Southwest Hope Award: The Colorado Burma Roundtable Network

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, the first day of August. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It, the next in our series on the 20-18 Hope Awards for Effective Compassion. We’ve featured two regional winners and one international winner so far.

Remember, the grand-prize winner is up to you! Voting continues at

REICHARD: Today is our Southwest Hope Award Winner, the Colorado Burma Roundtable Network. That’s a Denver ministry helping Burmese refugees find their way in a new country. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our story.

AUDIO: Walking up stairs

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Pastor Andrew Thang walks up a metal staircase that wraps around a brick apartment building. Refugee women and children poke their heads out of apartment doors to greet him.

AUDIO: Thang saying hello to women

But today, Pastor Thang is here to see one specific person.

AUDIO: Knocking on the door and greeting

A young woman in a floral print dress with shoulder-length black hair greets him. This is Li Ling. She leads us into her small living room and motions for us to sit on the couch, the only furniture in the room. She kneels on the floor and tells her story.

Li Ling, her husband and two young children arrived in Denver in 2015. Li Ling says back then she felt relief. Her family was finally far away from Burma’s military dictatorship. But three months ago, their hope for a new start soured. Li Ling’s husband died in a work accident. Now at age 27, she’s a widow with three children under the age of 5.

Thang asks Li Ling how she’s doing.

AUDIO: Sound of Thang talking to Li Ling

Li Ling doesn’t speak English or have an education. She has to care for three small children, so her employment prospects are slim. She says she doesn’t know how she’ll pay her rent.

That’s where the Colorado Burma Roundtable Network comes in. CBRTN is a network of Denver Christians supporting and helping refugees like Li Ling. Pastor Thang, a Burmese refugee himself, works full-time with CBRTN visiting refugee families.

Some weeks Thang brings money, supplies, or information to families. And on some days, like today, he offers prayer.

AUDIO: Sound of Thang praying

The hundreds of refugees that began arriving in Denver in 2007 overwhelmed local social work agencies, so a group of local Christians formed CBRTN to help. Jim and Sue Rairdon were among the first volunteers.

RAIRDON: They knew that this was just the beginning of a lot, like thousands that would come into the Denver area. So our organization was the first to start with helping the Burmese community.

Sue says the first challenge Burmese arrivals faced was simply knowing how to live in their apartments.

RAIRDON: We would help by bringing in a new family to, uh, their apartment and showing them how to turn on the lights, how to flush the toilet. In the camps, there was nothing like this, so they had to learn a lot. We also made sure that they had everything that they needed because sometimes the agencies would put them in these apartments without any way to cook rice or without any way to cut up meat without a knife.

The next challenge involved finding jobs. Many refugees didn’t speak any English but had to find a job before their government cash assistance expired. CBRTN volunteers helped them find jobs and file taxes.

RAIRDON: There was things, major things that they had to take care of.

Burmese children also needed help. Many were put into a grade based on their age, not their actual education level. That meant teenagers aged out of public school before learning English. Again, CBRTN was there, providing ESL classes and personal tutoring. Now many CBRTN pupils have graduated high school and some have gone to college.

Reyno Mu is one of them. He is currently earning a civil engineering degree. He says CBRTN was there for him and his mother from the beginning.

MU: They came to us, they showed us around the, they taught us English, they took us to the mountains. They help us prepare to live here comfortably.

Mu says CBRTN helped his mom find a job at a nursing home, which helped him pursue his dream. He wants to use his degree to go back to Burma and build hydraulic dams to stop flooding there.  

MU: Without the church, mom wouldn’t be able to get her first job, you know, my mom wouldn’t be able to, uh, to get where she was and if it weren’t for my mother I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be the man I am right now. So I think it’s all connected.

Over the years, as the refugee community put down roots, more of the main volunteers and leaders of CBRTN are Burmese, like Pastor Thang.

AUDIO: Sound of park 

On this hot summer day, Pastor Thang and other Burmese Christians are leading the third annual Peace Feast, a park picnic where Burmese refugees of different ethnicities and religions gather. It’s sponsored by CBRTN.

While CBRTN volunteers run games for the children, the adults sit on a giant woven bamboo mat under a canopy of leafy trees.

AUDIO: Sound of policeman and translators

They listen as invited police, lawyers and doctors speak. Many families are still learning to navigate their new country’s culture and need information. For instance, in Burma, police are feared. Today, police officers explain that they are there to help.

AUDIO: Sound of policeman talking, I’m honored to stand up here and talk to you about how we can work together as a community.

Pastor Thang says the Burmese needs are not only physical but spiritual as well.

THANG: They may be Christian in the name but far away from Jesus or Christianity also. So my prayer is to teach a spiritual need – in Him, we live or not.

Jim Rairdon says CBRTN will be there to walk alongside the Burmese as they find their way.

RAIRDON: I said to Sue just when we thought, you know, our work was over, we’ve had some lulls where was no apparent need for us. And then boom, something happens and the phone rings off the wall and, and we need you and we’re, we’re there, back in it again, because we love the people. The love of God is in our hearts for them.  

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Aurora, Colorado.

(Bear Gutierrez/Genesis) Andrew Thang with his children

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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