The Lion is on the move in Myanmar. As the Son of God breaths on the snow-covered hills of what was once called Burma, we can now begin to see lush green meadows crowned with the flowers of faith.
Shut off from the rest of the world for many years by a repressive military junta, the work our forefathers began has continued to grow beneath the fertile soils of persecution. Like the beleaguered soldiers of Valley Forge, they have survived the winter and they are ready for battle. With a little help from their friends across the sea, they will emerge victorious.
During the first two weeks of January 2013, Highlands Ministries was able to send some much-needed encouragement, teaching and aid to the Kingdom workers preaching the Gospel, training pastors and caring for fatherless children.
It was my great honor to travel the 8,500 miles around the world to Yangon to represent my brothers and sisters back home and support the work of national Pastor Naing Thang. There, in the coastal city which boasts a population of 4 Million, 95% of which are Buddhists, Pastor Thang lives in a small ministry compound with his family. Living with him are 15 orphaned children, six Bible school students and two staff members. The way they live and work together was very humbling and I was inspired by how much they were able to do with so little.
Watching them lovingly prepare meals for 42 on the coals of a fire in their backyard filled my heart with gratitude for the goodness and God. Seeing the orphans living as a large happy family lifted me with joy and admiration.
“We have prayed for our brothers in America that God would allow them to come and teach us,” Pastor Thang said. “We feel like orphaned children ourselves and we need a father to take care of us.”
From my time with them, I have come to see we have a lot to learn from them too.
Dr. RC Sproul Jr. accompanied another elder to Myanmar in 2008 to meet Pastor Thang.
According to Dr. Sproul, he was skeptical before his visit but what he found there deeply affected him.
“If you’re looking for a place to get the most out of your missionary bucks, this is a great place,” he said.
“They’re doing great work. When I came back I brought much more home than I brought them, he added, “They’re a great treasure.”
When fellow elders of Covenant Presbyterian Church denomination heard about Dr. Sproul’s planned teaching trip this year they agreed to send me as his travel partner.
Unfortunately Dr. Sproul was unable to travel due to illness and I traveled alone.
It was a great honor to represent such good men and serve my brothers and sisters in Myanmar. In addition to the many hours a day of teaching, I spent a great deal of time interviewing the dozen elders who traveled as far as 600 miles across roadless jungles, rivers and, in the case of two Kachin State Elders, through an active battlefield risking their lives. As I write I am still awaiting news of the Kachin State elders’ homecoming. These elders, along with their families and all the families of their church have been living in a refugee camp for more than a year since all their homes were destroyed by the war. As of today they are 7 days overdue.
Hearing the stories of how God used Pastor Thang to bring them to Christ and prepare them for the posts at the 15 churches he established serving more than 3,300, was like reading from the pages of the Book of Acts.
Hearing how they did it, and keep doing it, without one of them having a car or motorcycle, only one of them having a phone and with virtually no help, gives me faith and hope. Faith and hope in the power of the “One”, Pastor Thang is quick to remind anyone, “Who has all things.”
We have so much and seem to do so little with it. They have so little and do so very much with it.
Standing in the doorway of the dorm where their older orphans and Bible School students sleep and seeing ten metal framed bunk beds filling every inch of the tiny room reminds me how God uses little things for his glory. Watching one guitar passed between several of these young men, I thought of the countless unplayed instruments no doubt filling closets and dusty underbeds back home.
I thought to myself, “if they could do all this with what they have, what could they do with a little more.”
What a pleasure it would be to be part of their work. I thought of my friends and fellow elders back home and how their hearts would burn in love for their co-laborers if only they could know them.
I resolved to help make that happen for anyone who wanted to know.
I learned their names, their wives names, the number and ages of their children. Some of their wives had just given birth and others had grown sons working with them in the ministry. One man was hurrahed for having nine children another goaded for needing a wife. We talked and laughed together until my face hurt.
Next I learned their church names and heard their conversion stories. Then I and asked them what they prayed for and wanted to see God do in their lives.
As I listened, I began to love them more. I have come to understand that their many stories, and a look into these hearts God has changed for his glory, are the great treasures I brought home from my trip.
My first Sunday home I shared the epistle that has been Pastor Thang’s life with our church. Their eyes were wide with amazement at the faithfulness of God in his life. Each year our church has a special focus on evangelism from January until Saint Patrick’s Day. On the weekend closest to that day we celebrate the life of the great evangelist who brought the Good News to the people of Ireland. We feast and dance and bring money we have worked all year to raise for the work of evangelism.
In the coming weeks our church will learn about Pastor Kee Noe working in Rakhine State in Myanmar. How he left his home in the mountains of Chin State to lead six churches in a dangerous land. How he has been living away from his family doing his best to care for these converts like the good shepherd without a place of his own to lay his head. How this little precious saint does this without a phone or even a way to travel other on foot or bicycle.
They will hear about a girl who came to Christ and wanted to show her gratitude to God for saving her. How she has worked day and night for three years teaching and caring for the children at Pastor Thang’s home. Her only pay is the work itself. We will talk about the hopes and dreams of the Bible school students to start churches and pray God makes a way for them. We will also pray for the orphans living with Pastor Thang.
I know when they hear the story of how one church in Myanmar worked three years saving and working to have a place they can meet for worship only to be stopped by the government and another church whose roof blew off in a typhoon, they will want to encourage them and help if they can.
Before I left Yangon, which was for me a very sad day indeed, mixed with the joy and blessings waiting for me at home and the sorrow of not seeing my new friends’ faces for a long time, I asked them for a favor.
I asked them to send us more stories. I told them we wanted to share in their joys and sorrows. We wanted to know when they made converts, when babies were born, when people were baptized. I also asked them to let us know what they prayed for and what they suffered so we could share in that as well.
Before I left for Myanmar, several people sent money with me to meet needs as I encountered them. These funds, added to the gifts from Highlands Ministries and elders of the CPC, made it possible to do a great deal of good. They now have two new guitars, a Yamaha keyboard, a two-speaker soundsystem and microphone, a pedal sewing machine as well as a good start on a new roof for the orphanage in Rakhine State.
“Thank you for your great loving care of us and your prayers,” Pastor Thang said. “Showing us the deepest way to understand the scriptures was a blessing for me and my elders.”
Plans are already being made for a return trip next January. This time with a larger team that may include a doctor or even two in answer to their prayers as well as extra time to visit some of the churches in the interior of Myanmar. An international ministry has already contacted me with the desire to meet many needs among these churches and for that I am thankful. Pray for us that God would grant us wisdom with the best way to love and care for our brothers and sisters in Myanmar.
To read more about Pastor Naing Thang’s work in Burma and the history of missions work there, read this article.