Just home from traveling in Myanmar with my daughter Fiona and my head is full of words, sounds, smells, ideas, images – each one lingers for a moment: the scent of jasmine, the boisterous nature of the water festival, endless bicycles, laughter, orphans, paddy fields, rice, tea, more tea, temples, kindnesses from many people… And overall, in all things, the sense of God’s hand at work.
Myanmar (Burma) has been fairly closed for decades as a military dictatorship, civil war, sanctions etc have all put off foreign visitors. But thankfully, God has not been stopped. Quietly, steadily he has been raising up his people in Myanmar in a quite remarkable way. He has called pastors, evangelists, church planters from all the ethnic groups – and they have obeyed his call. Chin reach out to Karen, who reach out to Shan, who reach out to Burmans …. Ethnic divides not stopping the flow of the Holy Spirit. Men and women faithfully seeking to respond to Gods call in often trying circumstances. Most of the pastors I met were not only faithfully preaching and running their churches, but often had between 5-30 orphans living in their homes that they had taken under their wings, perhaps a few widows that they cared for and they were almost universally involved in church planting: training young and old people to go with the gospel into unreached areas of the country, where they were often seeing remarkable fruit.
It was a humbling trip. Every day Fiona and I went looking for open doors, and every day a number opened and some did not. We had been invited to teach a ‘youth’ bible class -for 5 hrs on Saturday – where the ‘youth’ were aged between 5 and 72 (we later realized that the class could more aptly be called a ‘beginners’ class: this was where we donated the crayons and t-shirts collected by the children and youth at Restoration, and offered a financial gift for the ministry salaries and expenses – thank you ALL for your generosity), I preached in a village church on the Sunday, and we followed breadcrumb trails of contacts which resulted in numerous meetings where we sat and drank bitter leaf tea and heard stories of where and how God was at work.
Over the ten days in-country we met people broadly from three different strands of society: villagers, educated ‘middle class’ and foreigners. Each group had similar stories to tell. Each group was uniquely equipped and being used by God in complementary ways to reach different areas or groups of people. It was incredibly exciting to hear how their ministries complemented and dove-tailed each other. We also got to spend a few days in Bagan – an incredibly beautiful area North of Yangon.
I was reminded daily that God is sovereign and that he may choose to use me in ministry but really he doesn’t need me in the way I would sometimes like to be needed. I was allowed to walk with people from a variety of contexts, economic groups, denominations, educational backgrounds, to hear their stories and to sing and pray and talk about the goodness of God with a broad range of God’s precious family and I am so grateful. I also got to see a country on the cusp of change- perhaps not all of which will be good, but where unexperienced freedom is on the horizon for many. I don’t know where these relationships will go in the future, but I have new friends to pray for, new dreams to dream and a deeply refreshed reminder of the goodness of God.
On May 22nd at the next global prayer meeting at church I will share a little more and show some pictures. If you’d like to hear more (and see some of my hundreds of pictures) before then, feel free to invite me to your small group, or to coffee/lunch/dinner! I’d love to tell you more….. meanwhile please pray for the church, for wise leaders, for the spread of the gospel, for good governance, and for a peaceful democracy to emerge… and for the many lovely people that we met.