A College Visit for Burmese Immigrants

With partnership funds, I rented a van and took some teens from immigrant families to Austin Peay State University. Most of the teens were Burmese. This was the first time any of them had experienced a college tour. At first, they were quiet, but the tour guide, Jake, knew how to engage them. I watched and listened as they talked among themselves about possibilities. Visits to classrooms, dorm rooms, the cafeteria – all of it was a bit of heaven on earth to kids who spent their early lives in refugee tents. We went into a dorm room – the idea of a room with beds, shared by only two people, connected to a bathroom – with internet – I could tell they were imagining themselves as college students.

Amazed by a Laundry Room

When Jake took us to the laundry room, I thought nothing of it, because it was a typical college laundry room. It is not an exaggeration for me to say they were just amazed! “This is so nice and clean,” one of them said. (Did you know some families in South Nashville do their laundry with water hoses and put their clothes over fences and shrubs to dry?)

Jake shared what they needed to do to be admitted as students. The kids told me the staff at Overton High School is helping them with forms for financial aid.

Helping High Schoolers Dream Big Dreams

Then we went to the Baptist Collegiate Ministry building, and everyone got lunch, paid by partnership funds. Afterward, we gathered in a cozy room, and I explained to them how our church is connected with BCM. Stacey Murphree, the BCM director, shared about campus ministry. When one of the college students mentioned a mission trip to Cambodia, one of the Burmese girls looked at me with her eyes wide open and said, “You mean I could go to Cambodia? Really?”

Before we left the room, I had a prayer for these students and their future. I had an unexpected and rare meltdown moment. With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, I barely got through it. I really want them to have good lives.

Nancy Claire Smith is my assistant, provided by partnership funds. She helped plan the day and chaperoned with me. Thank you to FBC Nashville and Forest Hills Baptist for making such a wonderful day possible. You’ve helped simple refugee high schoolers dream big dreams.

Paul Gunn, Pastor
Tusculum Hills Baptist Church