From June 17 to 30, 1999, I was unexpectedly sent to Myanmar to help in the holy work, because the two ministers originally scheduled to go there were no longer available. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would go to Myanmar; I wasn't familiar with the country or the people, and I didn't know how I could help. But since time was a factor, I hurriedly applied for my visa, packed my belongings, and entrusted everything to God in prayer.
When I arrived at the Myanmar airport, I was supposed to meet a brother named Thomas Yen, but I didn't know who he was. As I left the gate, I saw a group of people and approached the person who I thought would be the most likely candidate. Indeed, it was Thomas, for after we greeted each other with "Hallelujah," it seemed like we were old friends. We are truly one family in Christ!
The next morning, Thomas and I visited a sister from Taiwan who had married and moved to Myanmar. We talked about faith, shared the mercy and grace of God, and encouraged one another in the Lord. We pray that God will keep this sister in His love and bring her whole family to Christ.
That afternoon on the way back to Thomas' home, there was a huge thunderstorm that flooded the roads and caused our car to stall. Several Burmese workers were kind enough to help us push the car to the side of the road, where we were able to restart it and return to Thomas' home safely. That night, we headed over to our prayer house in Shwebogan. When we arrived, there was no electricity, which was quite common in that area after thunderstorms.
On the second day, we left before dawn to go to Upper Myanmar for Sabbath service. This trip required a plane ride, and my ticket was ten times the price of a native's, just because I was a foreigner! When we got off the plane at Kalaymyo, I discovered that the "airport" consisted of a wooden fence (which served as the gate), a run-down wooden shack, and wooden benches.
Together in Spirit & Love
Since it was against Burmese law for foreigners to stay at the church, Thomas and I dropped off our bags at a local motel, which charged $5 a night for extremely meager accommodations. During blackouts there was no electricity for the fan to run, so it became extremely hot. There were also many malaria-carrying mosquitoes there during the summer, so we took malaria pills and asked the Lord to protect us from sickness so that we could do His work.
Along the side of the road there were many small, blue "taxis"—rejected Japanese automobiles that were originally made for farmers. After agreeing on the price, we got into the pile of scrap metal and clinked and clanked along the bumpy road for the twenty-minute trip. Thankfully, the engine was still good, and we managed to reach our church in Taungphila on time for Sabbath service.
Our church in Taungphila is a wooden, two-story building, with the chapel on the second floor. A large sign at the front of the door says "True Jesus Church" in Burmese, and at the bottom of the sign it says, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). At the front of the first floor is a small guestroom, and in the back is a dining area and kitchen with a grass roof. These are used for spiritual convocations and seminars.
Though the church is simple, it is very beautiful. The members themselves live poor and simple lives in run-down shacks. Above the front doors of their own homes, they put a sign with the church's name on it. They are very proud of being members of the True Jesus Church, and they witness to others, spreading the fragrance of Christ. On the wooden walls of their homes, they write Bible verses or thoughts expressing their love for the Lord. Though their lives are very poor and simple, their hearts are abundantly filled with joy.
There are over 120 native believers in Taungphila, and the reputation of this town is good since there are many church members there. Before service, you will hear the sounds of prayer and strong, heartfelt hymn singing. These members put all of their heart, soul, and strength into praising and thanking God. There is no piano, organ, or keyboard in the chapel, only a large drum and a guitar. When I was with them, I learned some new hymns: "We are One Family," "Jesus Loves You," and "Love Brings Us Together." We truly were brought together in spirit and in love, and I experienced the wonderful love and hospitality of our brothers and sisters there.
Peace and Joy in the Spirit
During our short time at Taungphila church, we held a Bible seminar on the basic beliefs, a seminar for holy workers, a spiritual convocation, and an evangelical service. During the spiritual convocation, nineteen people were baptized and eleven received the Holy Spirit.
After the spiritual convocation, we held three days of evangelical service at Nud Kyi Kone. Since there was no electricity there, we used oil lamps. Every night there were over a hundred truthseekers who were hungry and thirsty for the truth. The members in this area are looking for a piece of land where they can build a church. We pray that the Lord will guide them in this endeavor so that the name of the Lord may be glorified.
Thomas and I left early every morning and came home late every night, but we never felt tired. We deeply experienced Paul's words: "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17). It really moved me how the church workers and members listened so attentively to the truth and had such sincere hearts to learn. They truly have "chosen that good part" (Lk 10:41).
A Fertile Field for Evangelism
Currently there is one church in Taungphila, one church in Pyindaw Oo, and prayer houses and service areas in six areas: Pyidawtha, Sakhamayi, Tiddicm, Falam, Nud Kyi Kone, and Yangon Shwebogan. There are a total of 69 families, 211 members, and 87 truthseekers.
These people need our care and more workers to spread the gospel. Since there are currently no full-time workers or pastors in Myanmar, the International Assembly has assigned the Singapore General Assembly to help with the holy work in Myanmar. They need help in literary ministry, religious education, youth fellowship, and training of holy workers. Indeed, "the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few" (Mt 9:37). We hope that all the brothers and sisters around the world will incline their ears to this call from Macedonia.
The Burmese members live poor and hard lives, but they are very simple-hearted and pray fervently, relying on the Lord. Because they thirst and hunger for the truth, the grace of God abounds in their lives. Though Myanmar is a Buddhist country, it is a fertile field for evangelism.
I am really thankful for God's guidance and protection during these two weeks, and also for the love and hospitality of Thomas, his wife, and the native members. Though we come from different cultural backgrounds, the gospel is not separated by nationalities. It does not matter whether you're Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female; we are one body in Christ. God redeemed us by His blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9). From east to west and from north to south, people will come to enjoy the banquet of God's kingdom (Luke 13:29).
May God abundantly bless the members in Myanmar and His work there, so that they can stretch their roots downward and produce fruit upward, enlarging the tents of the gospel and glorifying the name of the Lord.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TRUE JESUS CHURCH IN MYANMAR
1987 Four ministers of another church discover the True Jesus Church in the "Sabbath Observer," a publication introducing all major Sabbath-keeping churches around the world. These ministers begin to preach the complete gospel, and at one point, four hundred people are ready to receive baptism. This group attempts to contact the church through postal mail, but without success. Eventually, the four hundred people disperse and return to their former churches.
1989 A minister of another church by the name of Mr. Thang discovers our church publication, "Words of Life." He writes to the International Assembly (IA) of the True Jesus Church and asks that ministers be sent to preach and baptize.
1990 The IA sends Pr. John Lo and Dn. Jonah Yapp to preach in Myanmar. They hold evangelical services at a member's house, and twenty people receive baptism, including the original four who discovered the True Jesus Church in the "Sabbath Observer."
1993 Pr. John Lo and Dn. Jonah Yapp hold evangelical services at a member's house in Yangon, and thirty people are baptized.
1994 Pr. John Lo and Dn. Jonah Yapp hold evangelical services in Yangon, and forty receive baptism. But because there are no ministers there to help root the members in the faith, some of them leave. A church in Pyindaw Oo and a prayer house in Sakhamgyi are established. Bro. Thomas Yen moves to Yangon from New York for business. He witnesses fervently and holds family Bible studies with the abidance of God.
1995 Pr. John Lo and Dn. Jonah Yapp hold an evangelical service at the YMCA in Yangon. Fifty people are baptized. A church board is established to help pastor the church.
1997 Pr. John Lo and Dn. Jonah Yapp evangelize in Pyindaw Oo, Sakhamayi, Taungphila, and a few other places. The members work fervently, and there is not enough room in the churches to seat all the people. Members actively begin to build churches; currently almost all the churches are completed and are ready to be dedicated to the Lord.
THE "LAND OF PAGODAS"
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. This kite-shaped country is bounded on the west by Bangladesh, on the northwest by India's Assam State, on the northeast by China's Yunnan Province, on the east by Laos and Thailand, and on the southwest by the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is the capital and largest city.
The coastal region is known as Lower Myanmar, while the interior region is known as Upper Myanmar. A horseshoe-shaped mountain complex and the valley of the Irrawaddy River system are the country's dominant topographical features. Natural resources abound in Myanmar, which is known for its jade and teak wood.
The nation comprises fourteen provinces and the population is about fifty million. More than two-thirds of the people of Myanmar are Burman, ethnically akin to the Tibetans and the Chinese. Several native minorities with their own languages and cultures inhabit the country, including the Karen, Shan, Arakanese (Rakhine), Mon, Chin, and Kachin, as well as numerous other smaller minorities.
In 1948, Myanmar became independent of England and is now ruled by a socialist military regime. It was originally regarded as the "barn of Asia" due to its abundant resources, but after being shut up for thirty years, it is now a poor and underdeveloped country. In recent years, the minority nationalities are seeking independence, which has caused civil war. In addition, the people have begun to demand democracy, which has resulted in political instability. The government is attempting to improve and relax their economic policies and is now encouraging foreign investors.
Buddhists are 89 percent of all the people of Myanmar. Most adhere to the Theravada school of Buddhism, as do Buddhists in neighboring Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.
For the majority of Myanmar's population, Buddhism is the center of individual life and the monastery is the center of the community. A rite of passage for every adolescent boy is the shinphyu, in which the boy enters a monastery and briefly lives as a novice monk. Even the king is no exception to this tradition. Women also gladly shave their heads and enter the monastery for a short period of time or for their whole lives.
As fervent Buddhists, most Burmans believe that building and repairing temples is one of the most virtuous deeds. Because of this, temples abound in Myanmar, which is known as "the land of pagodas."
The majority of the information for this sidebar was taken from "Myanmar," Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) Online Encyclopedia 2000; http://encarta.msn.com (c) 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.