I just got back from my third trip to the beautiful Asian country of Myanmar (Burma) and wanted to take a moment to share a few highlights in this blog article. I was thankful to have with me a friend from NJ who is gifted musically and vocally and who the kids/people were so happy and blessed to sing with/hear sing…as they love to sing! I also want to say thank you to those who prayed, gave and followed along with us…thank you for being an encouragement and blessing to us so we could be an encouragement and blessing to these precious people!
The first half of the trip we spent sharing, singing, playing and praying with some of the sweetest “orphaned” children I have met. Not all of them are without both parents, in fact many of them have a parent living but due to conditions and circumstances cannot take care of or provide for them. For example, the picture below is of a girl a named Rachel.
Rachel is 18 years old and graduating high school this year. She is from the Chin state and came to the children’s home, along with her sister, when she was nine years old. Her father died and her mother was not able to support her. She wants to go to college and become a nurse, working especially with children. Her favorite thing about being at the Galilee home is the fellowship she has with her many friends here. She loves that she has many friends. She came to faith in Jesus and was born-again at age 15 through this home! Her favorite song is “Heart of Worship.”
The ages of these “kids” range from 18 down to about 7 (some though have been brought as early as 4-5 years old). I was struck by their humble, sincere, passionate and child-like singing and praying. There seemed to be a depth of intimacy with Christ and maturity of faith already at a young age. Five out of the nine girls that I interviewed in fact had come to know Christ personally through the Galilee home! James 2:5-6 rang so true: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”
I was also struck by how quick they were to “know” what they wanted to do for a job when older. “Hopelessness” is clearly not pervading, but hope is flourishing despite family situation and even in a difficult school environment where over half cannot go on to college due to the school system and lack of colleges in Burma. Even the youngest ones, like my buddy Philip (pictured below) who is only 8 years old, was confident in what he wanted to do when older. He wants to be an engineer! He also told me (and it is evident!) that his favorite thing to do at the home is sing (and he sings loud!). Matthew 5:3-5 is his favorite bible verses: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
I realized while with these children how blessed they actually are. While many of course would love to know or be with their actual parents, God has placed them in an even bigger family, with more brothers and sisters and “parents.” Psalm 68:5-6 in fact says: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing…” Many of them when talking about their favorite thing about the home, mentioned either playing, singing or studying…but always added “together with the others.”
For example, Shiphrah is 14 years old and in eight grade. She comes from close to the North-Western Chin State. She was 8 years old when brought to the Galilee children’s home. She does not know her parents. Psalm 23 is her favorite bible passage. Her favorite worship song is “Power of Your Love.” She was wants to be a doctor when she graduates; specializing in treating cancer. But her favorite part about being at the home is singing/praying together with the others.
Or consider Jessica. She is 12 years old and in eight grade. She has been at the Galilee home for two years now. Jessica is always smiling! She is from the Chin state. Her mother brought her to the home (not able to take care of her). Psalm 1 is her favorite bible passage. She wants to be a clothing designer when she is older! Her favorite song is “He Came to Live.” She enjoys playing & praying together with the others at the home best.
Or take Peter who is 15 years old. He has been at the home since he was 6 years old. His mom actually died three days prior to the time we interviewed him. He wants to be a police officer when he is older. His favorite bible verse is Proverbs 4:22: “…for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” His favorite part about being at the Galilee home is praising God together with the others.
Besides spending time with these kids and the many others, (I also shared a morning devotion with them each day) I then spoke at two church services on Sunday. This is a church in the country’s largest city and former capital. The church I spoke at is actually one of the oldest churches in Myanmar, in fact Adonijam Judson who is considered the first protestant missionary from North America to Burma, pastored this church years ago for a time. Now there are eight different church services that meet in this church, each a different language! I preached at the first service which is in English and then preached at the “Mizo” service, one of the dialects of the Chin people from up in the North-West part of Myanmar. At the first service I shared about God’s heart for the lost out of Luke chapter 15; and then at the second, on some lessons from a story of the healing of a blind man from Mark chapter 8. In between these things, I also spent time with the couple/leaders who I have formed a relationship with each time I have been there (and who haven taken such good care of us!) in assessing and discussion future possibilities in regard to ServeNow within Myanmar. We will see how the Lord might lead and direct…
The second half of our trip was spent further up North in Kalaymyo. The area we were in is mostly Christian but the other side is mostly Buddhist. Buddhism is the dominant religion. Buddhists in this country are actually very aggressive and favored by the government. There is a saying in Burma that to truly be “Burmese” is to be Buddhist. Therefore being of another religion still does have social implications and challenges even though since 2011 the country has opened up more politically and constitutionally has no state religion.
In Kalaymyo I spoke at a different church Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening. It was very precious to worship with these humble believers. There was such a simplicity and even “camp-ground” feel or atmosphere. Each evening there is usually something going on at the church, some service, some study, some prayer meeting. It felt more the way life was meant to be. That is not to say they are without problems too, but I envied the humility and simplicity of life they posses. In each of the churches there were also many youth/children which prompted me to share a bit of my testimony and try to encourage them specifically and especially. I also had something happen to me that I have only experienced one other time (in Panama); there were “complaints” at one service that my sermon was too short! I am used to hearing the opposite, so that was refreshing!
On Wednesday during the day, we had a day long pastor/leader & wife conference, where I spoke for four sessions on “vision” “leadership” being a servant and then shared from Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20. The common theme that many testified of in different ways was how they gained “new insight” or “clarity” into their role, importance and responsibility as a pastor/leader. The fact that so many used the term gaining “insight” or “clarity” was meaningful to me because the one goal God impressed on my heart in regard to this trip was “vision.” My continual prayer was that “eyes would be opened.” That was the theme or goal in way or another of every message. On the plane ride home, I sensed that that purpose was accomplished and had great peace about that.
Another testimony that a wife shared with me was that some questions she had coming into the conference were answered through the morning sessions. As she shared she had tears in her eyes as she is feeling the weight of having to be “strong” and picking up some of the slack of her husband who she said is “weak” in his faith.
Another woman testified that she “saw” in a new way the importance of faithfulness in searching for the lost, even if we are not gifted or called to be an “evangelist.” I had challenged all the pastors that this was part of their role even as a pastor/leader, (Ezekiel 34, 2 Timothy 4:5). It actually is a part of all our roles simply as believers (Matthew 28:18-20). It is something we need a greater passion and commitment too as this is God’s heart and priority (Luke 15) as well as the reason Jesus came (Luke 19:10).
On our last day in Kalaymyo something originally “unscheduled” happened. Because we ended up being able to get a direct flight back to Yangon, (rather than take a 6 hour car ride, followed by an 8 hour bus ride through the night!) we had our morning open and free. Therefore, we were able to minister at a “center” where around 200 adults, young adults, teenagers, even children, are sent because of various addictions. This turned out to be perhaps my personal highlight of the trip and in fact the message that I felt (and others felt) was most “anointed.” What I shared with them were similar things that I had shared that whole week in other places, but the Holy Spirit seemed to be present in a more palpable and powerful way and I spoke with a greater passion there than anywhere else. I had such a desire to communicate to them God’s grace, desire and ability to restore, and call them to come to Christ, as some were not saved. It was a reminder that Christ really did die for sinners and it also was a reminder to us of Proverbs 16:9 which says: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Prior to that day, I had resolved in my heart that we would take the car/bus but God redirected our plans and determined our steps would be to minister at that place to those people which we didn’t even know was a possibility or option at that time! His plans are always far better than our own! The last day we spent the rest of our time with the children we had been with earlier in the week. It was hard to say goodbye to them again.
The last thing I want to share about this trip was a moment we had up on “Kalaymyo Viewpoint” which overlooks the valley.
While we were taking pictures I noticed a rainbow off in the distance. This was a few days after the devastating earthquake in Nepal (ServeNow has an office and staff in Nepal, as well as a team sent from India responding…in fact you can give here to help with that cause: www.weservenow.org/mission-area/nepal-earthquake). But being up on that mountain and seeing the rainbow reminded me of God’s faithfulness and promises in the midst of chaos. (the riots in Baltimore were also occurring and “hot topic” at this time as well). It also reminded me of how Jesus “wept over Jerusalem” on the mount of olives saying: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42-43). How true that is for so many and much of the world right now! Only in Jesus is there true peace. Only in Jesus is there true reconciliation where hatred dies, prejudice is destroyed, forgiveness can occur and healing can happen! Only in Jesus is there “light” and “life.” But so many reject and dismiss Jesus, blinding themselves to their only hope. We need our eyes opened. But the only way eyes are opened is if we turn to God in repentance and place our faith in Jesus. For those who do, we have peace, the promise of life and life eternal and God’s faithful, unfailing love that daily surrounds us in the midst of a world at war, being shaken and collapsing all around us. As Lamentations 3:22-26 puts it: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”