Burundi Report May 2009 by Sharon Dumas
Amahoro Imana Imschimw Poa!
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.
In May I had the opportunity to travel with five other people from Transformation Ministries to teach in Burundi for two weeks. We worked in a girls orphanage teaching English, at a Bible college and at the Kayanza church teaching women and men leaders of local churches. I was greatly blessed by the people there and hope that we as a church will continue to support the Burundi mission efforts.
Burundi is a beautiful country with beautiful people. Words cannot express the joy and excitement that I experienced while there. The most admirable aspect of Burundi is the people’s love for the Lord. One man walked for 3 days to participate in the workshops. Another lady walked for 24 hours carrying two babies. At the services people sat in crowded conditions for hours to worship. Some had to stand outside at times in the rain. During breaks they danced and sang often for more than 45 minutes without stopping. I am convinced that the singing and dancing were a mini display of what singing in heaven is like. Despite many distractions such as kids peering in the windows, loud echoing from the tin roof, young children nursing in the first row, mothers walking around to care for their children, noise from the other group during the teaching sessions, most people took a great interest in what was being said. They were anxious to just talk about issues of the church. No one seemed to look at a clock or worry about the time. About 100 people were baptized in a tiny ditch dug out and covered with a tarp
The people also have a beautiful spirit. Besides their love for God they are also very hard working. They work hard to get what they need from the land. They have beautiful terraces and work hard to produce crops such as bananas, rice, sweet potatoes and beans. They produce their own adobe bricks for the buildings and weave mats for the homes. They carry most things by bike or on top of their heads.
The people are very friendly. They are always ready to share a friendly greeting or smile. They especially like to have their picture taken.
The village children make their own toys and seem to be happy and friendly even though they have very few toys or possessions. The children at the orphanage are very bright, polite and eager to learn. They were excited to receive letters from the children in America and write back to them.
There are many praises. The church has grown to over 300 in just several years. The number of churches in the Evangelical Association is increasing rapidly. The president of the country is a fervent Christian and has been able support the church. The Evangelical Association has the support of some very influential and well to do people. Although Burundi is still a very poor country there has been some improvement in the roads, education system and infrastructure of the country. There is a little light industry- the production of tea and of bricks. Peace has been established in much of the country.
Satan was hard at work trying to prevent the sessions from happening and trying to discourage us along the way but everyone on the team took the challenges in stride and continued to focus on the job that was to be done. Often times we had fun laughing about the obstacles. John’s typical response was “It’s mission.” or “It’s Africa.” My first challenge was sitting on the run way in Honolulu for 3 hours due to mechanical problems on the airplane. Humanly by the time I took off it was impossible to make my connection in L.A. Northwest had said that it would not guarantee the connection at L. A. because the trip was booked with two separate reservation numbers instead of one. However, God pulled through by changing the winds so that the pilot was able to make up about an hour allowing me to just barely make my next connection. After getting the flu shot I developed a cold. In Africa it turned into a very bad cough. At times while I was teaching I nearly lost my voice. Other challenges included lack of interpreters, unexpected outages of electricity, limited hot water and surprises when we ordered our food. There was a limited variety of food available but most of it was tasty.
This was a typical lunch. There were long delays when ordering at the hotel and often we did not receive what we expected to be served. I seemed to jinx every hotel door I touched. I got locked in my room twice and eventually just slept with the door ajar so I would be able to get out. Our baggage did not arrive on the same flight so we had to go back to the airport the next day to get it. There were a few anxious moments such as the crowded conditions at the market and the time when the security approached me about a couple pictures I had taken of the Embassy. However, God’s protecting hand was never far away! Assumptions sometimes fooled us. I took some arts and crafts supplies to use as part of my lessons at the orphanage. When I arrived the next day to gather my supplies I could not find them. I soon discovered that the ladies had already used them to make necklaces and bracelets for the children. Essentially a couple of my planned activities would no longer work as I had envisioned. Plans changed all the time sometimes almost by the hour. When we asked Steve about the plans or arrangements for the day, his standard response was “That’s a need to know.” Flexibility was the key! However, all of Satan’s tricks were simply minor inconveniences for us compared to the joy and blessings we received from the people. The circumstances helped me develop patience and trust in God.
Two of my highlights were seeing the intense love the people had for the Lord. It was very emotional and moving to experience the joy they expressed in their dance, song their “Amen’s” and “Alleluias” and their willingness to learn. The other highlight was presenting the bikes with locks and chains to 10 pastors. The bikes will enable the pastors to travel more efficiently in the rural areas. What a difference a little sacrifice on our part can make in the lives of the people there! Each bike cost less than $200.00. Later some people will also receive goats. The people seemed very appreciative of the interest the Americans have in their ministry. They appreciated the letters and books that we left and were anxious to share their prayer requests with us.
There are several financial challenges that the people face. As with most poor countries there is a big contrast between the rich and poor with a small middle class. Here is the Evangelical Association President’s house.
By contrast the Twa a minority group of people live in homes like this.
Most people live in adobe structures. There has been a drought in the northern part of the country which caused some people to lose their crops. Burundi is a landlocked country with bad roads in some places so it is expensive to export goods. The government has changed the building requirements for churches. They can no longer use thatched roofs or adobe bricks. They must pour a cement slab for the floor also. Some of the most active churches are facing losing their land if the churches are not soon brought up to code. The churches, orphanage and the Bible school need additional land to accommodate the increased number of worshippers. They also need food and books as well as other supplies. Land is set aside but the people do not have the money to buy it. These problems can be fixed for little money. We are often only talking hundreds or thousands of dollars rather than millions of dollars. If we continue to give sacrificially we in Hawaii could solve many of these problems. I encourage you to accept the ice cream challenge. Give up ice cream and give the money you save to Burundi. Each year Americans spend 20 billion dollars on ice cream. That is enough money to solve the hunger problem of the whole world! Besides that donations to Burundi are tax deductible but money spent on ice cream is not. The people are anxious to become self sufficient so they are asking for funds that they can use to equip themselves. They are not asking for fish but equipment and techniques which will help them do the fishing themselves.
It’s always fun to talk about travel experiences but the real purpose of this presentation is to encourage you to continue to support ministry in Burundi in several ways. For most of us it’s not a question of whether we should support Burundi financially but how and how much we should be giving. The first and most important thing you can do is to continue to pray for the people. See me if you would like a list of prayer requests. The people of Burundi would also love to be encouraged by your letters. I will be glad to mail any letters you want to send. Everyone was very excited to receive the books and letters that were sent by you to the people there. The second way to support Burundi is financially either through on line giving at the Transformation Ministries Web Site or by donations to the church earmarked for Burundi. It is best to give unrestricted funds to Burundi so the people there can use the money for what they need the most. One way to empower the local people is to allow them to choose how to spend the money. Sometimes opportunities arise or emergencies arise in which funds are needed right away. For example, a few years ago a plot of land next to the church cost $1500.00. Now it is $4000.00. There needs to be a reserve of money so that when opportunities or emergencies arise, the money is there. Please pray and ask God not whether you should support Burundi financially but rather how you should support Burundi. The third way is to tell others about the opportunities to serve in Burundi and to encourage others to get involved. If you know of groups that would like to hear the Burundi story, please contact me. Thank you for all your continued support!
Sharon’s trip to Burundi May 11-24, 2011
I recently had the good fortune of traveling to Burundi for the second time. I had several new experiences and learned more about the language and the culture of the country. Despite some problems with Ethiopian Airlines, I was blessed in many ways. My bags in Honolulu were never weighed. I made it out of Germany on my way back before the airports closed because of the volcanic eruption. My lost bag was returned in tack the next day. Most importantly, various events worked together to open up new possibilities for ministry in Burundi. I want to thank those of you who supported the trip through your prayers and financial giving. I hope you will want to continue to support ministry in Burundi. I was pleased to see that the men are still using the bikes we bought for them two years ago and that the women and children are still wearing the shirts that we gave them on our last trip.
The church at Ndava, which the government had threatened to shut down because of its failure to meet building code, was finished and dedicated while we were there. It now has its cement floor and metal roof as required. It now needs benches and other interior furniture. Some benches were borrowed and some people brought their own chair or bench for the worship service.
We arrived in Kayanza on Monday afternoon and spent most of the rest of the week teaching the seminary students at the Elijah Bible school, the pastors and lay leaders at the church and the children at the orphanage. The team members brought many supplies as well as food and shoes for the children. I taught the children about Noah and the rainbow and incorporated some vocabulary words such as animals, colors and numbers into the lesson. I had also taken a “wordless ball” which I used to share the gospel message. The problem of orphans remains a major problem in Burundi. Eventually there will be room at the orphanage for a few boys. However, the orphanage is still faced with the difficulty of raising enough money to feed even the children that are there now.
I also had the opportunity to share my testimony and the need to witness in the “10/40 Window” with the ladies and the men at the Bible school. I spoke briefly on the subject of being unequally yoked also. When we were not busy, we spent time playing with the village children. We thought more should be done to draw the village children into the church.
On our last Sunday in Kayanza, the four pastors baptized about 60 people, among them a few children. There was also a sermon and communion that Sunday as well as presentations from several choirs so the service lasted approximately four and one half hours but the time passed quickly.
On Tuesday I was able to visit Barenyabo and Odilo, the two children that I sponsor through World Vision. The children live in the Miyunga/Gasowre area, which is located in the northeastern part of the country in one of the poorest areas of the country. The first family I visited lived quite a way back from the road so we had to walk probably a quarter mile to her house. The child was very shy and her mother stated that she had never seen a white woman before and was a bit taken back by my arrival. However the family was very friendly and grateful. The second family lived right on the road but we had to travel several miles on a dirt road full of potholes to reach her house. The girl came running out of her house and took my hand right away. She was anxious to see me and to show me around. On the way to the area, I stopped at a goat market and bought each family a goat. The goats’ bleating and smell added a certain ambiance to the ride to Miyunga. I wondered why one of my children did not have a last name. I was told that children do not receive last names until the time of their christening. They do not assume the last names of their parents. They are given last names that denote a message such as God is Great or a characteristic of the child. I was able to present each family member with a yarn lei, the sponsored children with a bag of toys and school supplies and each family a goat. I talked to each family about Jesus and the fact that their children are gifts from God and that the parents had to treat them well even if the children misbehaved. We had an opportunity to pray together also. Each of the children presented me with gifts also. I told them that the gifts would have a prominent place in my home. One of the exciting things about World Vision is the fact that they try to involve members of the community in the activities. Between visits to the two families, we went to a community activity where people were practicing the drums for an upcoming church service. The Miyunga project has about 3500 children. Only 2000 have sponsors so there is a great opportunity to share our blessings there. Many thanks to the World Vision staff who rose early and worked hard to make the trip a reality for me.
When I went to Miyunga I expected to see people living in cardboard boxes or at the most thatched structures. However, the buildings are made of brick and adobe mud and are actually quite adequate. What contributes to the status of Burundi being listed as one of the poorest countries in the word is its lack of amenities such as safe drinking water, electricity, education, medical supplies and other infrastructure such as good roads within the cities and villages.
For several different reasons Burundi has a window of opportunity to develop and improve its situation. Burundi is now at peace. The president has started peace projects in which people from different tribes who were previously fighting each other live together and learn how to get along. Many other nations are pouring international aid into the country. The country is a Christian country. The President is himself an evangelistic Christian who has started many prayer groups. He wants to establish a prayer group in each province. The people affectionately call him ”Pastor”. The biggest challenge will be for people to be able to catch the vision and have the organizational skills necessary to make change happen.
Because of my connection with Muinga, the head of our delegation in Burundi decided that it would be good to use the money raised in Hawaii to minister in that area. One of the churches there owns a small plot set back from the road. They have the opportunity to buy the land between them and the road. This will allow more visibility for the church and also allow them to expand. I was pleased to meet the pastor of this church. I am glad that we had enough money to buy the needed plot of land. The left over money will probably be used to begin a self-help association for the ladies of the area. The ladies learn how to run their own businesses. They also each contribute to a common savings account, which is used to loan money to members who need temporary help.
Ordering food remains an interesting experience. One is never quite sure what will be served. I still shy away from meat other than fish. I enjoyed the sandala fish which I had not tried on my last trip. I ate Makeke several times again. I discovered that it can be easily overcooked. I did try goat again and it was tasty but I got an upset stomach after eating it. I learned about the hot sauce called Piripiri. A little goes a long way. Spaghetti and vegetables remained the sure bets.
There was time for a little sightseeing. One of the team members, Margo, enjoys walking so one day we walked to the brick factory. We had to leap over several canals of water to get there. The village women enjoyed seeing me struggling to get there. They really liked it the time I did not quit make it. It was all worth it. On Saturday we went to see the electric plant that produces most of the electricity for the country. I asked the gentleman why the electricity went out so often in Kayanza and he said that there were problems in the lines.
Prayer needs are always present.
- The young baby of one of the families I visited was running a fever.
- A lady that was in Rwanda during the civil war saw her entire family killed. She was shot in the shoulder and still has shrapnel in her body, which prevents her arm form functioning properly. She needs an operation which will cost $1000.00
- A boy named Richard has lost his father. We encouraged him to attend the local church
- Most people in Burundi do not have jobs other than working their own land.
- There are not enough classrooms or teachers so most children attend school for only half a day or less.
- Spiritual growth for the pastors. Many of them are still struggling with very basic issues.
- That the goats that I bought will be cared for properly.
- For individual children. Take a picture and adopt the child for prayer support.
More financial support is needed for the following:
- Goats and livestock for families
- Bikes for those pastors who still do not have
- Gas money for supervisors to oversee the self help associations that are being formed for the women
- Building supplies for growing churches
- Educational needs
- Books for the Elijah school students
- Training for the pastors
- The infrastructure needs to be improved so the country can attract industry and trade.
We have various ways that you can contribute financially
- I have Burundian coffee and doilies made by the children at the orphanage for sale.
- The ice cream challenge is still alive and well.
- In December we will be offering a trolley ride to see Christmas lights. All contributions will be used to sponsor needs in Burundi.
- Shortly I will have packets from World Vision for those who wish to sponsor a child in the Miyunga area of Burundi.
- There is also now a mechanism for you to set up giving on a regular basis.
In the coming weeks I will be working on a structure to combine opportunities with World Vision and the Free Evangelical Association of Baptists of Burundi to develop a plan for Hawaii churches to adopt Miyunga in order to make an impact on the families there. The Kayanza team is actual growing almost too big mainly because of a lack of interpreters so it is exciting to be able to possibly divide and be able to use people and finances more effectively to touch more people.
Scream Bled Eggs and More Janjary 2014
“I get this third world stuff. I don’t need to take any more of these trips.” This thought went through my mind one day early in the trip. However, I was soon reminded that it was not only about me but also more about how my presence could help others or enable others to make a difference. It is not so much that I got to see my child but that my child got to have new experiences and develop a more global perspective.
My trip to Thailand in 2014 consisted of a Compassion International tour and another two weeks visiting American Baptist missionaries and a Wycliffe worker. The Presbyterians beat the Baptists to the north of Thailand but fortunately today both groups are running hospitals, schools and doing a lot of other good works.
During the Compassion tour I learned a lot more about how the program is run and what their values
are. All their projects are connected to a local church so there is always follow up until the child
graduates from the program. There is careful screening and planning for each new church before they join the work of Compassion. There are programs for at risk mothers and babies. A select few can join
the leadership program after graduating from the children’s program. Those who graduate from this
program typically end up with very good positions in society. Compassion takes the holistic approach
attempting to develop the whole child. The sponsors spent a day with their child and family at the zoo and a cultural center. That was the first time most of the people had been on a bus, in a hotel, in a big
city, in a restaurant or at the zoo. It was a thrill to be able to be a part of giving people these new
experiences. We each took gifts for the children and families. In the evening, they lit large lanterns
and released them into the sky. I believe that it is a Buddhist custom but Compassion used the
activity to symbolize releasing children from poverty. We talked about poverty and realized that it
involves much more than lack of material goods. It is any Condition that prevents one from reaching his
full potential or completing the plans God has for that person.
During the other days we traveled to villages to see the Compassion program in action. We visited private homes, experienced local food and played with children. At one village we made mud bricks and played a bamboo game. We also left gifts at all these villages and with families whose homes we visited. It turns out that ABC also has a sponsorship program. We need to find out more about it.
The Compassion trip was a good lead into the visits with missionaries because I could see how some of the tribal beliefs and customs actually do impoverish them. There are also political situations which impoverish them.
The day after the Compassion trip ended, I went to Chiang Rai to visit the Foxes. Almost the first words out of Ruth Foxe’s mouth were, “You are a certified teacher. We need you here. “ Those words really gnawed at me and I have thought about them a lot. They are looking for a one-year commitment. I met several Americans who were volunteering. I am not sure I am ready to do that. But thinking about the logistics of volunteering in Thailand for a year gave me a greater appreciation for those who do it.
I did have a little time to sight see on my own. One day I visited the Golden Triangle where the threecountries of Burma Thailand and Laos can be seen. I also had time to familiarize myself with ChiangMai and Chiang Rai. I found the landscape to be beautiful, the food in most part tor be deliciousand the people to be very friendly.
I saw the item “ scream bled eggs” on the menu one day and was surprised to learn what they are. And so what are scream bled eggs? The answer is below
During my conversations I became aware of many prayer needs which I can only share in a general way in this report.
Lérida Missionaries and volunteers
Spiritual, physical and mental health (As one missionary explained, we are ordinary people with the same challenges that other families have.)
Financial needs for basic living costs as well as for ministry projects
Personal safety as they travel.
Praise the Lord for these missionaries and volunteers who have dedicated themselves to God’s work in Thailand and elsewhere.
order modafinil to canada Church growth
Construction of church buildings and start of new church plants
Expansion plans for Compassion International
Minority groups that are trying to lift themselves out of various types of poverty.
Children, sponsors, pastors and local workers that are involved
Minorities, refugees and others who face spiritual, physical, economic and political challenges each day.
Although it is becoming a modern nation in some ways, there are still political, social, economic and spiritual problems that are leading to instability. Some of the problems that are in the news now a days include uprising against the Prime Minister, failure of government to pay farmers for rice that was sold to the government, failure of government to distribute lap tops that have been promised to the schools, drought conditions in much of the country and instability of government due to the dissolution of the House. There are also television campaigns against the molestation of women and corruption.
Missionaries I visited.
Chuck Fox works with the Akha tribe. He needs prayer as he tries to learn the Akah language.
Ruth Fo teaches second grade at the Chiang Rai International Christian School. She uses the opportunity to reach out to non-believers. She is also trying to revive the children’s program at church.
Scott and Tan Coats train local leaders.
Kit Ripley manages the “New Life Center” which ministers to girls at risk and HIV positive children.
Kim Brown has three ministries who also work with at risk children. Many of the children have either lost their parents or don’t know who they are so they have no village home to return to. One of her ministries assists those with disabilities; PT.L. The first girls are close to graduation from high school or college. She is being assisted by a nurse who recently moved there.
Mike and Richard Mann train the farmers in agriculture practices and run the Lanna Coffee business to ensure that the local farmers get a good price for their coffee. I plan to become a small-scale distributor so see me if you wish to buy coffee. Profits go back to the ministry or a ministry of our choice.
Kerry Hassler is developing a digital database to track all the coffee raised by the farmers. There are many checks and balances to make sure that all the coffee is accounted for.
Ethel and John Ligero are involved with media production for Wycliffe. They work closely with local tribes to record the Bible into native languages and to illustrate the Bible using contextualized material.
There are other missionaries in Thailand and the surrounding areas that I did not have an opportunity to meet on this trip. More information can be found at the American Baptist International Ministries web site. All missionaries need additional financial support as well as your prayers. See me for more details if you wish to give financial support or go on line to provide your donation.
All the missionaries will be attending the missions conference this summer in Green Lake, Wisconsin. It is not too late to register for this conference.
Sharon’s Myanmar Trip Jan. 18-Feb. 6 2013
Myanmar, Burma as it was known in the days of Judson, with its historical, political, economic, military, and religious histories as well as its topographical features is a land of many stories which I could only begin to explore in my three weeks there. I did learn of some missionaries such as Mason and Brayton that I did not know about. I am anxious to read more about them. Most of what I learned came from talking to fellow Americans and Burmese Christian leaders. I especially thank the tour members as well as Stan Murray from IM for putting me in touch with Baptist leaders in the country. Suu Suu in the women’s department gave generously of her time to show me around. I was in the country for three weeks. The first two weeks I spent touring Judson sites with 22 other Americans. The last week I spent with Burmese Baptists learning about their various ministries in the country. I also had a couple days to explore on my own. Before I went I had some doubts. I did not know what I was going to do the last week since none of the plans seemed to be finalized. Things in Myanmar sometimes move very slowly but as Stan Murray assured me, everything did work out in the end. I was also a bit worried about how to protect my money since the only acceptable way to do transactions is with cash. Credit cards are only accepted in a few of the top-notch hotels and restaurants. Traveler’s checks are not accepted and ATM’s are not reliable. So the only resort is to carry all your money with you at all times which means you are a walking target for robbers or pickpocketers. Fortunately, there are not many of those in Myanmar so by taking reasonable precautions, one can be safe and hold on to his/ her money. I was also concerned about my visa since it had the wrong date on it. To make a long story short, I did have to purchase another visa. Fortunately I had read that one should always have extra passport pictures so the day before I left, I had two pictures made. I needed one of them to get a visa. God had my back on that one!
Much of the vegetation and crops are the same as ours. Watermelon is one fruit that is quite common there. It is served at most meals. Tamarind is popular also. Mangosteen was a fruit that I had not seen before. It supposedly cures many ills. They do grow rubber which we don’t have in Hawaii. Rosewood and Sandalwood are grown in the Bagan area. The dry season resembles the weather of Hawaii also.
In the Kairos course that I teach we learn that one goes through 4 stages of culture shock when visiting another country. I experienced the first three- first the romance and exotic sensations of being in another country, second the stage of disillusionment and difficulties and the third the beginning of being able to adapt to the local customs. I did not have time to experience complete integration into the language and culture. Besides not knowing the language, by far the most difficult situation was transportation. I love to walk but it was difficult because of construction, blocked areas of the sidewalk and the challenge of crossing streets on foot. Although there were corners with crosswalks and walk lights, it seems that they are only adornments with no practical use. Cars do not stop for pedestrians. It is up to the walkers to lookout for cars coming around the corner and to give them the right of way. Many cars honked their horns at pedestrians including me even though the pedestrians had “the right of way”. Because of the walking conditions or the lack thereof, I broke two new pairs of shoes. I taped them together for the last couple days. My local Baptist guide told me that a pair of sandals lasts her 6 months. How that can be, I don’t know. A sandal is the only practical shoe to wear since it is necessary to remove shoes many times when entering a building. Most of the local people tend to use public transportation rather than walk if going very far. I did resort to taxis quite a bit, which cost me from four to 15 dollars a day depending on where I was going. The Baptist sites that I visited were several miles from my hotel, which made it almost a necessity to use taxis a lot. I also traveled by horse and buggy, public bus, truck and boat. Another challenge for me was the dust. I began coughing and only now am I beginning to get the dust out of my system. During the last week I stayed at a hotel near the river. The room was okay but the breakfast food was not very good so I was glad that I had brought some food from home. During the last few days I was beginning to accept the idea that I should adapt to the local way of getting around and I began to feel a little more content. Kairos also teaches the importance of training local church leaders and teachers. The Judsons did a good job of that training women and men to do the work of the church. I was told that this did not happen with The Catholics and the Telegu Indians and that is why they do not have a strong presence in Myanmar today.
For most of the trip I was based in Yangon, a city of confusion, chaos, clutter and cacophony. Until recently Yangon was the capital of the country. Surprises were around every corner. One day, I pushed the elevator button but when the door opened, there was no cage. The motor was there with a man sitting on top of it. I was so surprised that I could not take a picture or say anything. Another day I was hungry for American food and I saw a hamburger stand next door to the hotel. I ordered a cheeseburger but when I got to my room and opened the package I discovered that there was no hamburger, just cheese, tomato, lettuce and a gob of mayonnaise. I tried to rinse off the vegetables with my drinking water and then took a bite. The cheese tasted different so I ended up throwing the whole thing away. I realized that one cannot assume that a cheeseburger will always be a cheeseburger, as I understand the word. Depending on the location, one can hear the Buddhist chants day and night. Some of the vendors and vehicles have loudspeakers which amplify the sound. Of course the vendors are forever plying their wares in loud strident voices. The Burmese psyche seems to defy order. The traffic on the river as well as on land seemed to follow no rules other than forge ahead to your destination with no regard for others. It seems that there was no plan for the development or layout of the city. There are five star hotels beside rundown buildings. The streets are littered. I did not care for this city even though there were oasis’s of beauty and order, especially in the new parts of the city. There is a lot of construction going on, although mostly by hand, so perhaps the conditions will gradually improve.
Despite disappointments in Yangon, I had many wonderful experiences and met many kind people. The children are very polite, offering to carry your bags. Some of the college students gave me presents or food also. One little preschool boy gave me a tangerine from his lunch box.
The interesting experiences kept me going. While waiting for the group to arrive, I decided that I was gong to take the third class train around the city to see how the other half lived. However, when I asked directions at the hotel, the staff discouraged me from going saying that the uneducated people take that train. Since I was in a five star hotel with executive club membership, I think the lady that I had talked to thought that the activity would not be appropriate for someone of my “stature”. Since it was my first day in the country, I thought that it would be best to respect her opinion. I wondered around a little and then headed back to the hotel. As I approached the hotel, I noticed that there was an elaborate wedding taking place. I decided to check it out. It was fun to see the beautiful dresses. There was a huge stack of wedding presents on the table so I went over to take a picture. They had a big truck there to load up all the presents. One lady approached me and gave me a gift. I explained that I was not part of the wedding group, that I was just looking. She insisted that I take the present, which turned out to be a jade owl which is suppose to bring good luck. Later I talked to one of the family members and found out that the groom was the son of a hotel manager in Bagan. When we got to Bagan I was able to go to the hotel and leave some Hawaiian candy for the groom. What could have been a boring, disappointing day turned out to be an interesting and unique experience. Another example of Romans 8:28. Later, I found out that it is safe to take the train and with the help of my guide and one of our tour members who speaks Burmese, I did take the train ride on the day the group left. I have been in third world countries and thought I had “seen it all” However, during the second hour of the three hour ride, a lot of vendors got on the train and started preparing their food for sale. They prepared the raw vegetables in a cloth on their lap. Only one problem, it was the same cloth that they used to clean their mouth and nose and the same cloth that they used as padding on their heads when carrying their baskets. Now, are you hungry?
After the train ride, I spent the rest of the day checking into my affordable hotel and then I went to the World Vision Office. Again I had a little hard time contacting them but decided after many attempts that I would just take a taxi and go there. Fortunately our guide lives close to the office and knew where it was. I was curious to find out more about what they were doing in Burma. I also delivered 100 toothbrushes to them. Fortunately the office was open and I had an interesting talk with them. The lady told me that each project only lasts from 8- 12 years. As soon as the community is stabilized they move on. The projects in Yangon will end in 2015. There are two others further south that are just getting started. I intend to adopt a child from one of these projects.
It was fun to see all the Judson sites that I had read about in the books. Unfortunately most of the buildings are no longer standing but many of the sites we visited were not too developed so I could imagine what Judson might have seen. We saw the sites where he was imprisoned, some of the sites of government during his time and many of the churches that were named after him or where he had ministered. One of my favorite sites was the U Naw church in Yangon which was named after his first convert. The pastor talked about change and it seemed that the church leaders were trying to keep up with the times without changing the message. We saw the area in Yangon where it is believed that Carey was living and where Judson joined him for a while. On my last day in Yangon, I was able to take a prayer walk from the river to the hill, passing the Sule pagoda. The Sule pagoda used to be white but is now covered with Gold. The river is blocked off where Judson probably landed but about three miles up the river there is a site which probably resembles the area where he landed. I actually crossed the river in a boat and could imagine the Judson landing. Of course many of the buildings between the river and the hill were not there but I still prayed for people in the area. If I were to suggest one change in the schedule for the Judson tour, it would be to include this prayer walk. Probably the highlight of this portion of the trip was holding the Judson Bible. It is uncertain if it is the first or second edition. As we later worshipped at that church I broke down in tears. It is very moving to worship with Christian brothers and sisters half way around the world. Judson is very popular in Myanmar. Each year on the second Sunday of July the churches celebrate Judson Sunday. A special offering is collected and the money is used for evangelism. I hope to implement that practice in our church. That would make Judson Sunday last nearly 24 hours since we are 16 ½ hours behind Myanmar. Later this year there will be other bicentennial Judson celebrations in Myanmar.
Almost every church that we visited was surrounded by a combination of pagodas, Hindu temples and or Mosques. If ever there were a place filled with spiritual needs, it is definitely Myanmar. During my last week in the country I got to see the many kinds of work the Baptists are doing. The Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) is alive and well. Although evangelism outside the church walls is prohibited unless the government grants permission, the Baptists have found a way to express the love of Jesus Christ to many people. Just as Judson had to adjust to the local culture by building a zayat to attract people so the Baptists of today are figuring out how to overcome “obstacles” to ministry. There are many social programs involving food, medicine and education which are carried on by the churches. These programs sometimes attract people to the church where they can hear about the Word of God. Each of these ministries has personnel and financial needs. I visited a preschool, an orphanage and a home for older people (literally a house for grandmothers) and several women’s classes in sewing, maternity health and computers. The preschool was made up mostly of Buddhist children but the teachers told me that some of the children go home and pray to Christ before each meal. One family heard the Christian stories and converted to Christianity. I had a chance to share my testimony many times and taught at the seminary and a couple English classes.
Although the churches sing many of the hymns that we know, there are some noticeable differences. I was told that a Baptist preacher has to serve two years before marrying. There are three offerings. The first one is for those who are tithers who go to the front of the church to put their money in the silver
bowl. Everyone knows who the tithers are. The tithe supports the maintenance of the building and the programs. The second and third offerings are collected by the ushers and support the pastor and the poor. What we know as the morning prayer is called the complete prayer and lasts 10 or 15 minutes. They pray for the pastor, the country and the ones who could not attend the service. Anyone speaking from the raised platform must have a head covering and be barefoot. Apparently the churches have some of the same personnel and financial struggles we do but have again adjusted. In one church the soundboard was placed beside the keyboard and the same man worked the sound system and played the keyboard. Many times while he was playing he would have to take one hand off the keyboard to adjust the sound. Many of the buildings are used all day long on Sunday to accommodate all the different groups that need a place to worship. Most churches have midweek Bible studies and prayer sessions also.
I did not have time to learn much but I did find some sources which may be of interest. The Irrawady Magazine can be read on line. This magazine is not sold in Myanmar because it sometimes has articles criticizing the government. I also watched the Aljazeer network on television. That can be downloaded to a cell phone. These are two sources of news about Myanmar and elsewhere that you many not hear on the American television networks. The following URL will lead you to some old images of places we saw and talked about on the trip. http://archive.org/stream/cu31924023503174#page/n17/mode/2up
There was not much time to see “tourist” sites but we did see the U Bein Bridge. U Bein means “mayor”. A mayor built the bridge out of left over teak to prevent people from drowning during the rainy season. It is a handy way to get across the river. Of course the vendors are selling their goods on the bridge. We also of course saw the “Shwe Dagon”, the most famous of the pagodas in Yangon. I did not realize how big it is until I went inside. They say that there is more gold in that pagoda than all the gold in England. It is incredible to see how much money is spent to upkeep the pagodas while most people live in poverty. I also had high Burmese tea at the Strand Hotel which is the oldest of the hotels.
Since Obama recently visited the country including the most famous pagoda, he is all the rage. People are selling different types of Obama shirts.
Please pray for the following:
1.The senior pastor at Emmanuel Church in Yangon: He is on dialysis and needs to sit down to preach. That is not done today but we were told that Judson sat down to preach so it seemed appropriate.
2. The Kachin (not to be confused with the Chin) who are still fighting in the north: Peace talks have started. A couple of the Kachin students told me that about 70 percent of them want independence.
3. The infrastructure of the country: There are disputes about some of the land that the past rulers took. Now the people want that land back but the government says no. The dispute is holding up some development projects. When the schools were nationalized many of the churches lost the land that the schools occupied. The churches want the land back. The 2008 cyclone destroyed many buildings, some of which are still not repaired. Electricity goes out at least once a day but usually comes back on within a couple minutes.
4. Spiritual needs: One sees pagodas at every turn which is a reminder of how many people do not know Jesus.
5. First Baptist Church of East Moline in Illinois. Its members do not agree on how to do ministry. The church may close later this year.
6. Seminary students: that the Holy Spirit will guide them and their teachers as they prepare to graduate.
Many of the ethnic groups that fight outside the church are worshipping in peace in the church. The church hopes that this example will serve as a model for establishing peace outside the church.
Thank you all for your prayers and moral support before and during the trip!