The Freedom Inn

Welcome to the Freedom Inn!

Christian Freedom International’s Freedom Inn has become a model for immigrant assimilation. The refugee program and collective efforts of caring local Christians have made a monumental difference for the Karen and Karenni refugees. New arrivals continue to join the community.


After decades of living in fear and persecution, thousands of Burma’s refugees are finally living in peace and freedom throughout the United States. When the resettlement initiative was approved by the U.S. State Department in 2007, CFI successfully fought for the inclusion of Christian Karen and Karenni from Burma. We worked with Former First Lady Laura Bush to convince U.S. and U.N. officials that these people groups must be resettled. Temporarily moving CFI headquarters to Sault Ste. Marie, MI, we established the Freedom Inn in 2009, a renovated motel which became affordable housing.

“From Burma Refugee to U.S. Citizen…”

SAULT STE. MARIE — Kay Bee, who came to Sault Ste. Marie as a refugee from Burma seven years ago, was sworn in as a citizen of the United States in a ceremony at the Federal Courthouse in Marquette on Thursday, November 6.

From left, Kay Bee’s wife Sunlight Htoo, U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar, daughters Hei Ler Pwe and Shee Nea, with United States Citizen Kay Bee holding his son Saw Hei Soe

From left, Kay Bee’s wife Sunlight Htoo, U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar, daughters Hei Ler Pwe and Shee Nea, with United States Citizen Kay Bee holding his son Saw Hei Soe

Kay Bee is one of more than 40 Karen people who have made their homes in Sault Ste. Marie. The Karen are an ethnic minority group in Burma who, as a result of persecution by the government, are admitted to the U.S. as refugees.

He came with his wife and daughters to Sault Ste. Marie where Christian Freedom International is helping Karen people find homes and jobs. He encountered freezing cold weather and unfamiliar customs, language and winter clothing. Over the years, his family and the others, have integrated into their new surroundings, finding jobs, attending church, and buying homes. One young woman is attending college. Another is taking advanced math in middle school. As Bee’s English improved he began taking citizenship classes with Duane Steffenhagen and passed the test on his first try. Each of the adults have their own terrible stories of escaping the brutality of the Burmese military and some bear the wounds of the violence of land mines, shrapnel and chemical weapons, experiences and memories their children will be spared.

Kay Bee remembers the horror of running with his neighbors to hide in caves when the Burmese military flew overhead. Others describe hiding in holes in the ground to escape detection, often hiding during the daytime and going out at night. Kay Bee’s friend’s pregnant mother was killed when she was spotted by the military when she went back to the village to feed her animals.

Bee’s family and neighbors raised rice for food. “We had a farm and all the people planted rice for food and when it came time to harvest the rice, we had to give it to the Burmese army.” His family finally fled through the jungle to a refugee camp in Thailand where he lived until the U.S. government granted him permission to come to the U.S.

When asked what was most surprising about the United States, Bee said in Burma and Thailand it was very hard to buy clothing. “If we bought something good we kept it very safe. In America we throw worn out clothing away but in Burma we continued to wear it. Here we open the refrigerator and see a lot of food but over there if we see people with meat we’d say they’re rich.”

“I am excited and encouraged because my children became citizens too. My children are young now and my plans are to support them so they will get a good education. I have to work hard and save my money and someday my children can go to college. I want them to become something. In Burma and the refugee camp we didn’t have money to send them to school. Mostly rich people could send their children to school.” Bee said about becoming a U.S. Citizen, “When we lived in the refugee camp there was no opportunity for them. There were no jobs for them and if they wanted to work they had to ask for permission from the Thai government. There’s no future for young people and they get involved in drugs.

“When I compare those with and without education, their life is different, their thinking, their view of the future. I tell my children all the time that their lives will be different with and without education. Everyone eats and dies but with an education you eat differently.”

Most admit missing their home country but like living in Sault Ste. Marie because it is a quiet, hospitable and safe place to live and raise children, free from the fears they experienced in Burma and Thailand.

Article by Leslie Askwith, Soo Evening News (11/11/14)