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Saw May Htun, the oldest son in our Burmese refugee family, called in May, saying that he needed to speak with me. I went to the family’s apartment and was quite surprised at the news he shared: The family was going to move to Minnesota soon! He explained that he and his siblings (a younger brother and two younger sisters) were happy in Easton, but his parents longed to live near their good friends, a couple from the refugee camp in Thailand who had settled in Burma.

I had figured that perhaps in another year or two, the family might want to live near other Burmese in Allentown. I never suspected they would go so far away. My family had become quite close to our Burmese friends, so the news hit us hard. I’m sure others on the Refugee Team were saddened as well. We threw a farewell party for the family in June and they left near the end of the month.

Still, I’m glad our team was able to help the family adjust to life in the United States. I’m so grateful for the volunteers who put in many hours of love for the family with English lessons, searching for a home, transportation to appointments, birthday parties, school registration, and much more.

I will always have soft spot in my heart for Ah Aing, Yi Than, Saw May Htun, Nay Nay Noi, Saw Mo Lin, and Aye Aye Thin. May God bless you all richly. You’ll always have a home in Easton.

Hoping for More Work and ESL Volunteers

It’s long past time for an update on our Burmese family. I haven’t been quite as motivated to post because there hasn’t been a lot of news to report.

The three younger kids in our Burmese Bunch, as some of us affectionately call the family, are doing well in school. Their classes are all taught in the context of English As a Second Language. Saw May Htun, the oldest son, and Ai Aing, the dad, are learning English at Project of Easton, a nonprofit downtown. Yi Than, the mom, is learning English once a week by herself and again on Sunday mornings with whatever family members decide to participate. There are no tutors available at Project of Easton due to funding cuts, and she doesn’t have the capacity to learn in the beginners class. So ESL volunteers to work one-on-one with her are needed. No experience is necessary, and you can observe the ongoing sessions to see how it’s done. Just 1 or 2 hours once a week would make a big difference. Please get in touch (dabnjab@gmail.com) if you can help.

Saw May Htun continues to work at Don Juan Mex Grill, 518 March Street, Easton. The location is very convenient, almost right across the street from the family’s apartment. I enjoyed lunch there recently and the co-owner was very positive about him. And the pork burrito was great! Try it out; giving the restaurant your business can only help Saw May Htun. It seems that Lafayette College students are the more frequent customers of the restaurant, so it decreased its hours during winter break in January, which meant that Saw May Htun’s hours were cut as well. I’m a little concerned that the same thing will happen during the summer break. I talked with the co-owner about this and she didn’t think a dramatic cut in hours would happen. Let’s hope and pray.

Yi Than, the mom, continues to work at the Touch of Thai restaurant in downtown Easton. Whenever I ask about how things are going, I’m told all is well. However, the owner is going to close the restaurant for four months — I’m guessing to visit Thailand, but I really don’t know why — so that’s going to be a significant loss of income for the family.

Both of these jobs are part time and together do not cover the financial needs of the family. And as I’ve noted, there will be a loss of working hours soon. Getting more work is a major need. If you have any leads on opportunities, please get in touch (dabnjab@gmail.com). From everything we’ve seen and heard, this is a hard-working family that just needs opportunities.

Recently an anonymous donor at Cornerstone Church gave $1,000 for the family — thank you, Lord! (Last year a family from partner church Fellowship Baptist donated $1,000.) They obtained a laptop some time ago and I’m thinking that high-end English As A Second Language software would be a good investment. The family’s lacking a printer so that might be a good use for some of the remaining money.

Today Claire helped the Burmese Bunch apply for green cards. Janine brought over our kids, Oliver and Isabelle, to dye Easter eggs. It would be great for more friendship interactions with family members to take place.

I hope to hold a meeting about the ministry soon to regroup, possibly after the second service concludes at Cornerstone (about 12:15 p.m.) on Sunday, April 22 or April 29.

If you have a desire to help the family, please let me know. Otherwise, please pray for more work and ESL volunteers.

Dave Block

A Summary of our Adventure

I wrote a summary of the ministry for Cornerstone Church’s annual report, and I’ve posted it below to help folks catch up:

Refugee Ministry

The Refugee Team consists of volunteers from Cornerstone Church and Fellowship Baptist Church in Easton who take care of the needs of a refugee family. Assistance has included teaching English, helping the adults find jobs, enrolling the children in school, connecting the family with government and nonprofit agency assistance, securing housing, ensuring bills are paid, arranging for health care, shopping for groceries and for clothes, driving family members to appointments, and much more.

Our Burmese family of six came into our lives at midnight April 27, 2011 at Lehigh Valley International Airport. After they spent a few days living with gracious hosts Tim and Helen VanSumeren, the family stayed with the exceptionally hospitable Brad, Becky and Juliana Young until they moved into their own apartment in July. They achieved major milestones this fall as the three youngest children enrolled in school, Yi Than (mom) got a part-time job at the Touch of Thai restaurant in downtown Easton, and Saw May Htun (oldest son) was hired at Don Juan Mex Grill.

Family members have enjoyed a number of other firsts, such as birthday parties, carnival and amusement park outings, swimming at pools, spending time at the beach, visiting a zoo, watching outdoor movies, and trick-or-treating.

Along the way, we’ve seen God do amazing things. A long, frustrating apartment search ended in God’s timing with a place just a minute’s walk from the church. Saw May Htun got a job just a minute’s walk from the apartment. Dedicated volunteers emerged to teach English as a Second Language (ESL), and several Refugee Team members in particular have tirelessly served the family. In October, the refugee budget was down to just $60 and though financial need was not communicated, a Fellowship Baptist couple came through with a $1,000 donation.

Please join us in prayer for the family and the Refugee Team as we share the love and truth of Jesus Christ while guiding the Burmese Bunch (as some of us affectionately call them) toward self-sufficiency. Consider joining the team — we’re in great need of ESL volunteers for Yi Than (no teaching experience necessary) and help with finding work for Ah Aing (dad), who is partially disabled. You can learn more by visiting http://refugeeteam.com.

Dave Block

A (Sort of) Full-Time Job for Saw May Htun

Don Juan Mex Grill

Work is going well for Saw May Htun at Don Juan Mex Grill, a new restaurant on College Hill.

Saw May Htun (oldest son) started working 30-40 hours a week Sept. 24, preparing food at the new restaurant on College Hill, Don Juan Mex Grill. He’s there 10-2 (later if needed) Mondays through Fridays, a full day Saturday, and a full day Sunday as well when it’s available. The owner, Juan Martinez, is friendly and the restaurant is literally a one-minute walk from the family’s apartment. The schedule allows Saw May Htun to take English as a Second Language classes at Project of Easton on weekday evenings. God is good!

Yi Than (mom) continues to work 20 hours a week at Touch of Thai in downtown Easton; we haven’t been able to get her another 20 hours. Jon Markley set the family up with a checking account, and Claire Fopeano brought them back to have Saw May Htun and younger brother Saw Mo Lin added to the account. I met a couple days ago with our finance person, Lyne Blodgett, and Pastor Tim VanSumeren to discuss the family’s finances, e.g. what bills they’re going to pay, how much spending money they’ll have each month, etc.

With three months left in the year, we are getting toward the end of our budgeted funds for the refugee family. Donations of winter clothes and cash for expenses are welcome. You can make a tax-deductible donation by writing a check to Cornerstone Church (411 March St., Easton, PA 18042) with “refugee ministry” in the memo field. Clothes can be brought to Cornerstone in labeled bags & placed under the coat rack in the foyer.

We’re down to a couple ESL classes a week taught by our volunteers. It will be a while until Ah Aing (dad) will start ESL classes at Project of Easton. There have been budget cutbacks at Project of Easton and so there’s no program available there for Yi Than.

Our needs include:

  • ESL volunteers to teach the parents, especially Yi Than
  • Winter sweaters and coats
  • Computer and printer
  • Job opportunities, including cleaning, yard work, etc.
  • Cash donations
  • Prayer
Thanks for your support. Email me if you have any questions or want to help.
— Dave Block

New Schools, New Job

Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of driving Yi Than to Taste of Thai in downtown Easton for her first day on the job. She’s going to be working 20 hours per week with the owner/manager/chef of the restaurant. The manager of Phenom, the other Thai restaurant in downtown Easton, also was interested  in talking with Yi Than about a job. It would be great if she could work some hours there before her job at Touch of Thai. If that doesn’t work out, I’m hoping we can get some house cleaning jobs lined up for her. In any case, any job is a great step forward for our Burmese friends!

I drove Saw May Htun to Chick-Fil-A for a group interview last Monday, and a few days later he got called about coming in for an individual interview on Sept. 13. A bus runs between College Hill and Northampton Crossings, so this would be convenient.

Aye Aye Thin, Nay Nay Noi, and Saw Mo Lin started school this week. They’re glad to be there. Saw Mo Lin would be working, but there haven’t been any open doors in the area for someone with no work experience and little knowledge of English. There were openings at Nazareth Pallet in Northampton, where other Burmese work, but a trip on various LANTA buses would take over 3 hours and not arrive until 9 a.m., two hours after the work day begins there.

Our ESL program for the family has scaled back a bit with the start of school, where the three kids are taking ESL classes. Saw May Htun, Ah Aing, and Yi Than are all getting connected with ESL instruction at Project of Easton, though they haven’t started any classes yet. My hope is that our volunteers will continue some ESL sessions with the family, especially on Sunday mornings.

We could really use a computer and printer for the family, and a CD player/stereo would be great, too. With the change in season, clothing donations would be welcome as well.

Please pray about the job situations and school for the kids. And thank God for Yi Than’s employment!

— Dave

ESL, Outings, and the Job Search

English classes from our wonderful volunteers continue for the refugee family four days a week, and the three children of school age are being registered for public school. Claire Fopeano, who’s been an incredible help in so many ways, took the kids to their school registration appointment. She also brought the parents and Saw May Htun to an intake meeting at Project of Easton, where they’ll be taking English as a Second Language classes and receive pre-job training including preparation for interviews and resumes as well as some skills training.  They have their students indicate their goals for coming to the center and help them to meet them.  Claire reports that Ah Aing (the dad) and Saw May Htun (21-year-old son) had very ambitious goals and are highly motivated.

Janine and I enjoyed taking the family to Ocean City, N.J., as part of an annual trip with Lafayette College international students July 10-12. They loved their first beach experience and visited the Cape May Zoo with us. Claire and our family took the Burmese bunch, as they’re affectionately known by some, to Movies in the Park in Phillipsburg to see Gnomeo and Juliet last Thursday. This past weekend we took them to the Cornerstone outing to see the Iron Pigs play and brought the kids to the Easton Farmers Market. I’ll try to post pictures from some events soon.

Please consider spending time with some or all of the family. Hosting just the boys, just the girls, all the kids, or the whole family works well because Saw May Htun (older son) and Nay Nay Noi (older daughter) have pretty good English skills. Swimming, cooking together, outdoor games (e.g. frisbee golf, bean bag toss, badminton), indoor games (e.g. charades, Pictionary), and movies are good activities. Janine and I took Aye Aye Thin to Dorney Park several weeks ago and it turned out great; her limited English was not  a problem. She also enjoyed attending vacation Bible school last week and will attend another this week.

The big challenge now is the job search. In this tough economy and with the disadvantages of the family members’ limited English and lack of experience, we need all the help we can get. Please visit the new Job Search webpage and consider helping.

Finally, our top needs for donations (see also the Items Needed webpage):

  • air conditioner
  • CD player/stereo
  • computer
  • printer
  • bicycles
  • guitar

— Dave

Home Sweet Home

Thanks to everyone who helped move the refugee family into the apartment Thursday evening and Saturday morning. It went very smoothly. Some of the hardest work was replacing a leaky refrigerator with a newer model — taking one down the two-story steps and the other up them — and bringing in a washer and dryer. Everything fit so well. As Janine said, it’s as we chose everything specifically for this apartment. I hope you enjoy the pictures.


A New Home

At long last, we have an apartment for our refugee family! I had spoken with a friend yesterday (Thursday) morning, and he said that he was thinking of me and the refugee family, feeling a sense that there was a problem, an obstacle, so he prayed. I told him how so many possibilities hadn’t worked out and asked him to pray. We prayed together and he was sure something special would come.


Later that day I found a listing I hadn’t seen before and called the landlord. The location was great: 215 Cattell Street, right around the corner from Cornerstone Church. I left work early and met him there to see the apartment, which is on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building. There’s a sunroom at the stop of the steps to the apartment, a good-sized kitchen and two more rooms on the second floor, and three bedrooms on the third floor. There are two parking spaces in the back. Over the next several hours while I was out with my family and wife’s parents, I called the landlord and arranged to meet at the nearby WaWa at 10 p.m., where he gave me the lease and I handed him the check.

There’s a family moving of the apartment, which will be available July 1. We’ll move the refugee family in that day and/or over the weekend. Movers and trucks/trailers will be needed. Please get in touch if you can help.

Praise God for answered prayer!

We also need volunteers to help teach the family English, to look for jobs, and to spend time with some (e.g. the four kids, just the boys, just the girls) or all of them. Think card games or outdoor games, a movie, a cook-out, a swimming pool, bowling, mini-golf, etc.

— Dave

English as a Second Language

This website has a new page, ESL Updates, which can be found in the right sidebar. One purpose is to give our English as a Second Language volunteers a place to communicate with each other, especially to indicate what’s been covered. Another is to allow others to see what’s happening in the ESL sessions with our refugee family.

Our program is flourishing under the leadership of Eileen Snover, an ESL teacher who’s adding Saturday mornings with the family to her load of teaching ESL full time Monday through Fridays! Here’s her initial message for the new ESL webpage:

May 29, 2011

The Sowers
Isa. 55:9-11

Have you ever made a drastic move or change in your life? Can you remember all your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and issues that faced you during this time? Most of us have had this experience at one time or another in our lives, but not many of us have faced leaving everything and everyone familiar behind, knowing we would never return. And if we have been called to make that kind of move, we have usually had time to prepare ourselves to leave our former homes, and to know to some degree, what we were headed for. Not so with our refugees. One of their many challenges is to learn English so that they may eventually become self-sufficient and productive. It is with this goal in mind that a small team of dedicated people is giving of their time and efforts to reach out with the love of Christ to help this family learn English.
Currently, we have a growing team of dedicated volunteers who have graciously stepped forward to give of their time and the love of Christ to interact with the family and help them learn English. Our team members include Eileen Snover, Claire Fopeano, Karen Lehman, Hart Hower, Jill Richter, and Helen VanSumeren. We are still looking for additional people willing to serve in this way, so if you feel led, please contact Eileen at 610-837-5074. We are not looking for experienced teachers, just willing hearts with some time and love to give. “Be flexible and teachable. You will learn much and receive untold blessings from God. By being more than a teacher and becoming a real friend, you will build the bridge of trust so that Christ can cross into their hearts.” Nancy Zumwalt, ‘Starting an ESL Program in Your Local Church’

We are very excited to announce that we will be conducting an additional class for the family during the second Sunday service beginning June 5! Please pray for the family, our team and our community of believers as we continue to reach out with the love of Jesus, practical English lessons, and of course, Bible lessons.

The current class schedule:
Tuesday, 6pm Claire Fopeano (5/31) rotating with Jill Richter (6/7)
Thursday, 10am, Karen Lehman
Saturday, 9am, Eileen Snover
Sunday, 10:45 at CEFC, Helen Van Sumeren

Lessons the week of 5/23-5/28 included:
Verbs: feel, smell, rub, cut, cover, hold (Tuesday), Bend (down), run, follow, give, give (back) (Saturday)
Vocabulary: orange (fruit), bush, altar, face, seed, sad, happy, hole, that is (Tues), Star, pitcher, fish, towel, gift, coins, his, her, your (Sat) – I also taught names and values of coins: penny, nickel, dime, quarter, and half-dollar. Since the lessons already included the concept of ‘coins’, I felt this was a natural place to introduce this necessary concept.

Lessons coming up the week of 5/30-6/5 will include:
Verbs: have/has, get, pour, fill (up), wrap, dry (Tues), Review of all verbs taught so far (Thurs), Put away, lay, tie up, says (Sat), Changes, reach out (Sun)
Vocabulary: pitcher, a glass, oil, water, wine, cloth, some, several (Tues), Review of all vocabulary taught so far (Thurs), son, mountain, God, him (Sat), Burning, closer, snake, any, into (Sun)

Feel free to contact one of us for more information or if you have any questions.

– Eileen Snover

Looking for an Apartment Again

The apartment fell through. We turned in a letter from Cornerstone Church guaranteeing the rent for 12 months and submitted the application, and all seemed fine except for the fact that the agent was taking a long time getting back to Jon Markley, our volunteer. Then Tuesday afternoon he got word that the landlord doesn’t want to rent to the family. It was stunning and disappointing.

So we’re again looking for a one-floor apartment with 3 bedrooms under $1,000 in the Easton school district. Jon is a real estate appraiser and has access to online listings, but please contact me if you know of a place fitting this description.

— Dave