Like most Americans, I was quite unfamiliar with Burma prior to our trip to the Far East. Burma has made just a proverbial blip on the American radar, bringing to our attention such events as the Buddhist monks marching in the streets and the Cyclone in 2008. President Obama also visited Burma recently, the first sitting President to ever visit their country. And of course, we are aware that Burma has been the second most closed nation in the world, just behind North Korea. I knew very little about the Burmese people or their culture.
So as we traveled into Burma for the Pastors Conference, I felt as though we were meeting Burma for the first time. The Burmese government has only recently relaxed its control over media, travel and religion. It’s all new for the people of Burma and for the rest of the world. We are experiencing a “meet and greet” between countries and cultures. I wondered what we might find.
Arriving in Burma, we found rain, rain and more rain. They have two seasons, a rainy season and a dry season. As we found this particular late September, the rainy season had lasted a little longer than usual. Rains, and sometimes heavy storms, pounded us and the communities everyday. But this didn’t deter hungry Burmese pastors (about 400 of them) from traveling into Yangon, the Capital of Burma, to hear us, and other pastors from around the world, speak for three days.
With very few Christian teaching materials available, as well as a lack of internet access, Christians are desperate to learn more about Jesus and His promises.
Our three-day conference consisted of nearly 20 hours of teaching from a variety of speakers. We also provided Christian books and Story of Jesus booklets to every attendee for further study and distribution into their communities. The conference was life-changing, educational and inspiring for every pastor who attended. The information will help transform their churches for years to come.
But we were in Burma for more than the powerful Pastors Conference. World Compassion is well on its way to completing the construction of an orphanage that will provide a loving home environment for 60 orphans very soon. We had an opportunity to see the construction progress and interact with 22 of the orphans that we will raise together in the new orphanage once it’s completed later this year.
Their stories were heart breaking. Because Burma has been closed for so long, it is poverty stricken. It ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world, with people surviving on an average of $2 per day. Many choose not to educate children; instead, they put them to work in the flourishing child labor force. Restaurants throughout Yangon employed children. Street markets were flooded with children–as young as 6–selling a few trinkets to bring home only a dollar or two each day.
Most children do not have an education beyond elementary school, and many have not even reached this level. They peddle fruits, vegetables, post cards, snacks and so on. As you ride the ferry across the channel, children wander among the cabins selling these same items, day after day.
But some children are employed for other, more unbearable activities. They sell their bodies into the sex trade. Parents, relatives and neighbors traffic children to Bangkok or in country, to make a few dollars. It is the sad reality of a starving nation–the children become the prey.
I had to keep focused on our goal of “raising children” in Burma. The country needs change. The children need rescuing. With the Lord’s blessing, our orphan care program will address both issues. We are not only feeding and educating children, we are raising them like they are our own. Through this process we allow them to flourish in a safe environment. These children will one day go out as adults and change their country. We believe they can.
We also spent a few days teaching in the new World Compassion Bible School housing 30 students. ABC Bible training curriculum is in the final stages of translation into Burmese, which will allow World Compassion to quickly and efficiently train pastors in the Word, enabling them to transform their communities. World Compassion will also share ABC with churches and Bible schools all throughout Burma starting in 2014, reaching even more people with the truth of God’s Word.
Burma is a blank canvas on which we can paint a beautiful future together. I see a future where Jesus can be Lord, where children are safe, and poverty is a distant memory. Together let’s create a new Burma that future generations will get to meet.