The Karen are an historically Burmese ethnic group who responded positively to Christianity when the first missionaries arrived in South East Asia.
As a result, they fought on the side of the Allies in WW2, in contrast to the majority of the Burmese (Buddhist) people who were more disposed to supporting Japan. After the war ended, continued resentment from the Burmese government, combined with religious persecution from the Buddhist majority and political ethnic cleansing, has resulted in the Karen being a persecuted and marginalised people group within Myanmar (similar to the Rohinga on the western side of Myanmar). Thirty years ago they began fleeing across the border into Thailand, and to this day 10s of thousands remain ‘stateless’ in refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border.
Anglican ministry amongst the Karen began some decades ago through a few trained evangelists who travelled through the jungles and villages of both the Thai and Myanmar sides of the border, establishing churches. These churches are together known as the KAMB – Karen Anglican Mission at the Border (KAMB). They remain isolated from the resources of their official diocese, which is in Myanmar.
History and Context of the School of Biblical Theology (SBT)
Approximately 10 years ago Crosslinks (formerly BCMS) forged a partnership with the KAMB. Crosslinks began offering ministry training in annual intensives. However, as they were doing a similar work in Myanmar, and
because of the political sensitivity of working on both sides of the border, they requested that Sam McGowan (then a CMS QNNSW employee) take ownership of the project. Sam did this for 8 years, and taking teams with him In 2017 Sam McGowan, Peter Judge-Mears from Wishart Anglican in Brisbane, Trent Minton and David Greeff (CMS WA Branch Secretary) trained people in understanding and teaching the book of Daniel.
Sam McGowan no longer works for CMS, and has just taken pastoral oversight of a church in Brisbane, so can no longer be involved. Trent Minton has taken on pastoral oversight of a new church in the Grafton region, and can also no longer be involved. In 2018 Peter Judge-Mears and David Greeff were joined by Marc and Marsha Dale from St Alban’s to train people in understanding and teaching the letter to the Hebrews.
Ministries managed by the KAMB
- Running a small Bible school at which evangelists are trained;
- Oversight of churches (approximately 20, 3 of which are within refugee camps);
- Manning preaching stations in the jungle;
- Running hostels for jungle children and those from Myanmar who are being educated in Thailand;
- Running nursery schools within the refugees camps, to provide Christian input for refugee children;
- Running an English teaching and learning centre within one of the refugee camps;
Running a private school called No-Boh Academy, which offers education (in English) on a Christian basis, in contrast to the Buddhist education of Thai schools. The English education means there is a possibility of upliftment of the Karen, who are marginalised within Thailand.
Rationale for St Alban's being involved in SBT
- The KAMB are very isolated and under-resourced, despite being within a ‘diocese’. They are sociologically isolated as well, so the SBT is significantly encouraging for them, and an important training mechanism.
- The up-and-coming leaders of KAMB receive only rudimentary training at the tiny Bible college, run by a man who himself has little theological training. There are significant gaps in understanding the Bible.
- Lay leaders also attend the SBT, and their theological upliftment benefits their churches.
- Not only young trainees attend SBT, but also the more senior pastors, so this is significant in-service training is for the whole leadership community.
- The various aspects of the KAMB ministries are built up by the teaching and training offered by the SBT.
- As the KAMB continues to be resourced, they not only reach out to other Karen (animist), but can also hopefully become more adept at being local missionaries to their predominantly Buddhist Thai neighbours.
- SBT remains the only external theological training and support available for them.