Myanmar—We have taken guidance from two areas of the Bible as we plan. First is Christ’s direction to His disciples in Matthew 5-7. In these chapters Jesus outlined key messages of His ministry and what membership in the new Kingdom that John the Baptist introduced in Matthew 3 meant. In chapter 5, He taught the disciples the proper attitude to have as they went out to teach His way; true spiritual understanding of the law; and how to deal with difficult people and situations. Documented in chapter 6, they learned how to interact with the Father, how to take care of the poor and how to deal with stress. Finally in chapter 7, they learned about judging, treating others and false teachers. These chapters likely served as the basis of the disciples’ first ministries when Christ sent them out chapter 10.
We also take guidance from Paul’s approach as he described it in 1 Corinthians 9:18-22. The Corinthians had some problems that Paul needed to address, which he did. But his approach, likely tempered by the memory of his authoritarian, self-righteous and unreasonableness in persecution of believers before he was called, was one of gentleness and logic based on the truth. This approach works well in Southeast Asia where people tend to be less direct in their human affairs. Often what isn’t spoken is more important than what is spoken. No doubt, there is a time to be direct. Paul certainly was in many circumstances. But he seemed to always consider where the person or group was in their thinking and created a path to get them to the truth that they could understand.
Right now in Myanmar, and in all of Southeast Asia and the world, a message of hope and peace is needed. In addition to their own internal turmoil, Myanmar sits next to the largest communist country and second largest economic power in terms of Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) in the world—China. Not far away is North Korea with nuclear power and unstable leadership. To the south and west lie the four countries with the largest Muslim populations—Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Many Muslims in this part of the world are peaceful, kind and generous. But for Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia, it becomes a concern to their societies. These types of outsized and nearby influences have a direct impact on the internal workings and struggles of smaller countries in the region.
The Father and Christ have the only message of hope and peace that the world needs so badly, and They use all of us in the Church to deliver it. These thoughts guide us as we plan.
Plans for the Future
God has been working in Myanmar for six decades. We have a small, faithful group that has had to operate largely on their own with few visitors over the years.
When the country started opening up about 10 years ago, Aaron Dean was able to travel to see our United group, ordain a local deacon and baptize several young people. His visit also led to the Church purchasing about six acres of rice paddy for some members of the Church to work.
A few years later, prior to the Feast of Tabernacles in 2019, UCG leadership in Myanmar along with leadership from our friends in Church of God, Myanmar met in Yangon to discuss the future of God’s Church in the country. We hired a well-respected attorney to join us for about three hours to discuss matters related to Church registration, how the law views businesses and non-profits, government school requirements on the Sabbath, types of land and land ownership, etc. This helped us understand why what was working for our United brethren in the south wasn’t necessarily working with our Church of God, Myanmar friends in the north and vice versa.
On the practical side of things, with the help of a Church member in Boise, Idaho, we established a website: ucgmm.com. The website is in three languages: Burmese, Karen and English. Davidson Leh Bey, along with help from some of our members and one of our prospective members, have been translating the Church’s materials into Burmese and Karen. To date, this team has translated 12 booklets, more than 15 Beyond Today articles, and more than 40 sermons. The ability to conduct meaningful SEO work is minimized right now, so the website functions primarily as a centralized and public repository for translated content in those languages.
Through our prospective member, we have been in contact with a group of seven families located in a village far in the Northwest of the country who state they are United Church of God members! None of us knew about them. It appears they came across the UCG website, read the material and have followed God’s way. They would like us to visit them when we can come. It is always humbling to realize the Father and Jesus Christ are getting their work done even when we are not involved!
An important consideration for our brethren and God’s Work is developing our young people. Even before COVID and the civil war, jobs and incomes were hard to find. We have several young people with aptitudes in mechanics, computers and programming, and languages, but need more training. To that end, as technical and other schools open up, we intend to help pay for tuition to get these young people trained to make a living and serve God’s Work.
In the south, we are very excited about the recent purchase of a new plot of land in the village which will be, according to God’s timing, a new community center for our UCG brethren there. The UCG brethren still meet in Sol Leh Bey’s home from the 1960s, but it is falling into disrepair. We intended to raze the home and build a new building in its place in 2020. But the pandemic broke out, travel stopped, and funds raised were returned to their donors. In a way, this may have been God’s direction. The lot on which Sol Leh Bey’s home is located is not ideal as it is behind other homes in the village with no direct frontage to the main road. This new lot, just a few hundred feet away, is larger and directly on the main road. Thanks to contributions from Davidson Leh Bey’s family, and LifeNets, we were able to purchase the land in February. The brethren have been clearing the land in preparation for construction.
In the spring of 2020, we intended to find a suitable office location in Yangon in the region near the airport. This would function as a central meeting place for services for the brethren in Yangon, as well as a place to begin coordinating printing and mailing literature, a location for visitors to stay, etc. It will be high on our list once travel opens again.
There are several other initiatives we continue to plan for in Myanmar. What is exciting is that by the time we can return, there will likely be major changes to government, laws, etc. that may provide even more opportunity for our brethren and God’s work in Myanmar.
God clearly has started a work in Myanmar and has a small, but faithful group of individuals serving Him there. Your continued prayers for the brethren’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being are appreciated. And as God wills, we look forward to advancing God’s work in Myanmar.