29 March 2013 by James Hoh CM –
Pastor Johnathan Tanhla is no ordinary pastor. He is a beacon of hope for Myanmar refugees on transit in Malaysia waiting for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to place them in a third country.
Pastor Johnathan and with his wife, Grace belong to the Chin tribe from Myanmar, running a school for the Myanmese children and a little church in Imbi Road in Kuala Lumpur.
I met them near Jalan Imbi where one of my relatives used to stay many years ago but today, it is populated with Myanmar people. Spending some time with them and talking to Pastor Jonathan, I had a peek into the life of a refugee.
Pastor Johnathan and Grace are taking good care of the Myanmese children by opening a special school to teach them some basic subjects.
He had been a children's pastor in Myanmar but said he couldn’t do much there due to security reasons.
Like many of the refugees, he came as a United Nations refugee with the hope of moving on to a better place.
He said, “We rented a shophouse for three years and the place was hot and stuffy. It wasn’t conducive for the children to study at all.
“Before the tenancy expired, the landlord wanted to take it back. We were praying hard and God really answered our prayer. The landlord’s friend gave us a bigger place – a small bungalow right behind Imbi Road for only RM2000 a month, Praise God!”
Pastor Johnathan conducts classes for Myanmese children from Monday to Friday because the children could not get into the local schools here.
Classes are tailored for the four-year-olds to the 16-year-olds. Johnathan teaches English and Mathematics. Grace also teaches Mathematics, English and the Myanmese language whenever volunteer teachers from outside are not available. But most of Grace’s time is spent cooking meals for the 120 children.
The school resembles an international school as the teachers comprise of different nationalities – Malaysians and expatriates from Australia, Spain and France. The locals, Pastor Johnathan said, are a great help to them.
“We still need teachers here! Those with experience will teach the older children and those with no experience can take care of the pre-schoolers,” Pastor Johnathan added.
The children are from the Imbi area. Some of these children only have their fathers here while some are without their parents as they are still in Myanmar. They came here with their relatives.
“SIBKL provides lunches for the children from Monday to Friday, while I provide food for them on Saturday and Sunday. Campus Rangers, a home school group raised RM2,000 for us. We used it up for lunch for the children and a projector for teaching.
“Meanwhile Harvest Community Church, a small church in Petaling Jaya also raised some money for the children. There are also donations from Buddhist temples and individuals and we are very grateful to all of them.”
The school is open to children with different religious backgrounds although it teaches the Bible at the Sunday Children Church services and conducts morning devotions. FGA KL sends their teachers on Saturdays to conduct chapel service.
“Only the Word of God can guide their lives when they leave Malaysia to other countries,” Pastor Johnathan said.
“Refugees' lives are very difficult. Most of them work in restaurants because they get free food. But some are construction workers too.
“Because we are foreigners in Malaysia, we have to pay full medical bills in public hospitals. That is why some of us want get out of the hospital before we are fully recovered because we cannot afford the medical bill. We are also not qualified for any insurance,” Pastor Johnathan added.
He said most workers earn RM700 to RM800 per month and the rental is already RM400 to RM500 per room a month. That is why everyone can’t wait to get to the United States or other developed countries. These countries provide better living conditions which include housing and education.
Though the refugees are here for a temporary period, Pastor Johnathan said the waiting seemed eternity. Most have to wait for at least five years. Some of them lose hope along the way and turn to alcohol.
“That’s why we are here to help the community. We have set up a small church near the school just to cater for the Myanmar people. The rental of the place is already RM4,000 and we are depending on the 140 peoples’ offerings and tithes every month, which is not enough!
“We are urgently looking for church sponsor. We are praying very hard for this support and hope that more help would come from the local church. We welcome any pastors who would like to preach in our services,” he said.
Pastor Jonathan can be contacted via email: johnathanrfgstudent@gmail
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