Burmese Refugees Find Homes in West Michigan

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West Michigan Christian Reformed churches are reaching out to Burmese people from refugee camps in Thailand.

Many Burmese people fled their native villages because of persecution from the repressive military government, escaping through dangerous jungle terrain to primitive camps bordering Burma, also called Myanmar.

A Burmese couple with their child (front) are welcomed to their new home by a host family and an interpreter.

Bethany Christian Services of Grand Rapids, Mich., connects Burmese who are approved for immigration with churches who help with resettlement tasks such as furnishing apartments, literacy, transportation, and teaching how to use electric switches and operate appliances. 

Volunteer Arla Dolislager, a retired teacher from Lee Street CRC in Wyoming, Mich., enjoys teaching English to the four-member family sponsored by her church. She also helps them acclimate to stores, parks, and home tasks such as scouring sinks and toilets and proper food storage. “You name it, I do it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of joy,” Dolislager said.

Moline CRC recently finished sponsorship of two Burmese families, and Moline’s refugee coordinator, Lois Glewen, advises the Lee Street volunteers. “I walk alongside of them with issues, questions, or problems,” Glewen said.

Other churches sponsoring Burmese refugees, Bethany’s largest ethnic case load, include South Grandville CRC and Ivanrest CRC in Grandville, and Calvin CRC and Shawnee Park CRC in Grand Rapids.

In May, South Grandville embarked on sponsorship of a second Burmese family. The family the church sponsored two years ago is now self-sufficient, having gained skills to find jobs, but they keep in contact with church members. They also socialize with other Burmese people who have resettled in West Michigan.

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