from myanmar to omaha: deedee ehlahchrist’s remarkable journey to ncc

two hundred years ago, a missionary moved from the united states to the country of myanmar, which was called burma at the time. he taught people about jesus, planting seeds of the gospel in their hearts. two centuries have passed, but those seeds are still bearing fruit.

deedee ehlahchrist is a believer today because of the work of that missionary.

Family being documented in Refugee camp DD is #5[1].jpg

myanmar is a beautiful country, rich in history, culture, and religion. however, its history also includes centuries of political unrest and persecution. many years ago, a couple fled that political unrest and ended up in a small village in thailand. there they had a baby daughter they nicknamed, deedee. when deedee was about six years old, the myanmar regime attacked the area, forcing them to flee again. the family, which included deedee, four brothers, and one sister, moved into a refugee camp in thailand. life in the refugee camp presented many challenges. the threat of cruel myanmar soldiers invading their camp led them to sleep in a canal and hide in the jungle at times. not only that, but the family often did not have enough clothing. they lived in a small bamboo house with a roof made of leaves. they depended on the help of non-profit organizations around the world for their survival, but even with that help, children in the camps often went hungry. they ate mostly rice, which held little nutritional value. deedee remembers a special meal as a child when she shared one egg with her brother.

deedee came to the united states when she was 23 years old. she became a united states citizen at the age of 29. until then she had not had any citizenship. myanmar, her parents’ country, did not claim her. because of her refugee status, thailand also would not claim her, despite the fact that she was born there. now deedee is proud to call herself an american, and she is married to a man named jester thakolo, who also grew up in a refugee camp in thailand. she met him on facebook, where they discovered their common past. both deedee and jester are artists. in her free time, deedee loves floral arranging and has a manicurist license, and jester has had his own art show and sells his charcoal paintings that portray life in the refugee camps.

Whole family.jpg

about two years ago, deedee and jester moved from omaha to north carolina, where she started a sushi business. they worked seven days a week to keep the business afloat but could not find meaning in their work. “i felt like life was miserable and realized money is not a key to happiness,” she says. she and jester decided to sell everything and move back to omaha. their transition back to omaha came with plenty of stress. she was in three car accidents in three months’ time, and her car was totaled in one of them. she also had trouble finding steady work, and their finances suffered. however, she eventually found a job she enjoys and works as a counselor for the salvation army’s early head start program. her work involves preschool children, and she has seen the importance of these early years on children’s spiritual development.

Deedee & Jester in native clothing.jpg

deedee and jester also began attending a church called the american first karen baptist church in omaha. when the couple first began worshiping at their new church, deedee noticed that the children did not have instruction on their level. they attended worship with their parents but did not seem to engage with the services or learn from them. believing that god was leading her to help the church minister to its children, she has worked hard to organize and grow the children’s ministry at her church. in the process, she began to see how god was leading her to study children’s ministry.

in the fall of 2019, deedee began working on a degree in children’s ministry at nebraska christian college. she hopes to use her experience and her new bible and ministry knowledge to further the kingdom of god.

deedee is very grateful for the missionary who brought christ to burma centuries ago and wants very much to do the same for others. for now, she has works very hard to bring christian education to the children of her home church in omaha, and prays for future opportunities to impact the world for christ.

additional notes about photos:

one of the family pictures is from when the international organization came to the refugee camp and documented them in 1997. deedee was holding number 5. she has 4 brothers and a sister. her oldest brother was not in the picture because he had taken a risk and worked outside the camp to earn money for their family. because he was absent when they were documented, he couldn’t come with them to the usa.

jonathan norton