Left to right, Derek DeVelder, Peter Lian, Pen Pen, Gary De Velder
When war broke out in Burma the military shut down the schools, took control of the family farms, and forced citizens into labor. One member from each family was told to work at various times for no money (slavery), even children. Peter Lian was 12 years old when he began and at 18 had to build a railroad, as did Pen Pen. “Very heavy,” she says.
On the farms the military demanded families plant trees instead of their own food crops. Peter Lian – “No more farm.” There was little to eat, no money, no food.
Recently married, with a baby, Peter Lian and Pen Pen fled to Malaysia. Peter went first. A year later, Pen Pen and the oldest son, James, fled the war on a harrowing journey through Thailand to Malaysia.
After a long series of security background checks through the UN and several U.S. federal agencies, Pen Pen and Peter Lian were cleared to be resettled in the United States, which prioritizes the most vulnerable refugees.
They were joyfully greeted at the airport in Phoenix by Pen Pen’s cousin, Khua Uk, also a refugee, and by their resettlement agency case manager.
Pen Pen recalled, “First weekend in the US, but I am not scared. I am not worried.”
As with many refugees, Peter Lian needed to work right away to be able to pay rent and expenses, so he had no opportunity to take English classes. But Pen Pen could.
Pen Pen said, “My father cried when he heard I went to school. In Burma students needed to pay each month. Now we go to Abounding Service for free. I come to class all the time. We need to speak, learn, write.”
“Some people are different. Some say, ‘You don’t need to go to school, why do you go to school?’ They can’t get a driver’s license. They would like to become U.S. citizens, but they can’t pass the test or interview.”
“But we can go to the (medical) clinic, DES (Refugee Resettlement Program, Department of Economic Security), or shopping without calling a translator. If I bought something and need to return it, I can.”
Peter Lian was promoted from groundskeeper to operator at the golf course where he works.
He enthusiastically says, “If you want a promotion you need to speak English!”
Peter Lian and Pen Pen are now proud U.S. citizens, having passed the difficult test, interview, and additional background checks.
They bought a home with a large garden and their children are on scholarships at preparatory academies. They all work very hard. But importantly, they all give back. They serve their neighbors, students at school, coworkers, and their church.
Their pastor says, “Peter Lian helps with accounting at our church, and is faithful to our church. Not because he is an accountant, but because of his integrity.”
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