One of the ladies told us she was teaching a few groups of people in her own time and really wanted to deepen her understanding so we spent a further day talking to her, but only really managed to get started with answering her questions. She asked us to give her a week worth of lessons next time!
I was based in the Chiang Mai Bible Education Centre for most of January and February. The BEC is in a beautiful, quiet, green neighbourhood and is an exciting new centre to which we are currently busy gathering students and interested friends. Although based in Chiang Mai I have been able to go out on two trips and work with groups of contacts in both places.
The first area we travelled to was Mae Sai; a small town on the river border between Thailand and Myanmar. A town built around tourists gaining visas for Thailand and locals selling homemade goods.We stayed in a guest house on the river, and slept in small bamboo cottages. Mine had a tiny balcony which dangled out over the river. When we first arrived I watched children playing in the river across the border in Myanmar and a couple of guys floating by on a bamboo raft. Our guest house was a little walk from town, through the markets and under a bridge, a route I hobbled along each morning and evening as I had burnt my leg in Bangkok on a motorbike.
We were in Mae Sai for a week; Terry and Karen had a contact who runs a theological college in Myanmar. He runs a four year course and has several very enthusiastic students. He had invited Terry to teach his students for five days, desiring his students to study the Bible in depth. Br David and Sis Anna Todd from the Phnom Penh BEC in Cambodia joined us for the week.
Terry and David ran the seminars for the first 3 days with a group of about 30 students. They examined God’s master plan; giving the students an overview of God’s purpose with the earth, while laying down the basic principles of our hope in God’s coming Kingdom. Over the three days we built a good bond with the students and they began to question and interact well with the studies. Terry and David emphasised the need for the students to study their Bibles to find the answers to their questions. They were very keen to learn and had a good attitude to the Bible. They seemed to regard the Bible very highly and were excited about the principles we discussed.
In the afternoons we broke the main group up into a large boys group and a smaller girls group. Karen, Anna and I led the discussion with a small but focussed group of girls around my age or slightly younger. Our translator had a close relationship with the students. The girls asked us questions which showed they had been studying their Bibles and were keen to keep learning. We discussed things like evil spirits, Lucifer, relationships and many more topics!
We spent evenings in the guest house or eating out in the local restaurants, sampling a good range of local food. My favourite served me a green curry in a coconut; Terry ate chicken and cashew out of a pineapple shaped as a chicken.
The last two days of seminars were open to the pastors and friends of the theological college as well as the students. We covered in detail the events leading up to and after the return of Christ, a topic which our girls in the afternoon were especially excited to study and quiz us about.
We left on the Saturday to head back to Chiang Mai but would have loved to have had more time with the students especially. I was impressed by their trust in the Bible as the inspired word of God and how excited they were to learn more about God.
As soon as we were back in Chiang Mai we washed all our clothes and bedding, unpacked and repacked our bags and sped off Sunday afternoon for the airport to fly to Myanmar.
This trip was just Terry, Karen and I although we flew with a contact from Chiang Mai, La Moo, and her daughter Lucy. They are Myanmar citizens and live in Yangon the old capital of Burma. Both show an interest in reading their Bibles. Lucy is studying the Bible most evenings after school in the BEC.
We arrived in Yangon and headed straight to the hotel in the Chinese district of the city. On the way the taxi drivers excitedly told us that Myanmar was beginning to show signs of opening its doors to tourists. We had heard it was not possible to legally change money but that we would have to change it on the black market. However American dollars can now be changed for Myanmar kyat in one or two legal exchange houses in the markets.
Early the next morning we met Lynnie, a contact from previous visits to Myanmar. She still treasures in her purse the newspaper advert (placed by Christadelphians) which first caught her interest. Lynnie has been learning about the Bible since first spotting the advert nearly 3 years ago. She is an avid reader of the Bible and also has a palpable enthusiasm for spreading everything she learns to an assortment of friends and neighbours. Throughout our stay Lynnie brought many of her friends to meet us. She brought a range of people from different churches she has been visiting as well as the 24 friends she has been tutoring herself. She would arrive each day bearing gifts, food and Burmese tea.
One individual Lynnie was excited to introduce to us was Silas. He was a pastor for a local church who had studied in India for 7 years and while there had grasped the basics of Greek and Hebrew so was able to study his Bible at a depth to be envied by any Bible reader.
Silas spends many hours each day poring over his bible and has come to the conclusion from study of the original language and comparison to his Burmese and English translations that he could find no evidence for some traditional teachings of his church. Silas spent most days with us studying his Bible and it was really encouraging to watch a grin spread over his face while we were talking with him as verses and related doctrines clicked into place. Silas is still in daily email contact with Terry and is more than enthusiastic to study his Bible. We hope to be able to get someone back to Yangon to spend more time with him and the many other people we met.
I met so many enthusiastic local people. We taught two groups of older ladies one of which questioned us throughout our discussion. Karen and I would share bemused glances at times when the five ladies in our group would break into a heated debate while our poor translator tried to summarise their question to us. It was good to see them work things through and compare what we were saying with their Bibles.
I was especially impressed with the young people we met. There were two young sisters who run two large Sunday school classes each week for Buddhist children as well as other young people with an enviable desire to learn and who have inspired me. We met countless others who were desperate to study their Bibles and could have spent much longer in Yangon than our visas allowed.
We also visited a nutrition project supported by Bethezer which supplements the diet of the children of migrant workers in Yangon. The families of these children have come to the city from the country in an attempt to find work and improve their lives. They and their families live in tiny bamboo huts in crowded streets which we were ushered along and told not to photograph. We met the children in a small upstairs room that is rented. The local children were able to come after school each day and receive extra support with their education from a group of volunteers while their parents were in the factory.
The 350 children are provided with a nutrition supplement of a glass of milk and an egg three times a week. This provision is funded by our community. We were lucky enough to be invited to meet the children on a day they were handing out the milk and eggs.
I taught them a little song and enjoyed the English and Burmese songs they sang to us. The children ranged in ages from about 3 to mid teenagers. Terry talked to them briefly about the need to read God’s message to us in His Bible.
Our visit to Yangon showed how much desire there is amongst the locals to learn about the God of the Bible through his words to us. I learnt a great deal from their enthusiasm a lesson I hope will stay with me when I go home and help spur on my personal Bible study. Meeting the locals made me realise how much hope we can gain from God’s promise of his Kingdom and how earnestly we must look forward to his kingdom.