By Gordon Govier

A New Karen Community in Omaha

InterVarsity Campus Staff Member Alee George met Sun Kist and Paw Bway Htoo, two University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) students, when she volunteered to help at the World Refugee Day celebration in Omaha in June. Sun Kist and Paw Bway Htoo are Karen refugees. Their families came to the U.S. after suffering persecution in Burma.

Alee noticed that her two new friends knew many of the members of the Thrive Club, a leadership club for refugee students in the Omaha public schools. And she realized that many of the Thrive Club members would soon be freshmen at UNO, beginning a wave of new Karen students.

Pitching an Idea

Alee and her husband, Brendan, proposed starting a group to continue the Thrive Club experience at UNO. “We pitched a community that would feel like family and help Karen students thrive in all areas of their lives, including their spiritual life with God,” Alee said. Sun Kist and Paw Bway Htoo thought it was a great idea.

Karen students meet at UNOSoon afterwards, small numbers of Karen students began attending the weekly InterVarsity Summer Community Night meetings. At the end of the summer, Alee and colleagues Stacy Rafferty and Ann DenHartog met with the students to start planning some fall activities for the new group. The students already had a plan for the first meeting: prayer and worship, along with some homemade Thai food.

As Alee, Stacy and Ann met with the students they met Sun Kist’s visiting brother Star Bright, who is involved in the InterVarsity chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Star Bright attended InterVarsity’s Urbana 12 Student Missions Conference and urged everyone  to attend the next Urbana in 2015.

First Get-Together

“At the worship and prayer gathering the following weekend, we cried happy tears as 10-15 Karen college students praised and worshiped God in their native language,” Alee reported. “These students are the first in their families to attend college. After their parents escaped from a gruesome war in Burma, they either lived in or were born into the dire conditions of refugee camps. These young people have overcome so much already and now they are navigating life as college students in America.” 

Ann DenHartog is now the primary staff contact for the Karen InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She and her colleagues are praying for the gospel to take root in the students’ lives and for Jesus’ healing in the communities they love. And they are working to help the Karen families continue their adaptation to American life. 

InterVarsity works to reach all corners of the campus with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.