OWENSBORO, Ky. (BP) – When pastor Kamlen Haokip joined his wife and daughter for worship on Sunday, Aug. 21, it was the first time the family had been together for a service in more than four years.
While Haokip was serving as the Burmese pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church in Owensboro, Ky., his wife Esther and 8-year-old daughter Lydia were attempting to make it from their home country of Myanmar to the U.S.
Their journey was halted by a variety of factors including the COVID-19 pandemic and political turmoil in Myanmar. When the three were finally reunited on Saturday, Aug. 20, Haokip said the emotions were overwhelming.
“There were tears in that airport, because who are we that God answered our prayers?” Haokip said in an interview with Baptist Press. “It was a heartfelt and thankful moment.”
The family’s original plan was for Esther and Lydia to remain in Myanmar for two years, while Kamlen would come to the U.S. to finish his biblical education.
It had been Kamlen’s desire to come to the U.S. to attend seminary and do ministry for many years, even before he was married. He came to America in March of 2018, and was hired as the Burmese pastor of Bellevue in early 2020.
March of 2020 marked both the end of two-year period where Esther and Lydia were supposed to stay in Myanmar and Kamlen’s first week of working on staff at Bellevue.
That month also marked the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns and a huge change of plans for the family. Bellevue turned its focus to online ministry, while Esther and Lydia continued to wait.
What’s more, the political chaos in Myanmar made for a dangerous environment in the area surrounding Esther and Lydia.
Haokip recalls being on a video call with his family and his daughter telling him she was scared because of all the soldiers that would sometimes walk around near their house.
He said the grace of God is the only thing that carried him through.
“In the midst of impossible situations and many challenges, God worked and God answered the prayers of his people,” Haokip said. “It was a miracle He orchestrated for His glory.
“God’s grace kept me moving in the midst of this separation from my family. It was a very challenging time, except for the grace of God. As our burdens go up, God always adds His grace. His grace is always sufficient in every situation.”
Haokip added that support from his church family was a huge blessing to him during the hard season.
“The staff at Bellevue have been a great encouragement and walked with me so much through this journey,” Haokip said. “They cried with me, prayed with me and they were so loving. Their encouragement kept us moving in the midst of the hopeless situation.”
Greg Faulls, senior pastor at Bellevue, said he remembers a particularly emotional time of prayer the staff held with Haokip.
“It was around January of 2021 that we began our staff meetings in person again, and I remember us laying hands of Kamlen and weeping with him in one of the first times we had all even had contact with one another in a long time,” Faulls said.
Esther and Lydia would eventually flee Myanmar and travel to India, where they began a long process of acquiring visas and waiting until travel to the U.S. was allowed.
Faulls said the church did everything it could to help Esther and Lydia get to America, including working with Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s staff to assist the U.S. embassy in India with whatever it might need.
Even during this time of waiting, Faulls said Haokip continued to press on in his ministry as pastor of the Burmese congregation within the church.
Bellevue prioritizes diversity, the pastor said, holding five services in four different languages each Sunday.
One of those services is the Burmese congregation of about 90 people, which Haokip has led for two years. The church has baptized 15 people in the past year.
“The Burmese congregation in our church has a strong community and they have been very happy about Kamlen being their pastor,” Faulls said. “They’ve taken good care of him.
“Kamlen has been very evangelistic in his efforts, and he’s been such a positive leader in a thriving congregation.”
When Esther and Lydia finally arrived in the U.S., Haokip’s congregation not only had members ready to greet the two at the airport, but also paid for their trip.
Haokip said the moment when the family finally reunited was “indescribable.”
The advice he said he would give to other Christians going through a hard time is to trust the character of God.
“My encouragement for people in hard times would be look to Jesus, and cling on to the promises of God,” Haokip said. “The only thing that is permanent is God and His promises.”
“Even when you cannot see the hand of God moving in your life, we can only trust that the heart of God toward us is always faithful and trustworthy. Keep believing and remember that Jesus is the answer to all our problems.”