If stones can communicate, (Joshua 4:6) and rocks cry out, (Luke 19:40) then maybe someday walls will talk and church pews will preach.
That’s what I’m thinking as I watch brand new friends load 32 church pews into trailers for their trip to a new home in Austin, Texas. These pews have been at home for the last 12 years in the Gaston Oaks Baptist Church and more recently in the Gaston Christian Center in Dallas. Nobody seems to know how old these pews are nor where they came from before Gaston. But, oh, the stories these pews could preach.
The stories would have to be in different tongues like in Acts 2. One of the languages would be the language of the Karen (pronounced “Ka-rin”) people from Burma. This is the language two of the first Christian missionaries from America, Adoniram Judson and his wife, Ann Haseltine, had to learn in order to preach, teach and translate the gospel of Jesus.
Their story is one of tragedy and triumph. According to Nathan Finn of Union University, who has written widely on Baptist history and Baptist missions, “Adoniram’s translation work — his most important legacy — continues to reap gospel fruit in Myanmar (formerly Burma) and serve as an example for countless missionaries the world over.”
“The Karen people who have sat in these pews at Gaston for the last 12 years are direct descendants of those who became Christ followers more than 200 years ago during the ministry of the Judsons.”
The Karen people who have sat in these pews at Gaston for the last 12 years are direct descendants of those who became Christ followers more than 200 years ago during the ministry of the Judsons. Many of the Karens, a gentle and happy people, wound up in the United States because they were suffering political oppression in their own country. Some of these refugees made it to Dallas.
Here, a Karen American businessman and his wife, Wallace and Law Yay, who were members of Gaston Oaks, started bringing these new friends to church. The Yays were like the Judsons in their compassion for the Karen people. Soon the Karen immigrants started their own church at Gaston Oaks and called and ordained their own young pastor, HsaTwel. They saved their money and last year bought their own building.
This young and growing mission congregation was the catalyst for Gaston Oaks to dream a new dream for the future that became the Gaston Christian Center, which has been the home to nine different congregations and multiple thriving nonprofit ministries. Two other congregations also recently moved into their own buildings, so now there are six congregations remaining in our building, with two of those being from Burma/Myanmar, two Hispanic and one from Central Africa and, of course, the original group of proud and primarily senior adults from northeast Dallas.
The pews from the Karen worship space are a gift to the Saint Barbara Catholic Church in Austin from Gaston Christian Center and the Karen Baptist Fellowship.
If these pews ever do preach, here in part is what I hope they will say: “We remember the hot August day in the year 2021 when an old Baptist preacher put his arm around a young Catholic priest and with great joy presented us as a gift to a young and growing Catholic Church. New followers of Jesus were overflowing the building and they desperately needed us. This Baptist preacher was able to do this joyfully because his theology, like a chorus he used to sing as a kid, had become as wide as it was deep in his deep-water Baptist upbringing. His years with this new thing, that had purposefully chosen the name Gaston Christian Center rather than Gaston Baptist Center, made it all joy.
Gary Cook serves as pastor of Gaston Oaks Baptist Church and as executive director of Gaston Christian Center in Dallas.