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Religious Karen leaders congregate in Worthington

A group of musicians perform during Sunday's service as part of the Karen Baptist Churches of Midwest North Region's 2nd Annual Meeting and Congregational Meeting at Indian Lake Baptist Church in rural Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- The Indian Lake Baptist Church has come full circle is its 140 years of existence.

"This church began almost 140 years ago and all of the people who started this church were immigrants, almost all of them from Sweden," said Rev. Jonathan Larson, who serves at Indian Lake. "Services here were in Swedish for more than 50 years. Now, 140 years later, this church has become home to a new wave of immigrants from the other side of the world. They have brought a real freshness to us. It's been kind of a full circle where a church that was begun by immigrants is now welcoming a new wave of immigrants 140 years later."

For the past few years, a contingent of Karen people has joined the church.

"The Karen people are very grateful to be here in the United States, especially Minnesota," said Eh Ler Plaw, who is the pastor of the Karen Baptist Church. "Minnesota is kind of the place for a lot of these people because they like it here. There are people from the other states that move here."

This weekend, Indian Lake was the host for the Karen Baptist Churches of Midwest North Region's 2nd Annual Meeting and Congregational Meeting.

"We are coming together here as one of the many regions in the United States of the Karen Baptist Church," said John Du, who is one of the organizers of the convention. "We come here for the ministry of the Lord and we're coming together to suggest how to equip and how to do better for the ministry of the Lord in the churches. We have eight churches within the region and four states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota."

Eh Ler Plaw estimated somewhere between 200 and 300 people from eight congregations in the four states attended the convention.

Friday featured activities of all varieties, including a volleyball tournament.

"In contrast to some conventions that are really adult oriented, this conference really has made an effort to include the youth in activities," Larson said. "You can see a lot of youth around.

"It's been exciting and something new all the time. To see how they organized the sports event, this was a very serious thing. They had regulation courts outside with somebody on the ladder looking over the line. It's been a privilege to host this event."

One of the main goals of the meetings was to have an open dialogue to help improve ministry within the churches.

"Sunday we had a congregation service," Eh Ler Plaw said. "(Saturday) we had a congregational meeting where everyone can talk and can advise or suggest for what is good for the church ministry."

It is also a time to help spread the faith.

"Another most important thing is to keep up the Karen faith in the Lord," John Du said. "Because we come in here, we have generations coming up to known how we become Christians and how we're going to keep going to keep things under God."

"The first thing is for the ministry of the Lord," added Kyaw How. "The second thing is to unite the Karen people in church administration to be good Christian."

Natives of Burma, the Karen people have immigrated into the United States.

"I think perhaps everyone that is here spent time in a refugee camp and some of them spent years in a refugee camp," Larson said. "Some of the children were born in a refugee camp, some of them got married in a refugee camp and their faith in God through Jesus Christ really is an important part of their life and was central in their coming through these experiences."

Larson began serving at Indian Lake a year ago, and has been learning about the Karen culture ever since.

"It's a continuous process for me that started when I moved here in the summer of 2011," he said. "It literally is something new almost every day. This conference, what it has added is just to see how this group of churches doing a gathering."

It's also been a learning experience for the Karen people.

"For me, right now, I have a vision to work together to help each other," Eh Ler Plaw said. "All the people who come to the United States come under the administration of the United States government. One thing about the Karen people is they need to learn many, many things in the United States. There are a lot of things we don't know here, but we stay learning and keep going."

But for Eh Ler Plaw, he is committed to being a part of the American culture.

"We belong to each other when we live in the world," he said. "That's when we come here, we were invited by the United States and we have to be part of them and work together. That should be our commitment."

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Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.