Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Home Sweet Home

After two years of teaching and missionary work in Japan and exciting adventures there as well as in China, India, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand, it’s good to be home! But life in the U.S. has taken some readjustment. When I landed in Minneapolis, I ordered mouth-watering pot roast, but I couldn’t eat it! After consuming mostly rice, fish, and seaweed for so long, American meat seemed too greasy and dessert too sweet. I’m still confused when someone addresses me as “ya’ll” when I’m by myself, and sometimes answer the phone “moshi moshi” only to hear stunned silence. But the benefits of old friends, family, and Oklahoma food (now that I’m used to it again) far outweigh the frustrations of trying to remember certain English phrases and how to drive a car.

I’ve had several pleasant surprises since returning. Tulsa, my hometown, seems more “green friendly,” with added recycling programs, oil made partly from plants, and some homes with solar paneling. The price of gas hasn’t gone up as much as I feared and the economy seems to be improving (though not enough to help me get a job).

One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to stay in touch with other cultures and keep teaching, even if just as a volunteer. So I went to a missions luncheon at Christ Presbyterian and announced that I wanted to help. Immediately afterward, a small woman from India ran up to me, speaking so fast I barely understood her. She said there were some refugees in Tulsa, Oklahoma who just lost their instructor and they desperately needed a new one. It didn’t take me long to say yes, and the following week I found myself before a handful of Burmese teaching them how to introduce themselves in English.

Here they are:

From the left: Tung Pi, Nelly, me, Lulu, and John.

Over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege to get to know many of these gentle people and their amazing stories. They are all Christians, many from the Zomi or Chin tribe in Myanmar (former Burma), escaping genocide from the corrupt military government. The dominant Buddhist and ethnic group has decided the country must be “purified” of all minorities. Some of the refugees were smuggled into Thailand in crates. Many died during the passage. A few told me their entire family was shot before their eyes. One man described how he tried to sneak Bibles across the boarder into India, was caught, and nearly beaten to death by a soldier.

There are about 2,000 Burmese refugees in Tulsa, and more coming. “Why here?” I asked them. They said Chingdo Kham, a Burmese doctor, paved the way and helped with their United Nations refugee status VISAs. Also, since they are Christian, they wanted to come to the Bible Belt to study scripture. I’m so thankful God called me back to the United States to help these people begin their new lives in a safe, free country. Many of them work at the Aaon factory making air conditioners. Others are still looking for jobs. Every Monday and Tuesday we study English and the Bible together.

Besides volunteering to teach English, I also tutor Japanese. I’m always looking for more pupils. If you are interested in learning Japanese, you can call me at 918-272-1433, or email laurapopp@ymail.com. I even do lessons over skype!

So people are asking me, do you plan on staying in Tulsa? Well, for now. I’m taking a class called “Perspectives in World Missions” starting tomorrow that will run until May. After that, who knows? Honestly, I would like to get involved in world missions, particularly children. I feel called in many ways to return to Malawi, Africa, where I worked before to work with Ministry of Hope or a similar organization there to help AIDs orphans.

Prayers: Please pray for the Burmese refugees coming to Tulsa, that they will adjust well to their new life. Please pray for those who are still coming to arrive safely and that the persecution and genocide in Myanmar will stop. Finally, please pray for God’s guidance in my life and that all the pieces will fall in place!

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