Christians were frequently ordered to do this by the previous regime, before 2011, in Myanmar (Burma). How did they respond? Churches would pray all through the night and the next, and then petition the authorities for a reprieve – which the Lord sometimes wonderfully granted.
Pastor Andrew from Myanmar told us about this when he spoke at the Pastor Training International (PTI) Supporters’ Day at Grace Church, Guildford, during his visit to the UK this Summer.
Church over karaoke!
In 1999 Pastor Andrew and his wife planted, and still lead, a church in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest and very Buddhist city. By God’s grace it has grown to 150 people and now meets on the top floor of a downtown shopping centre, where they must sing loudly to drown out the noise from the karaoke club on the floor below!
He also runs a Bible College and conducts regular evangelistic campaigns in both Mandalay and other parts of the country, especially Shan State to the east of the country.
As Myanmar changes from a military dictatorship to a democracy under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, new possibilities are emerging to plant churches in what is still a largely rural country of nearly 54 million people, 80% of whom are Buddhist.
The challenge for many Christians is the call to leave cities and towns, which have recently gained access to regular electricity, running water, mobile phones and the Internet, to head for far-away villages. Some of these can only be reached after several days’ journey on foot and the very basic living conditions have remained the same for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, difficult as this is, many are willing to take their families to share the gospel with those usually Buddhist or Animist villagers.
Pastor Andrew has a team of 23 long-term church planters to do this and the Lord has blessed their labours, so that churches have been planted in many places where a few years ago there were none. They are assisted by teams of short-term evangelists who join the church planters to run evangelistic campaigns in those villages.
Seizing every opportunity
The month of April provides an excellent opportunity for evangelistic campaigns, as that is when local Buddhists hold their famous Water Festival. This is meant to be a very spiritual time when, just before the Buddhist New Year, people reflect on their sins and wash them away. However, for many the event has now degenerated to the extent that many taking part use it as an excuse to get drunk, which leads to violence. This year in Mandalay alone there were 70 deaths. Many Buddhists are therefore reluctant to participate and prefer to stay at home.
However, Pastor Andrew has seized this opportunity and now provides a programme of enjoyable, safe activities for families, out of which come opportunities to share the gospel. Many Buddhists have been converted and baptised as a direct result. One little tradition that has developed over the years is to present each of the baptismal candidates with a colourful beach towel!
Whilst the state may be more tolerant of Christianity, many still oppose the gospel. Parents and older family members are often unhappy when their relatives confess Christ, and pressurise them to return to their old faith. Others are rejected by their families and lose their home.
Those who become Christians while serving in the army must stand before their commanding officer and explain why, which is intimidating and leads to some being silent Christians.
Pastors and evangelists are also aware that sometimes people are closely questioned as to why they have converted, leading to accusations of coercion, which might result in those pastors and evangelists being imprisoned. Pastor Andrew explained that sometimes converts are persuaded to claim that they were tricked and manipulated into becoming Christians. He also explained that some forms of the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ may do exactly that, so that Christians are given a bad name. Yet, despite these clear pressures, Christians in Myanmar prayerfully carry on witnessing and the Lord honours their boldness.
A growing church
Praise the Lord that the Myanmar church is growing and that more and more Buddhists are becoming Christians (especially from the largest tribe, the Burma people – Pastor Andrew has been thrilled to see a number of them converted). He prays that some will themselves become pastors and leaders in the church, breaking the strong local belief that to be Burmese is to be Buddhist.
Strengthened by training
As the Lord blesses these church-planting initiatives, the new pastors urgently need to learn how to feed and protect their flocks. For the past five years Pastor Training International (PTI), has been working with Pastor Andrew to train pastors and Bible teachers. He explained that most pastors in Myanmar preach topically. This means they have an idea, put together their own thoughts on that subject and then seek a suitable Bible text to hang them on. What they preach thus seldom truly reflects what that passage teaches. Since PTI began training in Myanmar many leaders, including Pastor Andrew, now see the importance of studying the Word and understanding the ‘key point’ God is saying in each biblical passage – which they must then preach, illustrate and apply to their congregation.
Pastor Andrew and others who have attended PTI’s training conferences now regularly preach through whole books of the Bible. It was a joy to listen to Pastor Andrew preaching, asking people to consider the context of a passage, to follow the flow and argument of the passage, to notice key words or phrases to help us to see the main point. Then hearing him illustrating and applying that main point. This is a massive change. We pray that it will result in converts being henceforth thoroughly rooted in the Word of God.
Pastor Andrew stayed in the UK with Pastor Training International, which trains pastors in the majority world to preach in a way that faithfully handles the Word of God. Find out more at www.pastor-training.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org