Summit speaker Shares Story of Refugee’s Remarkable Quest for Peace and Justice

By LORETTA FULTON

“if we want peace, we must begin with justice.”

Those words are more than a slogan to Jessica Goudeau, they are a universal truth. Goudeau was convinced of that after getting to know a former refugee from Myanmar, Dr. Salai Tun Than, who spent 18 months of a seven-year sentence in a military prison for protesting the government and went on a hunger strike just so he could have his Bible. Dr. Salai Tun Than was in his 80’s when Goudeau met him in Austin, where he was resettled as a refugee after being released from prison. 

Jessica Goudeau

Goudeau related his story in her message Monday, Sept. 21, on the second day of ACU’s annual Summit. Goudeau led the worship session, which, like all of Summit this year, was pre-recorded. 

Worship sessions and learning Pathways will continue to be posted through Wednesday at www.acusummit.org Other Pathways will be posted throughout the fall semester. To receive notices about upcoming Pathways and links to them, register on the website. All events are free. 

Goudeau is the author of a new book published by Viking Press, “After the Last Border: Two Families and the Story of Refuge in America. An ACU graduate, Goudeau is the daughter of Jeanene Reese, retired ACU associate professor of Bible and now an adjunct professor, and Jack Reese, former ACU religion professor. She holds a doctorate in literature from the University of Texas and has spent more than a decade working with refugees in Austin.

Each worship session, which will be presented on the Summit website at 11 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, includes various pre-recorded parts. Monday’s worship included a scripture reading, told in storytelling style, by Cliff Barbarick, professor in the Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry at ACU. Prayers in English and Spanish were offered by Joshua Marcum and Edwin Valdiviezo, with the Quito School of Biblical Studies in Quito, Ecuador. A cappella music was provided by eight singers under the direction of Nic Dunbar, West Houston Church of Christ in Houston. 

In her message Monday, Goudeau told the story of Dr. Salai Tun Than, the refugee she met in Austin after he fled his home country, Myanmar. She asked him why he had protested when he knew he was walking into a death trap.

“God had picked him up by the scruff of his neck,” he told Goudeau, “and told him–you must go.”

After Dr. Salai Tun Than’s arrest, he was immediately sentenced to seven years in prison. He went on a hunger strike, which drew the attention of Amnesty International and was released after 18 months. 

“His story of courage spread like wildfire,” Goudeau said.

Goudeau also asked him what kind of peace we can hope for in a world in a nation where the rhetoric about immigrants is so hostile. He said peace is a mother bird sheltering her young under her wings in a storm.

“He called that a pocket of peace,” Goudeau said.

In Isaiah 32, peace follows from providing people who are persecuted and forgotten with the basics they need to survive. The chapter is titled “The Kingdom of Righteousness.” Goudeau, who has taught poetry and literature much of her life, warned against reading the chapter as if it were poetry, although it has the rhythmic beauty of poetry. 

“We are missing the whole point” by reading it as poetry, Goudeau said. 

Goudeau said she wished she could relate how peace can be obtained on a grand scale, but instead related two things she has learned from her association with Dr. Salai Tun Than. 

One is that the kind of justice that leads to peace takes incredible courage. Another is that we are obligated to help those less fortunate find the same peace we have.

“If our wings are strong, if our surroundings are secure,” Goudeau said, “it is our job to create a pocket of peace and ensure that others find the space they need to do the same.”

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