October 28-30, 1996
The historic Immanuel Baptist Church in downtown Yangoon became the venue for more than 450 women to gather for a three day AD2000 Women's Track conference. The conference was sponsored by the Myanmar AD2000 Movement, under the leadership of Dorothy Colney.
For six months Dorothy and her team of 40 prayer partners met to fast and pray for the conference. The women gave generously out of their meager income to help with the costs of the conference and served faithfully in registration, providing meals, flowers, cleaning the church etc. It seemed they loved being involved in whatever way they could.
They invited Thelma Pantig from the Philippines, Southeast Asian representative for the Women's Track, and Lorry Lutz, international coordinator from the USA. With rising political tensions in Myanmar in the last weeks before the conference, there was concern that Lorry would not be given a visa But God answered prayer and her visa was granted without any question or delay.
Two years ago Thelma had come to Yangoon to meet with key leaders and hold a small consultation, sharing the vision of the AD2000 Movement. Now God had brought those earlier dreams to fruition, and woman came representing many denominations and churches. Some came from as far north as Kochin State, several hundred miles away. A number of churches housed the women who traveled by public transport for the conference.They brought their own bedding and were fed by the local churches.
The main purpose of the conference was to raise the vision of the women for evangelism and praying for the unreached. Women focused on the six 10/40 window countries which have been assigned to southeast Asia-- Morocco, Guinnea, Saudi Arabian, Azerbijan, Kyrgistan and Tibet. Thelma and Lorry shared the lecture times, challenging women in evangelism, recognizing their value in Christ finding their spiritual gifts and improving family relationships.
With the purpose of encouraging women to find ways to use their gifts to serve the Lord, several Burmese women were interviewed about their ministry. Dora Moses pastors a church she founded two years ago, which has already spawned seven daughter churches. They have also sent out seven missionaries from the church to unreached areas in Myanmar. The most recent appointments were two women who have gone into a strongly Buddhist area.
Kwangi Nawni and her husband started a church planting ministry a number of years ago among the Chin people. Though the Chin's were evangelized when the gospel first came to Burma, many today are apathetic and nominal. Kwangi's husband urged her to leave Burma to gain further education since she had a B. A. and could speak English. She studied for several years in Manila, leaving her husband and five year old daughter behind. and later attended Fuller seminary. Today the couple leads a group of 86 churches with 120 staff in Chin state as well as a Chin congregation of more than 200 in Yangoon. PhunaDuma is the field dirctor and Kwangi is the General Director of the church. They are seeing Buddhists come to Christ -- in fact one Bhuddist convert attended the conference with Nawni. This young woman has also led her mother to Christ and her father is showing interest.
When asked why there seems to be a greater openness to the gospel among Bhuddists Kwangi gave four reasons:
A third women interviewed, Say Bey, has been working as a Bible translator among the Solome tribe. She was a lecturer in the university when God called her to work among them. She lived as a tribal women, learned the sounds of their language and put the language into script. She spent ten years, from 1976 to 1986 translating the New Testament. She asked God for a widow with whom she could live in the tribe, and God supplied that companion and protection.
It was evident from the interest and endurance of the women -- sitting from 8:30 until 4pm in a hot and humid building that they were eager to learn and hungry for Truth. The hall was full when we arrived in the morning, and they were right back in their seats after the lunch break. It was also very encouraging to find many younger women in attendance since this week was school holidays. They listened eagerly and took notes.
We were also able to challenge the women about the unreached peoples in their own country. Dr. Tey Lai (sp?) studied in the USA and is now doing research in these tribes. He just came back from visiting the Mon tribe. He described how people there would ask him what he's doing, and when he explains he's a pastor they ask, "What is a pastor?" When he tells them he preaches about Jesus, they ask "Who is Jesus?" We encouraged him to include women in his team when he goes to visit them again.
At the end of the three days Dorothy introduced a permanent committee to oversee the AD2000 Women's Track. We arranged to print 5000 copies of the The Study Guide for Evangelism Praying, in Burmese. An earlier edition of less than 500 was sold at the conference, but plans are being made for a prayer semi nar next year. Christian literature is relatively scarce in Burma so it was a special joy to be able to provide the funds for this project.
The leaders are already thinking about another seminar next year. They plan to translate and adapt the 31-day prayer calendar to distribute in the churches. They had also hoped to translate and mail out our newsletter, but their printer told us that the government will not allow such publications to be printed. Dorothy is considering just writing a more personal letter, including news from women around the world.
Throughout the three days the male leaders of the Myanmar AD2000 Movement were very supportive and attended our meetings off and on. They had dinner with us each evening, and seemed extremely pleased at the progress the women were making.
After the conference they hosted a dinner for us at the premises of the Church of God where Rev. Matthew Hin is pastor. Two pastors from Singapore joined us, as they had just completed a missions trip to Shan state where they have adopted a church. They were traveling with a team of seven young people who they say, "left their hearts in Myanmar." These young people will be returning with great enthusiasm to report what they saw and learned to their church back home. The Singaporeans are helping with funds, but also with prayer and encouragement as they demonstrate their interest and love.
Financially the Women's Track invested $1759 in subsidies for the conference. This will leave the funds raised by the women as seed money for future activities, letters, etc. Also the sale of the 5000 Study Guides should provide additional funds, so we feel they have enough to keep on moving, and these funds will have been generated from within Myanmar. The Myanmar AD2000 Movement gave Thelma $100 to help with her transportation, and she was able to raise the rest within the Philippines. It would seem she will need some financial assistance if she is going to continue to visit Southeast Asian countries, but with proper contacts and motivation, I believe much of this can come from within the region.For example, we stayed in a lovely guest house owned by a young Christian man. We paid $65 a night for the two of us, including breakfast, but David provided taxi service for us wherever we wanted to go, including taking us back to the airport on the last day. He and his wife are members of Matthew Hin's church, and hopefully will continue to grow spiritually and mature so they can provide resources for others.
At the last service Dorothy Colney announced the formation of a permanent AD2000 Women's Track committee-- nine women plus herself. The key women are Dora Moses and Kwangi Nawni-- both well educated and fluent in English. We also met other women who are involved in key ministries. Several pastor churches. One woman, a former police officer, has now opened a home for orphan girls and prostitutes. (Poor parents sell their daughters into prostitution and churches in the north try to rescue these girls, but then are unable to care for them.)
Observations about Burma: Hot, hot , hot -- and humid. When it rains the humidty must be more than 100%! People living there seem to be able to cope, but foreigners find it very taxing.
The city has a prosperous appearance on the surface -- on the main road from the airport everything is clean, beautifully landscaped, traffic flows smoothly. Thelma says there are a lot more cars on the road than when she was here two years ago -- part of that is the need for taxis for the year of tourism. Lifestyle and salaries are a different matter.
Walking down the side streets one sees squalor-- tiny, dark shops; open drainage and terrible smells; people working in sauna like heat. One woman who is pastoring a church and running a Bible school receives a total of Bhats 5500, which is equal to about $35. ($1=167 bahts.) However, they still have a ways to go to make tourism attractive. We could not exchange travelers checks anywhere because we did not have a "purchase agreement " which we had never heard about. Travelers must exchange $300 into their currency upon entering the country, and this cannot be changed back. We did no sightseeing, so can't comment on what tourists would do if they were just there to see the country. It seems as long as the military government remains in power, the country's potential wealth will continue to be drained, and the Burmese will continue to be one of the poorest people on earth.