The history behind our trip to Myanmar is filled with many ups and downs. What began in 2011 as an apparent door of opportunity with Aung Kyaw Moe, went by the wayside in January 2013 when he changed his mind regarding a pursuit of joining the CGBCI because of his refusal to be accountable with funds. This nearly shut down our going to Myanmar until an acquaintance of Dr. Whitcomb, Neng Khan Thang, invited us to come under his auspices. Dr. Neng Khan Thang is a conservative, fundamental Baptist with a doctorate in missions from Bob Jones University. He and his son-in-law, Dr. Hung Kim, who has a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Bob Jones, were very helpful in assisting us with an investigation of tribal church planting opportunities in Myanmar. They provided information regarding the culture, government, and current church planting opportunities in this emerging country.
These Brothers have started a seminary in Yangon and currently have about 40 students. They also have a Bible Institute where they train men for the ministry and after the men have served for a few years, then they encourage them to go on to Seminary. The pastor of their church plant, Canaan Baptist Church, is a graduate of their Seminary. We shared about our Practorium program and they are very interested in getting Dr. Whitcomb’s DVD courses for their classes. We had a number of discussions regarding trine immersion. It was a good and profitable interaction.
I explained the situation to them regarding Moe and they said, “It sounds like he’s not a real elder.” Then, Dr. Kim said, “It was not the will of God for you.” Well said. We asked them what they thought about bringing in a team of church planters to plant churches among the tribal people who have not heard the Gospel and who do not have a Bible in their own language. They were favorably inclined toward this possibility. In fact, Dr. Kim said, “It would be a blessing.” The major hurdle would be visas. The government of Myanmar is undergoing such major changes that Dr. Thang and Dr. Kim aren’t sure themselves what will happen and are cautiously optimistic about the future for believers and church planting. They think the election of 2015 will provide some answers as to the future of Myanmar politically. Interestingly, the May 21, 2013 India newspaper, “The Hindu,” ran an article entitled “Myanmar leader in historic White House visit.” One portion reads, “The most critical test of reform will come in 2015, when Myanmar is scheduled to hold elections – testing whether the military and its allies would be willing to cede power, potentially, to Ms. Suu Kyi. Bob Kulp had also shared an article with me from “World” magazine on the opportunities pastors in Myanmar now have. We all agreed that the Lord can open doors which no one can shut.
During our time there, Pastor Ike preached Sunday morning at Grace Baptist Church, with Dr. Kim interpreting, while Joshua and Benjamin gave their testimonies and sang “I Sing The Mighty Power of God.” This church is composed of mainly people from the Chin tribe of Myanmar. In the afternoon, we repeated this at Canaan Baptist Church, a church plant, where the service was in Burmese because most of the people there are from different tribes. The country is made up of 7 major tribes who compose the 7 states of Myanmar. However, there are 135 subgroups. Many tribes have not yet received the Gospel.
Brothers Thang and Kim took us to the “National Villages” where there is a display of the 7 major tribes with traditional housing, occupations and some information about the tribes. Then, from Tuesday to Thursday, we visited 2 tribes in Shan State. We walked for 2 hours into the mountains to visit the Pelaung tribe. The children, dressed shabbily and covered with dirt, greeted us as we approached the village. I gave away all my Planter’s peanuts to them and our guide gave them his cookies. We were invited into a house and spent some time drinking tea and talking to the grandfather through the interpreting help of our guide. The grandfather showed us his Buddhist “Bible” and we learned about his family.
The next day, we visited the Inle tribe who live on the shores and in the water of Lake Inle. The houses are built on poles. There is one road which leads to the lake and then you must take a boat to get to the villages. People have made a tourist town out of the boat launching point and the Inle people have capitalized on the tourists going to see them. Our guide “Jimmy,” a professed believer who is a part of the American Baptists (started by Adoniram Judson), told us that there are 200,000 people in the Inle tribe and not one of them is a believer. He said, “They need another Judson to go to them.” May the Lord raise up that man or team.
Even though Craig and Sara Noyes may not go to Myanmar, to have this information and present it to a potential “Judson,” may be the reason why the Lord took us to Myanmar. May His good, acceptable and perfect will be accomplished through this investigative trip. Borders between Thailand and Myanmar are being relaxed now and New Tribes is working in Thailand. It would be possible to reach people in Myanmar from Thailand.
Once again we were warmly welcomed by the Rajan family at the airport. After arriving in Coimbatore, we made our way to Agape Home. We enjoyed a brief ministry to the children on Sunday and Monday before the beginning of the 2013 CGBCIndia National Conference on Tuesday. This was a historic conference, because this was the first time that a number of the men from Tamil Nadu and Odisha spoke at the conference. It was an opportunity to see how they preach, what they preach, and to briefly evaluate the theological content of their messages. Overall they did well. I continue to be impressed with the character and skills of Nehemiah Bardhan.
One of the most important issues regarding the church planting effort in India is the theological depth of the church planters. This has been somewhat of a puzzle over the past four years. We have tried to shore up the gap in their theological knowledge by teaching our statement of faith more than once. But in keeping with the indigenous principle of church planting, we must have the men there teach their own men. We had a discussion with Paul Rajan about this. We agreed to have Nehemiah Bardhan and David Selvaraj teach the other men in block courses every six months because they are the most theologically capable men. Paul took responsibility for making sure that this happens. It will need to be put in our updated written plan for India. I think that Nehemiah can be compared to Raymond in Cameroon in terms of theological ability. This seems like it would be a better approach than simply giving them our Practorium courses or making numerous trips ourselves to teach them.
We met with the 3 groups of church planters in Odisha at separate times to find out how things are progressing and how the Lord has been blessing them. We were very encouraged to learn that the men in Golamunda had baptized 15 believers before coming to Conference. The men in Semala were preparing to baptize 6 believers after they returned from Conference. The downside was the report from Umarcot. Joseph Suriya is the leader there. The group he was leading experienced a division and he moved to a location some kilometers away with the rest of the people. That work has been slow and tedious. Paul will be visiting Joseph to try and understand what obstacles there are.
One of my highlights was the baptismal service. Ever since the beginning I have questioned our involvement in Agape Home with the children. So it was particularly rewarding to me to see three of the children whom we know
baptized on Thursday, May 16th. It demonstrates the wisdom of the men on the foreign mission panel who have promoted our involvement with Agape Home. In addition to those three, four men from Odisha and two women from Cholapuram were baptized.
Another highlight was the communion service. In my opinion the communion service was the best one that we have had there. I say that because of the interaction between the men from the different states who washed each other’s feet. There was an obvious expression of love and joy. Also Paul’s brother-in-law, Saseed, participated in the communion service. It was his first time to ever experience threefold communion. He attends a Plymouth Brethren assembly in another city. When he was asked afterwards what he thought, he said that he was very happy and delighted in the service.
The week after Conference, we traveled to Pondicherry. Pastor Ike spoke at an outreach of the church there on Saturday evening where there was a mixture of mature believers, new believers and unbelievers. The next morning, Joshua gave the Sunday worship message. There were about 70 present. Then, we left for Rajapalayam to accomplish a number of things: We visted Torbay House. The government has shut down 6 orphanages in the area because of poor facilities and mistreatment of children. They commended Paul for Torbay House. We participated in an outreach at Paravakkudi school to youth and young adults. It was impressive that about 100 attended. Pastor Ike and Benjamin gave their testimonies and Joshua spoke. There was good interaction with the unbelievers. Later in the week, Pastor Ike spoke at a Plymouth Brethren Assembly because they are considering joining the CGBCIndia. Please continue to pray for our brethren in India. We will sharing more stories on Foreign Missions Night at Conference (Sunday Evening, June 30th).