When Jill*, a leader with OM in Myanmar, went to visit people who were displaced because of civil war, she was reminded of the theme of God's love she had been teaching about in her English classes: when a person truly understands how much God loves them, their lives are completely transformed.
The people Jill and other OMers were heading to visit had had their villages taken over by fighting, so they hid in the jungle before making their way to the capital. Having dealt with a lot of trauma, the kids did not play much and were unwilling––or unable––to talk about their experiences. The whole group, about 40 families, slept on one big, long bench next to each other. Jill’s team went with donated winter clothes, and toys her family purchased for the kids. The children had never had toys before, and when they received them, Jill saw a transformation occur. Jill and her family played football and different games with the kids, and the older folks got up and joined in. Jill saw that doing something normal, like playing, brought smiles and joy to the serious faces of the adults.
At the end of the visit, Jill’s group shared Bible stories with the people. The story of creation is something that touches the lives of Buddhists in a powerful way and touched the lives of the people in this displaced group. One person said: “I didn’t realise I was a favourite of God. I didn’t know I was created, but I really didn’t know I was a favourite.” The man's worldview was completely altered when he realised he could personally talk to God. God’s love, lived and shown in practical ways, is making changes in the Buddhist world of Myanmar.
Buddhism in Myanmar
Jill, originally from the United States, arrived in Myanmar ten years ago and met her husband on the field. In her time in the country, she has seen how Myanmar has its own culture within the Buddhist world. Within the larger cities, many people believe in a straightforward version of Buddhism. However, the average person would never be expected to achieve the ultimate goal within the religion, which is nirvana. Therefore, most people mix folk Buddhism with spirit worship. Appeasing animistic or ancestral spirits through offerings and sacrifices blends well, as the two practises are not in conflict with each other according to Jill. Jill says: “The common expression in Myanmar is 'do good, get good – do bad, get bad.' For most people in Myanmar, the hope is not to escape suffering but to ignore it.” The Buddhist beliefs shape the culture, and Jill says it is one of the most giving and generous places because of this. However, generosity is not necessarily born out of the same selfless love that is offered by God.
In her work throughout Myanmar, Jill has seen how experiencing God’s selfless and all-encompassing love on a personal and intimate level has brought the most transformation to a person’s life. Jill’s team focuses on discipleship through personal relationships and church planting, and their platform to accomplish this is education. Jill states: “Effective discipleship means having a presence with someone, walking with them, having a relationship with them. It is best if you can live in the community when possible. And prayer is really important –– we have ongoing prayer with these people because we are in a spiritual battle.” Jill’s team stresses the Word of God because a new believer coming from a Buddhist background has no understanding of the Bible.
Jill's team consists of three foreigners and 18 local workers. Most of the local workers know Burmese as well as other local languages spoken outside of the capital and serve as kindergarten teachers in the capital city. With schools being closed due to COVID-19 however, the teachers have gone out into other communities to work directly with the kids. These smaller communities are even more at risk for poverty and lack of education; they are not registered with the government and are usually unable to get an education. Now, these teachers are working with church planters throughout the country to share the good news.
The main challenges church planters face come from the culture throughout Myanmar. The education platform used is important in creating relationships within communities who were previously closed. Additionally, if a person becomes a believer, they are very often kicked out of their family. After this, a death in the family or lack of money is blamed on the person becoming a Christian. Another challenge is villages getting angry about believers sharing the gospel, and throwing stones or refusing to sell water to the Jesus followers.
To combat these challenges against sharing the gospel, Jill’s team conducts trainings with local believers who God has called to live and work in different and often difficult areas throughout Myanmar. These folks are working in least-reached places, and they are often the only believers in their area. The training covers how to share the gospel effectively with Buddhists as well as how to multiply as believers. Jill's team meets with the church planters regularly, prays with them twice a week and fundraises for equipment such as motorbikes to better mobilise the ministry. Jill says they have seen an encouraging amount of spiritual fruit from the church planters in 2020, as 43 people came to know Jesus and 15 of them were baptised.
Please pray for the team in Myanmar to stay strong and focused on God in the face of persecution for their faith and to be creative in bringing the gospel throughout the country of Myanmar, despite COVID-19 restrictions and issues related to transportation. Pray that they will stay in tune with the Holy Spirit to share God’s Word across a variety of people groups and cultures. Please pray for the team’s health as they have experienced health issues in the past couple of years.