Burma and the Rockford Baptists


Temple Baptist Church, Rockford, Illinois, found the neighborhood changing around it. What was once a middle-class suburb has become inner city. Like many churches, Temple Baptist found itself with an aging population and declining attendance. Elder Bob Carlson wondered what God would do with a 135-year-old church. The answer may have started in 1813 with Adoniram Judson, a Baptist missionary to Burma.

Burma, currently Myanmar, is one of seven refugee countries recognized by the United States. Catholic Charities are placing thousands of Burmese in Rockford to start new lives, many who have spent up to 10 years in a refugee camp before reaching the U.S.

Five years ago members of this the new population knocked on the doors of Temple Baptist.

“As Burmese individuals started to attend service, we introduced ourselves, and suddenly more and more people began attending,” Carlson said. “We opened our doors and really embraced them. We soon developed a love for each other.”

The Burmese now have their own service with a seminary-trained Burmese pastor. Carlson says there is a language barrier, but they are breaking it down. Many Burmese attend the English-speaking service to practice and learn. At first this made some uncomfortable, but together they are finding a new normal.

“About 10 years ago we were going through some tough times,” Carlson said. “A lot of our younger folks left. Statistically, this church would really be struggling. But God started delivering these wonderful people to us.”

Carlson describes the Burmese as evangelistic. They want to learn English, they want to help and to bring others to church by meeting practical needs first.

“It’s very humbling for a longstanding Christian church. We have a certain way of doing things,” he said. “Each week the Burmese pastor goes out and knocks on doors and makes phone calls to other refugees.”

The last week of July, seven Burmese youth were baptized. Carlson says it has been a long time since he’s seen something like that. With Silas, another elder, he’s helped counsel a Buddhist Burmese man who has been in legal trouble. Silas took the initiative. Carlson says this is something God invited him to participate in.

“It was such a cool thing. I shared the four spiritual laws in Burmese from the CRU website,” he said. “When we got to the personal response party, I asked the question in English, and Silas in Burmese. This man had been compliant but not necessarily open to the gospel, but this time he was different. We asked if you would like to pray for Jesus and he looked up and smiled.”

The Holy Spirit was already at work at the man’s life. The man said yes and Silas led him in a prayer of salvation. He told Carlson he felt very happy.

“One of the beautiful things about these people is that they are not simple,” Carlson said. “They are very open and honest and not in any way false. To me it represented a personal culmination of what this whole thing is about. This is how God does things; it’s a full circle back to Adoniram Judson. One hundred seventy-five years ago Judson left Massachusetts to plant churches in Burma. He was there for 40 years and saw many conversions. Now the descendants of his converts are coming here to us. That’s how God does things.”

    Point - September 2018

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