BY CAROL REYNOLDS, ASAP BOARD MEMBER
Soe Nay Hsee, called “Soe Soe” by his family and friends, remembers a happy childhood spent in Myanmar (formerly Burma), living with his faithful Karen Seventh-day Adventist family. He attended the Eric B. Hare Memorial Academy at Ye-bu village. At nine years of age he had a close brush with death when he fell into a deep well. A mentally ill lady miraculously heard his cries and called for help to pull him out. His hands were raw from clinging onto the rope. Soe Soe knew that God had spared him, and he determined to serve Him.
When civil war overtook their village, Soe Soe’s parents were threatened and arrested, and the family with six children fled through the jungle. They ended up in the primitive Mae La refugee camp on the border of Thailand, where they lived for many years. Thankfully, Soe Soe was able to finish high school in the camp, learning both the Burmese and the Karen languages, as well as a little English. Those years were difficult, but even though the family had very little, they enjoyed warm fellowship with other displaced believers. They also prayed for a better future and educational opportunities for the children.
In 2007, when Soe Soe was 19 years old, his whole family resettled to Utica, New York. What a huge adjustment for them after years of primitive jungle living! Soe Soe’s parents were thrown into the workforce at minimum wage jobs, and they struggled to find a church and Christian education for their children. Soe Soe worked hard to learn more English and eventually completed an associate degree in computer information systems at a local community college. His parents were determined that, if possible, their children should attend Adventist schools. Soe Soe wondered if he could reach his goal of serving the Lord.
Because of generous donors who believe in sponsoring refugee youth to become pastors to their people groups, Soe Soe made the courageous decision to step out of his comfort zone and attend Ouachita Hills College (OHC), a small Bible college in Arkansas, to prepare for the ministry. “At first, I really felt like it was not the right fit for me. I had to leave all my friends, my family, my culture, my language, and even the food I loved,” Soe Soe recalls. “But I wanted to serve the Lord and my people, and it is the way He led me.”
Now that four years have passed, Soe Soe is very thankful for the education he has received. Canvassing is a big part of his life at OHC, and he has grown much and learned many valuable leadership and decision-making skills. “I now know that I didn’t lose anything when I chose to attend OHC, but rather, I have gained many deep spiritual friendships and invaluable preparation for ministry. I have also been extremely blessed by the Spirit of Prophecy, which I was never exposed to before. My life has been totally changed by being here. I don’t know where I would be today if I had not come here.”
Now a U.S. citizen, last summer Soe Soe returned to Southeast Asia on a mission trip led by Pastor Jimmy Shwe and his wife as part of his senior practicum requirements. Pastor Shwe is a mentor and church planting consultant for thousands of Karen Adventist refugees scattered across North America. Returning to his roots was incredibly inspiring to Soe Soe. “I was able to return to my home village, as well as to the refugee camp where we lived. I have become so used to a more comfortable life in America that it was sobering to remember who I was and where I came from. I questioned what I will do about it in the future,” Soe Soe pondered. "The refugees have so very little and hardly enough to eat, yet they were so joyful. Teaching in an ASAP-sponsored school for these refugee children bound my heart to those who were just like me a few years ago. I can’t wait to serve my people and share with them what I have learned.”
Soe Soe will graduate from OHC this month (August 2020), and he plans to return to Southeast Asia, where he will serve the Lord as the coordinator for church planting and evangelism among the displaced Karen people on the Thai-Myanmar border. Though he was the first Karen student to attend OHC, now three others are attending and studying theology there. Canvassing helps them pay their school tuition, but support from ASAP’s “Education for Southeast Asians in the U.S.” fund also plays an important part in their success. This fund assists several faithful refugee theology students at other Adventist schools in North America, as well. Please pray that the Lord will provide for their education and their future involvement in His work among their people groups.