Myanmar is a nation of 55 million. It is currently a nation in the grips of great change. Since 2010 the borders have been opened to new development and freedom. The rate of change has been bewildering as 40 years of progress have been squeezed into 5.
The Gospel has been in Myanmar (Burma) since 1810 primarily within the borders areas of India and China. Overall the nation is 90% Buddhist, 4% Christian and 4% Muslim. The Church is strongest in the Tribal states in the north and west. Southern Myanmar is 99% Buddhist.
Pastor Simon and Pastor Michael visited over the 15th to 29th of October. Our first conference was in Kalaymyo near India. We had over 70 attend over the five days. The primary language was Mizzo Chin. Many of those attending came from Chin State, which claims to be 85%+ Christian. We felt there was a real danger of nominalism among these churches. What was striking was the lack of Bibles used in the services and even initially the conference. The pastors shared that preaching was usually based upon their own thoughts, and not from the passages from the Bible.
The Pastors, Evangelists and Church Planters who attended had by enlarge little formal theological training. The churches which attended were primarily from a Reformed tradition, Presbyterian and Baptist. Many were advanced through serving the church, and placed in church planting situations. They are a people of great passion and prayer, but minimal training in studying the Bible.
The Bible overview enabled them to grasp the Big Story of the Bible. They were struck by the deeper understanding of the Fall and the hope of the New Heaven and Earth. With the exegesis we focused on two main goals. First giving them basic tools for understanding a passage. This included: Understanding context, Historical Background, recognising divisions within the text and noting key words, phrases and surprises in the passage. We worked primarily in Matt. 5:25 and Luke 15. Secondly we focused on reading the text well and using this to develop the sermon. Several of those present found this a new and exciting prospect. The week concluded with them presenting a short 5 minute outline for Luke 15. Overall one felt this was a new perspective for them and our role was to plant basic skills that will bear fruit in future years. Simon left them with a challenge to use these skills to preach through Lk. 2 at Christmas, and then seek to preach through Matt. 5-7 and 25 next year.
Kalaymyo itself is a city of around 100,000 at the foot of the mountains of Chin State. It holds a University and is situation 20 miles from the Indian border. It is slowly emerging out of a basic infrastructure, experiencing rapid change. We also preached at a Zobi Bible School and Church Plant.
~The second conference was in Yangon in the south of Myanmar. The contrast is striking, Kalaymyo is largely Christian, Yangon overwhelmingly Buddhist. Kalaymyo still emerging from poverty, Yangon growing as an Economic city. We held a three day conference in Yangon.
The attendees were primarily for AOG churches. The conference started with 45, and built to 75 over the days. The theological training was higher, with several Bible School students attending. Again the teaching focused on Bible Overview and Reading the Passage well and the students were left with the challenge to preach similar passages to Kalaymyo
Overall those in Yangon caught on to the need and value of such preaching much quicker, and with much greater enthusiasm. There was a deep hunger for a more Expositional approach in this manner. My opinion is that a 3 day conference is all they would be able to manage. It is evident they are 1) very busy, 2) under pressure from the general society, 3) overwhelmed with conferences of every shade and colour. However the response was that they deeply valued this help and would wish to grow this conference with significant backing from key leaders in Yangon. Equally one was struck by the many younger men at this conference. Many attending church Bible Schools. There is potential to expand to these schools in the future if wise.
Yangon is a city of some 9 million which is being transformed into an economic capital for Myanmar. It is struggling form rapid change, which manifests itself is profound poverty on the streets and excessive luxury alongside. Fundamentally now is an opportune time to shape the coming years. My judgement is the country will move forward to aligning itself more with the standard seen in Thailand and other emerging Southeast Asian countries. The hopes for the election of the NLD party was widespread and in the end unachievable. The new government will at best only meet partially the hopes and aspirations. For the Church everything from weird to wonderful is seeking to flood in at the moment. Sadly much like Russia experienced at the end of the Cold War. Strategic support at this point of history could have significant and long term influence.
Sadly Pastor Matthew hoped to join us in Yangon, but was unable. Both Simon and I felt deeply humbled at being privileged to serve the church in Myanmar.