2015 Myanmar – Allen Nettrour

Myanmar, The Last Frontier

In 2007, Kenji Nagai, a Japanese photojournalist, was gunned down by Burmese soldiers while covering riots in the streets of downtown Yangon. As he lay dying, he lifted up his camera, and continued to shoot until his final breath. A photojournalist, giving his life for the sake of his craft- this was my first impression of Myanmar. The guy with the camera is usually the first to get arrested or shot in such places, and I wondered privately if should go. But as I knelt in prayer, I became convinced of a greater glory, envisioning a nation where Kingdom dreams conquer the dark nightmare of oppression. I had been seeing Myanmar, with its borders closed to the world for decades, as the one of world’s last frontiers. But knowing that it was also teetering on the edge of a quasi-democracy, our missions team prayed for a new beginning to take hold for this nation. Ravaged by war, invaded, colonized, rule by an iron-fisted military junta, and an economy springing to life: Myanmar shared many traits with Korea’s past. Could history repeat itself for the better, and mark Myanmar with a greater glory?

YANGON

On a hot night on January 31st, as our team landed in Yangon, we caught our first glimpses of the city. Ancient pagodas, old British colonial buildings: the past of Myanmar rolled by within the frames of our bus windows, bathed in yellow orange street lights. But as we went deeper into the city, we saw the future: hair salons, mobile phone stalls, billboards advertising Lotte products- all hints of an economic revival underway, and fresh hope for the nation. Pastor Myungwha, our team preacher, mentioned how much more free the country seemed. She had visited Myanmar in 2009, and remembered how the heavy oppression was like a thick haze covering the city. We arrived at our hotel late at night, and the team was in high hopes, despite the many mosquitoes that greeted us. There was too much excitement in our hearts.

The next morning, after a warm and light Burmese noodle breakfast, we arrived at Evangel Bible College, our first ministry assignment. We had heard stories from the first Myanmar missions team of Yangon as spiritually quite dry back in 2009. But the Lord is always moving, and by the time the second New Philly team visited in 2013, there was a marked shift. Now in 2015, something had definitely changed; it was as if the air was different. The Bible college students opened in worship, playing Hillsong United songs with thunderous passion, hands were lifted to God as if waiting for rain in a drought, the sight made our hearts rejoice and jump with gladness. These students praised God with all of their strength and the sweet sound of it moved many of our team to tears. We could not help but celebrate the great handiwork of the Lord, and thank Him for all the prayers of the missionaries who had gone before us. The difficult and unthanked work of praying, plowing, and sowing into hard desolate earth; God had not forgotten. He had spread their hard fought prayers like seeds into the soil, and we were collecting a bountiful harvest. It was a glorious first day. Praise be to our Creator, who can plant seeds in the most spiritually driest of places. Life can flourish in the desert for all is possible through Him. We celebrated with Pastor Zam at his humble home, with chicken and rice, and sweet Myanmar milk tea. I remembered to take a photo.

Pastor Zam’s church, in the heart of central Yangon, is a blessed church. Children traveled from very far away to came see us minister, and it was interesting to see their great knowledge of Korean pop stars and Korean dramas. Lee Min Ho. EXO. They rattled off a list of all things Korean, and a group of girls even asked Pastor Myungwha “Are you crazy?” (a joking phrase) in very excellent Korean. She laughed heartily, and instantly made a connection. Worship began, and I took photos throughout the service- both young and old worshipping in freedom, raising their hands to heaven, praising the most Holy One. It was wonderful sight, and a lesson that God, our merciful redeemer, can restore and bring His holy rain to all: to the unreached, to the broken, and to the heavily oppressed. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Let there be freedom for Myanmar, and freedom for the people. Let there be freedom to speak about injustice, freedom to discuss politics over dinner without fear of death, freedom to worship on high and praise God with our lips.

MANDALAY

It’s just a short hop to get to the flat plains of Mandalay from Yangon. Our prop wing aircraft was faithful, and we fretted not as we looked out the cabin window with the propellers spinning wildly in full view. Pale blue skies, lush green fields untouched by development, and immense views of the countryside greeted us upon landing. Pastor Piang, our local contact, picked us up from the airport, and we merrily chatted with excitement over our new destination. Wave after wave of motorcycles on dusty, unpaved roads whizzed by our van, and we became aware of the shape and character of this new city. Golden pagodas dotted the landscape. They were as prevalent as the palm trees arching over the bushes. Buddhism was entrenched not only into the society, but it was also a central feature of the skyline. In 2009, New Philly’s first Myanmar missions team had come to this very same place and experienced heavy spiritual oppression. But again, God had been working, and the time was now ripe for much fruit. We were greeted warmly throughout our time in Mandalay. Joyous laughter was a key trait of our team. As we sat down for our first meal (a picnic-like outdoor lunch with Pastor Piang, his wife, and his ministry team), we laughed around them, and they soon began to laugh with us. God can use something as simple as laughter to bring a forth a breakthrough and a change in mindset. Coupled with prayer, and kneeling humbly before the Lord, what force what can resist? Our ministry time was incredibly blessed, and again, we reaped a mighty harvest. Joy broke out, as did visions of a renewed landscape for Myanmar: cutting away the shackles and slavery of the old ways to make way for something new. Child labour (as we had seen in the restaurants of the city), gone. Widespread corruption, gone. All made possible by the spread of the Gospel? We prayed as such, and believed as such, for our God is mighty indeed. Riding in the back of our truck that night after a long and powerful revival service, with our hair flapping in the cool wind, I felt as if God had waved at us from Heaven.

PYIN OO LWIN

From the flat plains of Mandalay, our team traveled on long winding roads, high into the mountains to the charming town of Pwin Oo Lwin. We were all struck by the majesty of the place. The crispness of the fresh air, the land blooming with bright flowers; it was as if we had come to Eden. The glory and wonder of every sunrise and sunset, the sun and moon eclipsing the trees, the smell of smoke wafting in the morning air, the chirping of the wild birds at dawn, Orion wheeling his stars over the night sky: it’s something the heart does not forget. And nor will we forget our most important ministry in this place: the orphans of Pyin Oo Lwin.

Pyin Oo Lwin Immanuel Church is where orphans pray. They pray hard, and pray very loud, and worship as if life itself depend on it. These are just children, as young as 3 and 4 years of age. As the team worshipped with them, and played with them, and as Megan, one of our team members, led the Vacation Bible School dances with them, their eyes shone brightly, vibrant with hope and life. Pastor Muang, just 29 years old, opened in a song of worship. He picked up his guitar, and a wondrous sound followed him. As I remembered to shoot photos properly, I also recorded the sound. The sound of angels sweetly singing an ode to Heaven, a heart-melting moment. And at the end, they prayed: loudly, sincerely, powerfully. You could feel the weight of their prayers impacting you, as the Lord was with them. These children knew nothing of religious controversies or conflicting ideologies, or ridiculous theological debates over which doctrine is more correct. But these children knew God: they clasped their hands tightly, shut their eyes, and prayed in such a pure way that we had not witnessed before. They lived truly demonstrating that God is their provider, their Father, their everything.

Pastor Muang, with his sharp intellect, and his deep faith, along with Pastor Kai, the lead pastor of Pyin Oo Lwin Immanuel Church, had raised these children and given them new life. Rooted in the glory of God, by their faith in God alone, they built shelter and housed these children, knowing that God would provide all. He would provide clothes, food, shelter, and nourishment for their spirit. He would give them joy. He would guide them and shape their character for the glory of his Kingdom. We prayed that amongst these children, future leaders of the nation would rise to become doctors, pastors, lawyers, and wise counsel for the nation. We prayed for them to bring about change and transform a sea of disbelief and idolatry into an ocean of faith. The devil fears such things: that people will turn to the cross, that justice will prevail, that the law will be upheld, and that citizens will present injustices before their government without fear of retribution. But we are bold and valiant with the Lord as our defender and our banner.

We pray that these orphans will grow up strong, and be educated well. We pray that as they rise up out of poverty, they will lead the charge for a new Myanmar: a prosperous, faith-filled, Golden Myanmar. All for His Kingdom, all for His Glory. The orphans of Pyin Oo Lwin had memorized the Lord’s prayer perfectly, and could recite it from memory. No words were ever spoken more powerfully, when Pastor Myungwha asked these children if they knew the prayer well. They all prayed aloud in unison. Stunned into silence, we were overjoyed and listened as God’s children spoke the words:

“Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.”

“For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.”

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