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Young refugees from Myanmar taking part in Book of Mormon pageant

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MURRAY — A group of refugees from Myanmar now living in Utah will participate in a stage production based on the Book of Mormon.

The cast of youth and young adults from Myanmar's Karen and Karenni tribes will act out dramatic scenes in "Mormon Speaks," scheduled for the Murray High School auditorium June 7-9, at 7:30 p.m.

The pageant, presented in English, is sponsored by Book of Mormon Central, in coordination with the Columbus Branch of the South Salt Lake Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All but five cast members are Latter-day Saints.

Despite language challenges and cast members living around the Salt Lake Valley with limited transportation, pageant director Susan Roylance called the program "an amazing experience" for the positive impact it's having on cast members.

"We have already seen literal changes in some of their lives — for the good," Roylance said.

Many of the refugees and their families came to Utah in 2007. While the children learned basic English, adults still struggle to speak the language. The Book of Mormon has not yet been translated into their native Karen or Karenni languages, although the LDS Church is in the process of translating the Book of Mormon into Burmese. The church has not published any literature in the Karen or Karenni languages, yet the "high energy" youth are learning the stories through acting, she said.

"While they do not 'know' the Book of Mormon characters they represent, they are anxious to learn and act in the best way," Roylance said.

Among the 14 scenes in the play will be Lehi's family crossing the ocean to a promised land, King Benjamin's speech on service, Ammon confronting thieves as they scatter the king's sheep, and Jesus Christ appearing to the Nephites in America.

Hser Htee The Blay, a 14-year-old who has been in Utah for six years, portrays the angel who calls Alma the Younger to repentance. Being in the pageant has helped him to better appreciate the power of God.

"I think it will help me see more of the Book of Mormon and how they (the Nephites) have been helped by the Lord, and how we can be helped today," he said.

K’Nyaw Say Paw, a 25-year-old returned missionary, has lived in the United States for 10 years. She is grateful to play the part of Lehi's wife, Sariah.

"While practicing and acting out the story I felt the love from Heavenly Father," she said. "It is a blessing for us, as Karen and Karenni, to know of his love by giving us the Book of Mormon. I don’t know much of the stories in the Book of Mormon but by participating I have learned to have faith and never give up on the many journeys that will come in the future, because this is a learning process for me, and we will let our light shine and be a part of Heavenly Father’s wonderful work."

Book of Mormon Central, online at bookofmormoncentral.org, plans to produce a video of the pageant that will be used for interpretation and gospel discussion purposes among the Karen and Karenni people, Roylance said.

Tickets for the pageant are $5 and are available through Eventbrite.com. Youth groups of 20 or more can ask for free tickets from Roylance by texting 801-440-8120. Members of the Karen and Karenni community can get free tickets on Sundays at the Columbus Branch, which meets from 1-3 p.m. at the South Salt Lake Stake Center, 2280 S. 300 East, in South Salt Lake.

If you go ...

What: "Mormon Speaks"

When: June 7-9, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Murray High School auditorium, 5440 State St., Murray

How much: $5

Note: Tickets are available through Eventbrite.com