by the Venerable Alan Nichols, Multicultural Ministries Coordinator
From a freewill collection at Werribee church, when people heard of the illness of a good friend of Karen refugees, a good idea has grown into a community centre in Thailand for Karen Anglicans from Myanmar who decide not to go home.
It is a remarkable narrative testifying to the generosity of Karen refugees and their recognition of heroes.
It all started when Anette Lemonius, pastoral worker for the Karen at Christ Church Bangkok for 14 years, fell ill with a terminal illness in 2012.
Many refugees who knew and respected her in the refugee camps had by then moved to Australia and now live at Werribee. They immediately took up a collection at St Thomas’ Church, Werribee, which amounted to $3,000 cash.
From other donors this has since grown to $20,000 which has paid for the construction of a hall in Anette Lemonius’ memory which today seated 120 for the dedication and opening.
The new hall has a view of the mountains of Myanmar across which many refugees escaped during the long civil war. Between is the Moie River.
Of the 50,000 in Mae La camp, more than 1700 are regular worshipping Anglicans in three churches. From that grew another 2000 regulars in 5 villages nearby.
Bishop Stylo from Pa’an just over the border from Mae Salid, performed the dedication today before 120 people.
Mogens Lemonius, husband of Anette and a UN agriculture scientist, spoke today of his wife as “the compassionate counsellor”. She listened intently. A few days before her death, she asked to be buried with items which “bore witness to her Karen identity.”
Canon David Kharoe thanked donors towards the cost of the hall, saying “You have enabled us to make our dream come true.”
Bishop Stylo said, “God has already consecrated this hall because she is a daughter of God.”
Dean Yee Chin Wah of Singapore described seeing Anette being welcomed at a refugee camp in 2009, said “Thin is the mother of the Karen people.”
Archdeacon Alan Nichols, Multicultural Ministries Coordinator in the Melbourne Diocese, said Anette was a hero of the Karen people, like some of the women in Romans chapter 16 whom St Paul called deacons, apostles and fellow worker, who worked hard.”
Naw Tamla, general secretary of the Karen Anglican Ministry on the Border, told the audience the long germ purposes of the property, including a new two storey building with meeting rooms, offices, training facilities and space for retreats. “And we want to stand on our own two feet with income generation,” she said.
Present at the dedication from Melbourne were the Rev. Ron Peterson (Werribee), the Rev. Jeremy Morgan (Collingwood) and Archdeacon Alan Nichols (Multicultural Ministry). Also there was the Rev. Lay Kaw Baw, vicar of Inverleigh, who was visiting relatives in Myanmar and crossed the border for the occasion.
They represented a 25 year partnership between the Karen refugees in Thailand with both the Diocese of Melbourne and Anglican Overseas Aid.