Connecting with our neighborhood’s growing Burmese community

On an unseasonable warm Saturday evening in December, 43 Burmese children and their mothers gather in what is either an unfinished or extremely rundown club house at the Newport Landing apartments on Walnut Hill. North Dallas resident Catherine Ogie-Lucas hurries around the room, laying down carpet so the children have a place to sit, carrying in bags of food, donated by the neighborhood Chick-Fil-A, and employing helpers, namely her 9-year-old daughter, to line a table with the 40-some gift bags she filled with clothing, hygiene products and other donations, the previous night.

Catherine, founder of Rockhaven Ministries, her daughter Princess and husband Darren have been hosting get-togethers for this group of people since May, when they held a back-to-school rally.

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An estimated 500,000 political refugees have been driven from their homes in Burma, an Asian country of 54 million. Texas is home to the largest number of refugees, and Dallas is the second largest destination (Houston is the top), according to recent statistics outlined in a June Houston Chronicle article.

A huge number of refugees from Burma, Bhutan and Iraq live in the Park Lane/Vickery Meadow area, but a large percentage of Burmese refugees have moved to the Lake Highlands area.

This Morning News article near the start of the school year outlined the influx of Burmese students to Wallace Elementary.

This gathering and the others — religious yet not proselytizing  — are about building relationships, Catherine says. The idea is to eventually offer English classes and life-skills classes to the parents and help them gain American citizenship.

They are coming from a different culture, they speak a different language and something such as using our public transportation system can be extremely confusing, Catherine says. We want to help them with some of these fundamental things. It’s difficult, because only one of the Burmese parents speaks English. However, notes Catherine, the children help with the interpretation and, she adds, “The language of love is universal. When you love people, it is easy to make them understand.”

As his wife works, Darren tells me how they got involved with the Burmese community (Catherine is from Nigeria). She had a dream one night about helping a large community of Asian people. She woke up and said, What does it all mean?

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Through their church and Catherine’s job, where she works with large numbers of Asian immigrants, they were lead to this group, which is in great need of support, Darren notes. “They come here and, often living in low-income, crime inhabited apartment communities, they are vulnerable to all of the ills of our culture—drugs, crime, violence. They desperately need someone to help them acclimate,” he says.

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He calls his wife the “energizer bunny.” “We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner where she cooked for all of them. The Friday after Thanksgiving I was ready for an easy day off — go see a movie, you know? But she wasn’t hearing it. We took food to the apartments. I was instructed to load the car, he says with a laugh. It turned out to be better than any movie,” he admits.

After chatting with me, Darren, a preacher, tells stories that have the kids rolling in laughter. The parents, though they don’t understand his story, smile broadly as they observe their children’s joy. Catherine prays for each child individually.

Her daughter Princess looks over at me, good-naturedly rolls her eyes and warns, “This part will take forever.”

Catherine calls this a dedication ceremony.

She is not forcing religion on the children, she says, but letting them know God loves them.

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