Every year, around April to May, a week-long Bible camp is held in Taungzalat, in the town of Kalaymyo, for children and students across Myanmar. By God’s grace, I had the opportunity to assist in three of these camps between 2016 to 2019, as a teacher and facilitator. I thank God for this blessing and would like to share my reflections from these experiences under three Ds—desire, difficulties, and determination. How do these affect our members in Myanmar, and how are they also relevant to our own lives?
The first D is Desire. This desire is for God—to be with God, and for the things above that are of God. This includes the desire to be pleasing to God and to become better children of God. Do we have godly and spiritual desires? The Myanmar Bible camp students are strongly motivated by such godly desire.
Every year, children from Yangon will travel to Kalaymyo by coach for this annual Bible camp. In the past, this trip could take over twenty hours. With better roads, it now takes just over half a day. But this is by no means an easy journey. There is a stretch where the bus has to travel through the mountains, on windy and bumpy roads. The trip usually happens overnight, when visibility is poor, making it difficult for the children to get a good night’s sleep. Some even succumb to motion sickness. They endure this knowing that, a week later, they will have to make the return journey along the same route.
Yet, the youths would smile throughout the journey. Why were they so happy despite the long and arduous bus ride? I like to think that their cheerful demeanors revealed their spiritual desire—desire for spiritual companionship with their brothers- and sisters-in-Christ. Their desire to seek God at this week-long camp helped them to overcome their travel conditions. Their desire to leave their day-to-day environment and be in God’s house, to immerse themselves in Bible stories and sharing, in prayer, and in singing praises to God, brought smiles to their faces.
I am reminded of a Bible character who desired God. We can see his desire in good times when he was blessed by God, in bad times when he needed help, or even after times of folly when he had sinned against God. He is none other than David, a man after the heart of God (Acts 13:22).
One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock. (Ps 27:4–5)
This is a psalm where David expresses his desire to dwell in God’s house, seek God’s presence, and inquire of His word.
In Psalm 63:1–8, David again expresses his desire for God. Pay particular attention to each active verb in this passage (emphases added):
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.
David’s desire for God was the motivation behind his actions. Even after committing the grave sin of adultery, he still desired God’s mercy and forgiveness (Ps 51). He did not want God to leave him. David was indeed a man after God’s heart: He continuously desired God in all circumstances.
Reflecting on David and these smiling children, I ask myself, How much do I desire God? Consider how much we seek God amid the things of the world, be it financial stability, emotional well-being, or a successful career or family life. How much do we desire the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the fulfillment of God’s word and will? Do we desire to know how to be more pleasing in God’s sight? Do we desire to remain in the faith so that one day we can boldly enter the gates of heaven?
We can gauge the level of our desire based on our decisions and actions. The Lord Jesus tells us clearly in the Gospel of Matthew:
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Mt 16:24–27)
If we genuinely desire to follow Christ, this will be reflected in our behavior and the choices we make. Denying ourselves means to physically or mentally put aside our personal interests, yield to God’s will, and follow Him. To take up the cross means to obey God’s word, fulfill our Christian duties, and bear the sufferings of Christ in our lives. This manifests through our daily prayers, our pursuit of God’s word, and our worship of God. More practically, we can see this in how we make decisions in life. Do we decide based on the word of God and striving to be Christ-like in our daily conduct? Do we honor God both in good and peaceful times as well as in troubling and trying times? Let us learn to cultivate such sincere godly desire so that we can overcome our carnal desires through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Overcoming carnal desires is especially important when we face the second D: Difficulties. Specifically, the difficulties one faces in keeping the faith.
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim 3:10–13)
Here, Paul talks about perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, evil men, and deception. All who desire to live godly in Christ will face all of these things. The cross that Jesus bore was not light. We may also find this cross heavy and difficult to handle at times.
Not all of the children I met in 2017 were able to return to the camp in 2019. There were many reasons for their absence, including school commitments, having to supplement family income, or simply because their families could not attend church services regularly.
Poverty and Family Life
Our members in Myanmar are generally not as affluent as members in more developed countries like Singapore. The poorer members have to live from hand to mouth, and some families require the children to work to make ends meet. Poverty can be challenging to the faith because people are preoccupied with surviving. This takes up so much focus that they may not have time or energy for things like keeping the Sabbath. Poverty can even drive people to do unconscionable things, such as selling tobacco or alcohol or committing crime. Additionally, some members head overseas to work in the hope of earning more money, yet stumble in their faith over time, as they work in foreign lands without access to our church and community.
Many cultural influences and vices, such as smoking, chewing betel nuts, and drinking hard liquor, conflict with Christian beliefs and values. Divorce and remarriage are also not uncommon in Myanmar society, with people eloping with their lovers or parents deserting their homes, resulting in many broken families.
Moreover, developing technology and social media are also threatening our members’ spiritual lives. In 2016, I observed that only the senior church youths, aged eighteen and above, owned smartphones. In 2019, around a fifth of the teenagers in my class had their own mobile phones and social media accounts, giving them unfettered access to the internet. If they do not know how to discern right from wrong, they could be corrupted by harmful online content.
Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country. In a society where schools and workplaces advocate Buddhist rites and practices, it can be tough to be a small Christian church.
Kalaymyo has a relatively large Christian population because, historically, many Christian missionaries have preached and established churches there. To many locals, churches are akin to community centers where people can find support, so church-hopping is common. If our members are tempted to do the same, these churches could influence and lead them away from the true church.
We Must All Endure
Members in more developed countries face similar issues, albeit to a different degree—things like dissatisfaction with our quality of life, struggling to make ends meet, and the need to work hard to achieve success and upward social mobility. Some members head overseas because they perceive that the grass is greener there, yet their focus strays and they lose their faith.
Cultural influences that may negatively impact our faith are pervasive in modern societies. Secular mantras that encourage us to put ourselves first and do what makes us happy may cause us to become more self-seeking and deviate from our traditional Christian values. Technology and social media, too, have changed the way we plan and spend our time, and multitasking is taking our focus away from things that once mattered to us. While praying or reading the Bible at home, how many of us would stop to answer a text? Or during services, would we be tempted to answer active chat groups or scroll through our Instagram or Facebook feeds?
Additionally, alternative religious influences may pull us away from the biblical doctrines of the True Jesus Church and the belief in the one true church. Many Christian denominations subscribe to simpler and incomplete gospels of grace and salvation while infusing popular culture into worship. These trends often attract believers from a younger or middle-aged demographic in droves. We may even have friends, colleagues, relatives, or family members drawn to such trends. However, does the Lord want us to abridge or amend the gospel of salvation in an attempt to attract more people to the church?
On reflection, we are indeed not too different from our members in Myanmar. We face the same difficulties that attack our faith from all angles. What should we do then? As Paul endured, we have to endure.
But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:14–17)
We should not stop in our tracks or turn from this path. Continue with what we have learned from the Holy Scriptures. The world is changing, but what we were taught will make us wise for salvation. We have to persist and be corrected by God’s word whenever we stumble. Carry on improving ourselves until we become perfect and complete. This is what our heavenly Father desires for us.
The third D is Determination—the determination to remain in this faith and the one true church. We have to believe that despite the winds of change, and the doubts that may cloud our hearts, the Lord God is in the True Jesus Church; the church holds fast to and preaches the complete truth according to the Bible. The church also has the presence of the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues alongside miracles, signs, and wonders.
I truly praise and thank the Lord that in the 2019 Bible camp, twelve students received the Holy Spirit. God even manifested His presence through a vision witnessed by one young brother. While the students would typically be playing or resting during a lunch break, this brother and his friends had set their hearts to pray for the Holy Spirit in the church hall. As he prayed, he felt an intense light shining upon him, and he was lifted up to heaven. He saw a beautiful golden building before him, with shimmering ponds surrounding him. Above, figures with loud voices were flying like birds in the sky. It was a magnificent sight. He felt that his prayer was so sweet, and he was filled with joy. His tongue also started rolling smoothly as he prayed.
Now, the truth is we do not have to rely on signs like these to prove that God abides with us. In our walk with God, we would have probably experienced something spiritual or supernatural in one form or another. This could have been when God answered our prayers, planted wisdom in our hearts, or moved us to feel comforted or to experience tears of joy or sadness. At the very least, whenever we pray in tongues, it is not self-taught. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues is the sign that the Spirit of God is dwelling within us! It is essential to engrave these spiritual experiences deeply on our hearts and not to forget them. When we are feeling down or weak in faith, we can recount God's blessings and mercies that we have experienced. These will strengthen us and make us more determined to remain in the faith and in the True Jesus Church.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Pet 5:8–10)
In this passage, the brotherhood refers to the church, our spiritual family worldwide, who endure the same sufferings as we do. Be it physical sufferings like poverty and illness, or moral ones arising from the conflict between worldly values and our Christian faith, these same difficulties unite us because they are the sufferings of Christ. Those who desire to be followers of Christ, to bear our cross, and be raised from the dead into eternal life as He was, must suffer as He did.
Dear brothers and sisters, we are not alone. Let us be determined in our desire for the Lord and endure all difficulties. One day we will be perfected. It is then we will find rest in eternal glory. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen!
Myanmar Situation Update
Philip Shee—Myanmar Mission Committee (MMC)
The church in Myanmar has over three hundred members spread across four areas—in the city of Yangon and in three rural towns and villages of Kalaymyo. As the COVID-19 pandemic took center stage in 2020, our church activities in Myanmar were severely disrupted. After February 2020, the borders were shut down, forcing us to suspend all missionary trips to Myanmar. Physical church services were subsequently stopped as the country imposed a lockdown. Initially, the local preachers continued pastoral work over the phone and conducted Sabbath services in members’ homes as they gathered within their residential districts. When further restrictions were imposed, the local preachers, together with the Myanmar Mission Committee in Singapore, started to conduct services online via Facebook Messenger. Regular online services were eventually established on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, with a mix of speakers from Singapore and the two local preachers. A virtual Bible study gathering on Wednesday evenings and youth fellowship on Sundays were also organized. Thank God that our members in Myanmar cherish the opportunity to gather online. At the end of 2020, we also managed to conduct year-end spiritual meetings for Yangon and Kalaymyo, respectively over two weekends. Both were very well attended.
The recent political developments in Myanmar have further complicated the situation on the ground. Internet connection has become intermittent across the country. Despite this, we were initially able to continue our virtual services as planned. We also managed to continue with our weekly morning devotion with staff, which include the local preachers, church administrator, and the two Singapore preachers who are involved with the Myanmar ministry. However, as the situation deteriorated with increased unrest and martial law now imposed, some members have scattered into rural areas and internet connection has become even more unstable. This led to a disruption to our online services. As such we cannot take for granted our current ability to maintain contact with our brethren. We thank God that we have been able to stay in touch with them and have resumed Sabbath services for those who are able to join in online. There are also food shortages in the country, causing food prices to soar. Although the MMC distributed food to the members earlier in the year, it is certain to have run out by now and the logistics involved in distributing food are not easy. It is therefore important for us to pray earnestly for the Lord to preserve and protect our church in Myanmar.