Special to The Hays Daily News

GARDEN CITY -- Local Burmese refugees began practicing their Christian faith by congregating at a small house on Second Street.

When these quarters became too cramped, three of the leaders approached Pastor Robert Phillips to see if they could worship at his church, Fellowship Baptist.

"Naing Kee, Ling Shui and Pastor Kee Ha came to me told me that there was a group of refugees meeting in a house on Second Street to worship. They said it was getting a little crowded and asked if they could worship with us," Phillips said. "This was the beginning of a joyful relationship with Fellowship Baptist Church, Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida, and Myanmar Christian Fellowship."

Naing Kee, who owned the house on Second Street, said there are about 60 to 70 Burmese in the Myanmar Christian Fellowship.

"It was too hot in my house, so we came here to see Pastor Robert, and we told him what we had been facing, so he helped us," Kee said.

On Saturday, the Myanmar Christian Fellowship gathered to celebrate its one-year anniversary at the church. Joined by the Myanmar Music Group from Tulsa, Okla., Burmese Christians gathered, where some of the church members performed traditional Burmese dance as the music group performed Christian music in Burmese. After the service, traditional Burmese food was served.

Kee translates for Pastor Phillips, who preaches to the Burmese congregation once a month.

Phillips said this has been a learning experience for him, in that oftentimes English does not translate into other languages as he thinks it will. In his first sermon to the Burmese congregation, he used a baseball analogy.

"As I told the story and waited for the smiles and nods, I just got blank stares. The story did not make sense, so I've had to learn how to keep my phrasing short and learn the culture so my illustrations remain relevant," he said.

Kee, who also runs the sound system and manages the Burmese school at the church, was born into a Christian family in Myanmar, so he has been a practicing Christian all of his life. The same is true for Zan Dal, who also translates for Phillips on occasion.

"For me, I help my people if they need some translation because even me, not very good English but some people worse, so if they need help, they call me and I help," Dal said. "I'm so blessed to help them."

Dal said there are several tribes in Myanmar, and the majority of the 16 million people who live there practice Buddhism. However, within the different tribes, which include the Chin, Karen and Kachin, the percentage of Christians is quite high.

"We are the minor group, but for our Chin, about 98 percent Christian, but Karen is about 50 percent Christian and 50 percent Buddhist," he said.

His wife, who has converted to Christianity, was raised as a Buddhist, which he said made their union unacceptable in the eyes of her parents.

"Because her parents were really strong in the Buddhism and then they don't like her paired with me," he said and then laughed.

Myanmar Christian Fellowship meets from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays. About three times a year, all three congregations combine services.

"It is an interesting service to be singing a song that everyone knows, like 'How Great Thou Art,' and hear it in all three languages," Phillips said. "We have had to work together to coordinate the resources of the church to accommodate all three groups, but the challenge has been rewarding."

Phillips said the children of Myanmar Christian Fellowship have brought life to the church.

"The people are a loving, gracious and caring people that have been great to work with," he said.