MEANWHILE IN DENVER, local volunteers—none of them paid—help pick the refugees up at the airport, give them English and driving lessons, help them open bank accounts, drive them to markets and doctors’ appointments and churches, and supply whatever needs arise. For example, Marilyn Perlman, a retired CPA, helps the refugees do their taxes. When refugees ask if they can pay her, she suggests they donate to CBRTN instead—and many do.
Another volunteer, Susan Rairdon, a homeschooling mom whose four kids are now grown, taught ESL classes and housed six young refugees in her own home to homeschool them so they can earn their high-school diplomas. Two of them received scholarships that paid for their transcript and graduation expenses. Those lessons expand these refugees’ career options beyond low-paying, physical labor jobs.
Lah Say, a 27-year-old Karen woman born in a Thailand refugee camp, learned English from Rairdon every Saturday. She then graduated from college with a degree in public health, scored a job at a children’s hospital, and now studies for a master’s degree in social work. Lah Say said CBRTN was a blessing to her at a time when she felt alone and isolated, so she wants to “be a blessing back.” She joined a local leadership council so she can be a voice for refugees, created a program that helps other refugees gain employment at her medical campus, and goes on mission trips to minister to human-trafficked Burmese women in Thailand.
Thang Thung, a 26-year-old Chin who as a 14-year-old boy trekked through jungle forests and almost died during the brutal journey to Malaysia, landed in Denver in 2015 without any English skills. Once painfully shy about his inability to speak English, he now readily engages in political and theological conversations in confident English. After earning his high-school diploma, Thang Thung found a job as an electrician and recently received approval for his citizenship. He’s planning to visit his home village soon—the first time he’d be back in 12 years—and hopes to help his native people build a coffee farm.
Both Lah Say and Thang Thung came to the United States with barely any skills or education. Now they’re active helpers in their community. “They’re like birds,” Rairdon said. “They just need a little help, and then they fly on their own.”
Over the years, as the Burmese refugee community burgeoned, the main volunteers for CBRTN have become less white and more brown, as leaders rose within their own peoples. Andrew Thang, a 57-year-old, stocky-built Chin pastor, has the uncanny ability to make even the most doleful refugee break into giggles with his wide smiles and jokes. Ever since he professed faith in Christ at age 13, Thang said he knew he wanted to live for Jesus. He attended seminary in Calcutta, India, and became a missionary to Buddhists in Burma—but the villagers became unhappy when he won converts, and a friend warned him that the government had him marked on its blacklist. Thang fled to Malaysia with his family, applied there for refugee status, and flew to Denver in 2009 with one prayer: “Lord, anywhere I go, I’ll work for you.”
Thang soon worshipped with multiple refugee families in the area. He learned basic English during his years in India, so after meeting Johnson he offered to help translate to refugees. In 2011, CBRTN began paying him a monthly stipend of $800 to minister to refugees full time. Thang said that’s when he knew God had answered his prayer: “God sent me here to a great country so I can continue working for the glory of God.”