Escaping to America

Karen people find refuge at Marshall’s First Baptist Church

Photo by Jody Isaackson Members of the Karen population in Marshall have found a new church family in the congregation at First Baptist Church. Sharing their transitional stories were Tah Eh, seated at the piano, Willision Moo, the Rev. Greg Linscott, Ger Kler and Ku Nay Htee with the guitar.

MARSHALL — Ger Kler had lived life on the run before coming to America.

Kler was the first Karen person to arrive in Marshall, following a job offer from Turkey Valley Farms in 2011. Since then, many of his clan have escape the Thai refugee camp known as Nae Ra Moe Refugee Camp.

Kler knows what it is like to lose family members to war conditions and persecution. Coming to the U.S. presented new freedoms and opportunities for him.

Since then, Ger Kler has left Turkey Valley Farms and is now working for Christensen Farms to support his wife and three young children.

Following Ger Kler were Willision Moo who also arrived in 2011, Tah Eh who came in 2013 and Ku Na Htee, a now 16-year-old who came to Marshall straight from the airport in 2014. They are part of the nearly 200 Karen who have come to the area and found refuge at First Baptist Church on Minnesota Highway 23 just south of Marshall.

“Tah Eh and Willision Moo are brother and sister. Ger Kler is their brother-in-law, and Ku is not related,” said the Rev. Greg Linscott of First Baptist Church.

The Karen people have been Baptists for more than 100 years, since the first Baptist missionary visited them, Linscott said.

When Willision Moo first arrived in Marshall, he was looking for spiritual guidance. He said he sat down with Linscott and compared Bibles. Willision Moo wanted to be sure the doctrines were the same. He said they were.

Part of the attraction to the Marshall area was the First Baptist Church. Linscott and his family made the Karen people feel welcome.

“When I went to Bible camp and was cold, pastor’s daughter gave me her sweater to wear,” Tah Eh said. “They are like my family in Christ.”

Tah Eh, a singer, and Ku Nay Htee, a guitar player, help with the elementary age Sunday school students, teaching them songs and leading them in singing for services.

“She has a beautiful voice,” Linscott said. “And Ku is great on the guitar. He thinks he needs more lessons, but we think he should be giving lessons.”

Ku said “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” is his favorite Christian song.

Tah Eh’s favorite songs are “Count Your Blessings” and “Because He Lives.” She said these songs remind her of the many blessing she has received since coming to America.

Both sing with the regular service worship team as well as lead in the Karen service, Linscott said.

Ger Kler and Willision Moo also serve the church in positions such as usher.

Tah Eh said that Marshall is now home to her. She is a full-time education student at Southwest Minnesota State University and works part time at Hy-Vee at the Asian food deli.

“The people are so welcoming,” she said.

The others smiled and nodded their heads in agreement. They, too, felt at home in Marshall and at First Baptist Church.

Willision Moo is considering attending college to go into the ministry, Linscott said.

Ku said he plans to take mechanics at Ridgewater College in Willmar when he graduates Marshall High School in two years.

“Ku’s parents have vision problems,” Linscott said. “Ku is the only legal driver in the family. He drove for their vacation to Winnipeg. But, his age had provided a challenge with the auto insurance. We figured it out, though. He’s a secondary driver on his (relative’s) insurance policy.”

“Another challenge they face is that the Karen Bible is a bit different than the King James Version, which complicates things for them,” Linscott said.

Ger Kler said he often reads the Bible with both versions in hand to make comparisons.

Also, when Tah Eh first arrived and needed to go clothes shopping, some of the church women went with her to help her understand the U.S. clothes sizes.

Those are just a few of the challenges that have come along with the refugees, but the church family at First Baptist Church has helped them to navigate life in the U.S. In return, the Karen give of themselves, their talents and their tithes.

“The Karen are generous people,” Linscott said. “They give of what they have to support the church and also send money home to relatives still in Thailand.”