As I stood with around 100 church planters in Burma just a few weeks ago, it hit me hard that we were “playing from behind.” These men looked tired with ragged, old clothes on their worn bodies, but there was a hunger that I had not seen. As we visited, I realized they, in some senses, had a chip on their shoulder.
They were hungry to win Burma for Christ, but were painfully aware of their lack of understanding of the Word, lack of training to execute relevant church services, and a lack of resources for outreach in their community. The chip on their shoulder was directed squarely at the forces that control Burma. They sense and see that their opportunity as the country is opening to the west, but they are painfully aware that they are ill equipped to take advantage of it.
The challenges are many: local governments typically control what Christian churches can and can’t do within a given community, there are no real rights for Christian pastors to legally stand their ground, Buddhists can be violent if they feel threatened by Christians and pose with ongoing intimidation, and local leaders look the other way at the plight of Christians. It’s an uphill battle.
Burma is a nation in flux. Since the military government opened the nation to economic development just a few short years ago, western culture is pressing in from the seams. Factories are popping up around Yangon, workers live in stick huts lining the parameter of factories with no running water or electricity, and people are migrating from rural Burma to cities to find work.
But when you visit the vibrant 19th street district, you can also see the impact of western culture on urban life. There are bars with rock music, western style clothing imported from China, outdoor restaurants, and all the trappings that come with this type of environment.
During this transitional time in Burma’s history, it becomes incredibly necessary to properly equip and train church planters and existing pastors. These church planters and pastors need to be resourced with the Word, encouragement, and training from our experiences on how to build a life-giving church. They also need the monetary resource to compete and vie for the attention of a rapidly changing community.
In 10 to 20 years, Burma will be much like China, with a thriving middle class in a developed economy, along with the invasion of the secular western culture the world hungers for. The question is, where will the Burmese church be at the end of this magnificent transition?
Will the church in improved countries have invested in the Burmese church in order to allow them to ramp up and develop at the same pace as their country? Will there be a healthy, vibrant, life-giving church throughout their nation? Or will the church look like a tired body wearing ragged clothing, with nothing to offer to those living in a secular society?
Only we can answer this question. It depends on the investment we make into the local Burmese church over the next few, very critical, years.