In 2008, Bhutanese refugees began to be resettled in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and in cities across the USA. The US was one of 7 countries working with the UN to place over 120,000 Bhutanese that have been living in refugee camps in Nepal for the past 18+ years.
Who are these people and what has brought them to our cities?
Most Bhutanese refugees are from southern Bhutan, a small country located between India and China. They speak Nepali, but many of the youth have had an opportunity to study “British” English. Their religion is primarily Hindu, but some are Buddhist and Christian.
In the 1980’s, the government of Bhutan began to view these southern Bhutanese, originally of Nepali descent and practicing Hinduism as a threat to the political order. After 1989, the southern Bhutanese began to flee their country upon having their citizenship revoked by the Bhutanese government. Bhutanese security forces committed acts of torture, killings, rapes, plunder and burning of homes. Over 134,000 Bhutanese citizens – close to 20% of Bhutan’s population – were ousted from their home country. By 1992, they fled to Nepal in amounts of up to 600 per day, leaving behind their land, homes, businesses, and jobs.
Eventually the Nepali government allowed the UN to set up 7 camps where the refugees lived in low cost, temporary shelters made from bamboo with dirt floors and no electricity or running water.
The Nepali government prohibited the Bhutanese refugees from participating in economic activities outside the camp or from obtaining citizenship. They did allow them to have schools, enabling many of the youth to get a High School education. Some were even able to commute to colleges and universities for advanced degrees, though this was very difficult due to the cost.
In 2008, Nepal decided to close the camps, telling over 125,000 Bhutanese they had to leave. After the UN tried unsuccessfully to get Bhutan to allow them to return, they worked with other countries to accept them.
Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and other countries agreed to help resettle them over a period of about five years. The US agreed to take 60,000 and place them in cities all across the lower 48 states. Over 1,000 have already been resettled in DFW. More are coming – many to join family members already here. The US government works with local resettlement organizations such as Catholic Charities and World Relief to help place the refugees in apartments, help obtain healthcare, and assist with cultural training. They help them try to find work within the 180 days which is the US government’s deadline for self-sufficiency. Many have been finding work by the deadline, but this has been very difficult in the economic downturn, especially those that are older and lack English skills.
The nation’s recession has hindered efforts to help refugees trying to start anew in the US. The goal of these people fleeing persecution in their homelands is not only to be free, but also to become self sufficient through employment. They did not come looking to be on welfare; they want a job to provide for their families just like they did in Bhutan. A job is where they find their dignity and self-respect.
The Bhutanese began to arrive at DFW Airport with one piece of luggage, the clothes on their back, and a dream of a better life in the United States, hoping to work and prosper.
Through the amazing providence of God, the Bhutanese and Fort Worth’s Altamesa Church of Christ “connected”.
One day Dr. Billy Eden, an Elder at ALTAMESA CHURCH, saw several Bhutanese walking beside the road. He stopped, visited with them, and took them to Neighborhood Needs, ALTAMESA CHURCH’s food and clothing ministry. About the same time, Salvador Cariaga, ALTAMESA CHURCH’s Philippine missionary, in the states with his family, met several Bhutanese and befriended them. He ended up helping many receive assistance from Neighborhood Needs and going to the airport to meet new arrivals.
From this beginning, more ALTAMESA CHURCH members began meeting, helping and working with Bhutanese families to get their start in America and learn about the living God and His Son.
Over 5oo Bhutanese have passed through NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS and received basic household items, clothing, and food. In 2009, as many as 70-80 were attending ALTAMESA CHURCH Sunday morning worship assembly. Multiple Bible studies were being held in various area apartment complexes.
But the volunteers prayed for a Bhutanese Christian leader that could translate, teach and minister to the refugee community. In July 2009 that prayer was answered when the Tanka Darjee family relocated to Fort Worth.
Tanka, age 29, and his wife Krishna and children Anisha and Anush, arrived with a heart and a passion for preaching and ministry, having put himself through a Bible college in India – riding the train 5 hours from the camp to get to his classes. Krishna worked as a school teacher for 80 cents a week to help pay for Tanka’s schooling.
So, what’s next? What would God have us do to take maximum advantage of this amazing mission opportunity where He has moved an ethnic group halfway around the world and put them in our neighborhoods…at our doorstep?
There are so many passages in the Old Testament where God instructs His people to welcome and help the stranger in their midst. But there is no plainer teaching than that of Jesus in Matthew 25 where the righteous on Judgment Day are commended for welcoming the stranger and giving food, water and clothing. Verse 40 says “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Most, if not all the Bhutanese that are resettled need some help to get on their feet. Working along side the resettlement agencies, ALTAMESA CHURCH’s NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS and others help with the immediate physical needs.
In addition to this much needed and greatly appreciated initial help, there is a desire by Christians to maintain contact and minister beyond just the physical.
Taking a longer range view, ALTAMESA CHURCH’s leadership envisioned establishing a Bhutanese/Nepali language church plant in Ft Worth, and possibly in other cities in the US, and even in other nations, including India and back to the family members and friends still in the camps in Nepal.
ALTAMESA CHURCH engaged Nexus, a church planting consulting organization, to serve as the initial coordinating organization, providing the church-planting leader (Tanka & Krishna Darjee) with Leader Care services (assessment, training, coaching, mentoring, and community) as well as assisting ALTAMESA CHURCH and the IBC Board with fundraising.
In 2010, after receiving a positive recommendation from a team of church planting assessors, Tanka and Krishna were hired full time to lead the church plant effort.
On January 23, 2011, Immanuel Bhutanese Church – IBC for short – was launched with a grand opening assembly. Over 300 attended the worship service which included Gospel singing by well known Nepali singer, Karna Das.
IBC currently averages 30 to 40 at the Sunday morning worship assembly, and a contribution of $30 to $40. In addition, there have been over 40 baptisms since 2008.
IBC continues an active ministry to the Bhutanese community. The many activities include the celebration of the birth of many babies, providing comfort during deaths with condolence services, zoo trips – a favorite with children and adults alike, Christmas programs that share the story of God’s only Son coming to Earth, a Discipleship Bible School with 10 days of 2 hour per day instruction resulting in 25 students being awarded graduation certificates (show Great Commission Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20), welcoming new families and introducing them to NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS for food, clothing, and basic household items for their first, nearly bare apartment, help with Doctor, dentist, and hospital appointments and translation, helping them use the new NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS Community Center office computers, copiers, fax for job searches and applications, at the NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS Community Center allowing them to plant and care for their own garden bed to grow food for their family, and helping them start a sewing business for additional income using NEIGHBORHOOD NEEDS donated supplies and reconditioned sewing machines.
You are invited to visit, worship, and serve with IBC. The church meets at 4532 Altamesa Boulevard, with worship services from 9:30 to 11:15am Sundays. You will find a warm welcome and uplifting worship!!