowship with new friends at the Feast.

Now their situation has drastically changed. A Feast site is no longer sponsored in Thailand. The border between Thailand and Burma, although never really safe, has erupted into open warfare between the Buddhist faction of the Karen army and the Christian faction.

Our brethren are caught in the middle. As Christians, they are targets of kidnapping, extortion and even execution. The small farm purchased by the Ambassador Foundation for them to live on is no longer safe from raiding soldiers. Our brethren and their families had to pack up and leave their homes behind and move into refugee camps or to the safety of Thai villages. What little income they made from farming or weaving traditional Karen clothing is gone.

Now they are scattered. Several families live in Bangkok. Several live in the border towns of Mae Sot and Tha Song Yang. One family lives in Chiangmai with friends.

They are also scattered into various church organizations. Some are in the Worldwide Church of God, some are in Global, and some are in United. But one thing binds them together: their poverty.

As refugees, they are not legal residents of Thailand. They cannot hold jobs. Because the farm is unsafe, they cannot earn any income. They live on handouts from refugee organizations and what small amount our churches are able to provide from time to time. The children who sang such beautiful songs for us at the Feast are now in their late teens with little education and no prospects for jobs: no future but the repeating cycle of poverty.

The two families in Bangkok--Thaw Thi Ko and his family and Hilliar Bellock, his wife, Thi Moo, and their two teenage children, Washington and Daffodil--are seeking to be expatriated to the United States by the United Nations as political refugees. They hope, and they wait. In the meantime, every spare bit of money they can scrape together goes for tuition so their children can learn English to use in their new homes--someday.

The others living in refugee camps and border villages can only hope they will be recognized by the UN. But their chances are slim because refugee status is coveted by real and fake refugees alike. So they wait.

Meanwhile, their families need food, and their children need education. I met with the two families in Bangkok on the Feast of Trumpets. We shared a feast meal, and the kids ate ice cream. This is a rare occurrence for them.

I will soon return to the U.S.A., where you and I will get together at the Feast to be with family and friends.

But the forgotten Karen brethren of Thailand will not be getting together with anyone for the Feast.

Please remember them in your prayers during this festival season. If you want to make a donation for food and for their children's education, please send a check made out to "Karen Fund, c/o Leon Sexton" and mail to 6402 Azalea Dr., Rowlett, Texas 75088, U.S.A., or call my wife, Gloria, at (972) 412-4909.

Any donated funds will go directly to the Karen brethren and their families without any administrative costs deducted nor discrimination as to church affiliation.

Let's not forget them. They have not forgotten us.

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