Heading across the border
Meeting up with our daughter Mijum, baby and mother-in-law
Visiting Sala Petru's Lahu relatives
In Bangwai at the Paul and Elaine Lewis Memorial Hall
Sharing at the English Language Center with Cynthia Paul
Visiting the Akha Baptist Convention and the Bible School
Talking with a STEP student at the ABC hostel
Visiting the market
Enjoying breakfast with our friends
Ruthie at age 6
For me, talk of Burma (Myanmar) brings warm memories of my childhood. 50 years ago, for many affiliated with this country, was a time of deprivation and hardship. I honestly didn’t really know better, and thought my life was pretty idyllic. I was part of a loving family and supportive community in the heart of the capital city of Rangoon. On the morning of March 30, 1966, my understanding of the tremendous upheaval that was about to take place in my life was extremely limited. Only hours later, I would begin to find out just how much it was about to change. We were given one month to leave the country I loved, with no chance to return. That date, April 30, 1966, is engraved in my mind…and my heart.
This morning as I write this, I am sitting in a room in
Kengtung, in the northeastern section of Myanmar (Burma) called Shan
State. This visit is a special trip with
some of our close Akha friends and colleagues from Thailand to meet with Akha
ministry colleagues, friends and family here.
I hear the familiar sounds of the lilting Burmese language drifting up
to my window, along with roosters crowing, temple bells ringing, the revving of
motorcycles passing by, and the clanging of pots and pans as breakfast plans
begin for today.
As the 50th anniversary of that April date closes in, I reflect upon what I am seeing and hearing here. When I visited here 3 years ago, it felt very much like stepping back in time. Truly, not much seemed to have changed. For the rural areas, that probably is still true, although I am assured that access is better (!). The difference in the city, however, is palpable. There is electricity more of the time…from the government. There is a big increase in the number of vehicles (and nice ones!) that are traveling the roads. And the biggest amazing change of all is the presence of phones everywhere! Three years ago, people were not allowed phones, or they cost something like $15,000 to have one, restricting the use to only the wealthy and those in the government service. Connecting with the outside world in general was very difficult, largely depending on slow mail or hand-delivered messages. I sat yesterday at a wedding reception with people on either side of me who were adding my e-mail address to their phones AND inviting me to be their friends on Facebook! These new opportunities for open communication are hugely significant! Our friends here are clearly happier, more hopeful, and excited about the future.
There is still much to do within the infrastructure
here. Hopefully, the constitution of
Myanmar will be ratified by the end of next month, and there is much
anticipation about this action. How open
the country will be for foreigners to come to live and work remains to be
seen. There are a number of NGOs working
within the country already, but there may be new opportunities open up within
the near future. The news today is all of the installation of the first non-military president, an amazing moment in the journey of this country after so many years of military rule. Hope abounds.
We have had opportunities to talk with people here who are doing many good things, from working with World Vision, to teaching English, providing places for students to live and study, preparing students for the ministry, and empowering pastors and leaders. It is encouraging to see the movement of the Spirit here. We see it in the presence of many churches of not just the Akha Baptist Convention, but also the Lahu, Shan and Wa Baptist conventions (among others). We see God working in and through the lives of individuals who are committed to making a difference for those who have difficulty doing that for themselves. And we also see God’s Spirit in the freedoms we see increasing here. We are grateful to God for the opportunity we’ve had to come and share for a brief time in the lives of faithful followers here and continue to pray for God’s direction and blessing in their lives.
Sometimes it’s good to step back…to look forward.