As part of National Refugee Week (Sunday, 19 June to Saturday, 25 June), we will share some inspiring stories from our refugee communities here in Victoria. Many of these families began their journeys supported by the BUV Refugee Airfare and Assistance Loan Scheme (RAALS) and today, they are growing and flourishing as people of God with inspiring and encouraging stories to tell.
This story the story of Pastor Thang En Hen:
On 27 May 1968, Pastor Thang En Hen was born in Saizang Village in the Zomi area of the Chin State of Myanmar (Burma) to his late parents Suan Kam, a postman and Zam Za Dim, a farmer. He is one of seven siblings.
Today, Pastor Thang now lives here in Victoria, Australia with his wife Zo Sian Muang and their three children, Dim Khawm Kim, Kam Sian Song and Cing Van Mang.
On 2 April 1978, Pastor Thang’s family joined the Baptist circle (then known as ABM or American Baptist Missions) where he first heard about the gospel. Through the songs, messages and testimonies of those who shared, Pastor Thang accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
During his time at the government-run Academy for Development of National Groups (ADNG) where he was completing his Teaching degree, Pastor Thang received a miraculous encouragement from the Lord whilst sitting amongst his fellow peers at their study hall:
‘Oh, I now belong to the Kingdom of heaven. So, from now onwards if I die, I’ll inherit the Kingdom of God for Jesus says, whoever believes in Him has eternal life, and as I believe in Him, I have that life.’
Reassured by this promise, Pastor Thang entered his final year of studies motivated to stand his ground against the political discrimination for being part of a double minority group: being a practicing Christian and being of Zomi ethnicity. Despite being unjustifiably dismissed from his studies just a day before he was meant to graduate, Pastor Thang was determined to stand up for his rights and the rights of his people. He joined the political activist movement that hoped to remove the authoritarian yoke of the Burmese military, which unfortunately, still won over, forcing the members of the activist movement to flee for their lives.
In 24 November 1988, after hearing a sermon about the story of Abraham and the never-ending enmity between his descendants through Ishmael and his descendants through Isaac, Pastor Thang made a decision to completely commit his life to serving the Lord.
From there, Pastor Thang entered the Discipleship Bible College (DBC) in Dimapur of Nagaland where he studied for his diploma of Theology. Despite the financial hardship, Pastor Thang lived in faith and through the local Naga community of believers, Pastor Thang received a full sponsorship from the Lotha Naga family of Tsenchebemo Odyuo and Zubeni Odyuo.
After receiving both his diploma and Bachelor Degree in Theology (the latter of which he completed in Eastern Theological College), Pastor Thang entered into full-time Pastoral ministry in May 2000 at his church in Saizang, where he worked for 2500kyats salary which is equivalent to AUD $2.50 per month. Afterwards, he taught part-time at Tedim Theological College (TTC) before being promoted to full-time as well as being ordained as an official Baptist minister. In March 2007, Pastor Thang received his Master of Theology in Ecumenism from the Southeast Asia Graduate School of Theology (SEAGST) of Myanmar.
In August 2009, Pastor Thang travelled to Hong Kong in pursuit of a Doctorate in Theology degree in Ecumenism. However, his supervisor turned down his Doctorate proposal despite his offer of kindness in paying for his airfare home. “There’s no other incident more disappointing than that in my whole life,” Pastor Thang says. “I was really upset and almost got depressed. In the end, I could only kneel with lots of tears and constant prayers to God for [an] immediate opening of another way of a better one for me.”
Pastor Thang’s trials didn’t stop there. With the oppressive military operations in Myanmar, Pastor Thang was forced to flee to Malaysia in 2010. Even under the U.N. protection, however, Pastor Thang still feared for his life daily whether it was getting caught by the Malaysian police for his status as a refugee, getting caught by the Malaysian immigration because they weren’t allowed to work in the country legally, or the ongoing threat of robbers and gangsters who specifically targeted refugees.
After seven years of hardship in Malaysia, Pastor Thang’s family was finally able to join him there for two years before they flew to Melbourne, Australia on 1 August 2019. “Indeed, the very day we stepped down to Melbourne airport [was] really the happiest day [of my life],” he says.
In Melbourne, the Zomi Baptist Church warmly welcomed the family and ever since, they’ve been working hand-in-hand in their ministry. As a Pastor, it was vital for Pastor Thang to serve and minister to his community through home visitations but without transportation, he was unable to do so. Pastor Thang was presented with a used car in a good condition that, unfortunately, as an inexperienced driver, he had crashed! But through the BUV’s RAALS scheme, Pastor Thang applied and was granted an interest-free loan to purchase their current car.
“I’ve heard that many of my church members have also been supported by the BUV refugee loan schemes. These compassionate thoughts and advocacy programs are real and tangible acts of love and encouragements for us, and we hope that one day we can extend God’s love to other people who are going through the same circumstances. As a Pastor of Zomi Baptist Church, I am greatly thankful to you all for the great refugee support.”
If you wish to support the BUV RAALS, please donate via direct debit:
Name: BUV RAALS Gift
All donations to RAALS are tax deductible.
For more information on National Refugee Week, please visit their website here. Please visit the buv.com.au/advocacy page which includes tools to help discussion, inform awareness, prompt action and enhance connections to empower Baptist Leaders to lead local mission. We are regularly updating the resources and adding new issues so check in regularly!