The Karen Adventist Youth Camp 2022 drew a crowd of nearly 400 youth and their leaders to Camp Wagner in Michigan, United States, July 5-9, 2022, with the theme “Alive in Christ.”
They represent the Karen (pronounced ka-REN) diaspora, most of whom are refugees from Myanmar and Thailand resettled in North America over the past 10 to 15 years.
Because of the pandemic, it was the first time in two years that these youth could be together in person; they traveled from 17 states across the U.S. as well as parts of Canada.
Dozens of committed young people, some of them attending their first camp meeting, joined early morning united prayer sessions. Then followed rousing song services, powerful testimonies, and morning worship sessions given by students studying to become pastors. Seminars were offered on Karen history, culture, and mission, healing from trauma and overcoming challenges, health and more. Some presenters were Andrews University social work graduate students. Children’s meetings were also provided by dedicated volunteers.
Afternoons held lively outdoor games, while the evenings featured singing competitions, Scripture reciting, and creative skits. Most of the time the Karen language was used, but English was also used at times.
Sabbath School time focused on mission trip reports, and an interview with a young family that’s going back to the refugee area as missionaries to their own people. They said that “chasing the American dream” was unfulfilling, and they decided to go back to the jungles to teach refugee children. Aspiring young pastors were interviewed, and a group were prayed over by senior pastors. The sermon on the prodigal son was given by Lake Union Conference president Ken Denslow.
A Gospel Work in Progress
Currently, 56 Karen congregations are spread across North America in dozens of states, with only twelve church-supported pastors that are either part or full time. Many groups are being faithfully shepherded by volunteer lay leaders. NAD Karen church planting consultant Jimmy Shwe and his team of leaders have a vision for their youth to become strong leaders and workers for God. Frequent youth leadership trainings, youth camps, and other events such as youth camp meetings give them motivation and tools for God’s work.
The Karen people are originally from Myanmar (also called Burma). Oral tradition passed down from generation to generation declared that their forefathers had once believed in the one true Creator God, but they had lost God’s book. Their elders repeated that one day their “younger brothers from the west” would bring God’s golden book back to them. They were longing and waiting for this to happen.
When missionaries finally arrived with the gospel, hundreds of thousands of Karen people became Christians. Storyteller and author Eric B. Hare was perhaps the most well-known Adventist missionary who worked with the Karen people. Many faithful third- and fourth-generation church members among them have become pastors, teachers, and leaders. Amidst the prevalent Buddhism and animism of Southeast Asia, the Karen are a testimony to the “eternity in their hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) that God has planted in many distant tribes which have responded when the key is found within their own culture to link them to the gospel.
The Holy Spirit spoke powerfully through Stephen Mothapo, a Karen pastor in Iowa, who gave heart-searching messages on finding life’s purpose, victory over sin, the assurance of salvation, and God’s great love and plan for their lives. His powerful appeals and prayers touched hearts deeply as precious young people responded to the call for baptism and dozens rededicated their lives to the Lord and His service. It was unforgettable.