I was able to set up some ministry in Northern Thailand with some Karen evangelists up in Mae Saraing, near the Thai/ Burma border, during the first week of March. The Karen are a people group in the northern areas of western Myanmar & eastern Thailand. It was set up through a missionary friend working in that area. The next week was spent in the (now former) capitol of Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangon, Burma), among another Burmese people group called the Chin (from northwest Myanmar).
The ministry time went very well in both Thailand & Myanmar. It was a blessing having Eric (Johansen) along & assisting with the ministry. Eric is a former student and staff, along with his wife, MJ, when I was working in the Philippines. They are now missionaries to central Thailand. We had good fellowship & fruitful ministry. It was also a blessing to have some time at his home in central Thailand, with his family & another missionary gal working with them. (See their blogs below)
Our time with the Karen evangelists was a blessing. It was a privilege to be serving them since they are out on the frontline in areas where we would be ineffective & (often) unable to go. I did several messages on the Essential Gospel that were well received, Eric had a great encouraging message for them & we did some Q & A, along with James (see below), that we hope was helpful. These brothers & sisters are very poor, isolated from other believers much of the time & often persecuted (treated abusively). Some came from Burma, others farther up north from our site (Mae Saraing), all of them reaching the unreached & under-reached in their areas.
We stayed with James & Bua Garwood who work under U-Turn for Christ & work alongside the Karen Baptist convention. We had a great time with them & another young missionary couple, Aaron & Michelle, who are staying with them. Of course, all the teaching had to be interpreted into the Karen dialect, which means it was quite a bit of work for our interpreters ("Papa" & Domo).
I was also able to preach on Sunday at the 2 churches Eric is pastoring in central Thailand (Sawankhalok & Samruang). Then we hopped on a bus for an overnight ride down to Bangkok & a flight on Monday am to Yangon.
We arrived in Yangon just fine & spent the first day exchanging money (1000 Chat = $1) & preparing for the IBS/ Living Word Study workshop. They had the materials translated into Burmese, so we had to work out a schedule for 3 days, allowing for interpreting time. This adds, roughly, twice the time to the usual schedule. We broke up the workload between us & prepared accordingly. All those who came (41, though only 38 finished) were pastors & leaders of various churches & ministries.
The teaching went well & was received well. It was fun watching them get into discussions & work on assignments. It's a blessing to see them "get it". All of them appreciated the time & said how much they needed the training. Many of them have Bible college degrees, including some with master's degrees, so it was encouraging to see them applying the training.
I got together with several on the last day, after the workshop was completed, to talk about future plans for training. They were all very positive about the idea of more training & for them to be involved as trainers. I'm not sure when we can do it again, probably not till later in the year. I would also like to include Ptr Elmer & Ptr Jing from the ministries I work with in the Philippines, as they would be very valuable in further training in Thailand & Myanmar.
One last thing... Eric & I both noticed some similarities between Burma & the Philippines, culturally & economically, although the Burmese are under much greater economic difficulties, along with living under a very repressive & corrupt government. Also, this trip really confirmed for me the great need, & specific calling on my life personally, for equipping leaders. This is a HUGE need throughout most of the rest of the world. Without adequate equipping, We are very resource rich (people with experience) in America & I believe we (American believers) will be held accountable by the Lord for how we utilize and share what He has blessed us with. How I long to see more teachers going out to under-reached & unreached areas of the world to equip pastors and leaders who are longing for this equipping.
Please keep both the Karen people & the other people groups of Myanmar (like the Chin, Kachin,Shan, etc.) in prayer, since they are all impacted in very negative ways by the Myanmar military regime (read- tyrants). I read (& brought back) a government sponsored newspaper that was filled with cold-war style propaganda directed at those who might try promoting democracy. It was blatant & revealing of the actual situation the Burmese people face, something we only know about when the violence & suppression surfaces from time to time.
I’m thankful for the short time I had there, but hoping the Lord will open up the opportunity & provision to return for more ministry in the near future. TK