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Expectant faith abounds in Myanmar

Stove and church bell nourish body and soul, respectively

by the Rev. Dr. William Moore and Ann Moore, Mission Connections | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Lal Lian Puia rings the Kanan Church bell, which was made from a defective bomb dropped by the Japanese Air Force during World War II. (Photo by Bill Moore)

KALAY, Myanmar — As Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers based in Japan over the past several years, my wife, Ann, and I have made numerous mission trips to Myanmar to further our partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM).

Japan Mission, a PC(USA) mission partner, operates a large general hospital in Osaka. Our efforts have especially supported the PCM’s Agape Hospital in the city of Kalay, in west central Myanmar. Each time we visit Kalay, we are amazed at the changes that have taken place. New construction is booming and there are many more vehicles on the roads than there have been in the past. The population is increasing due to migration, much of which is from the Chin Hills to the west.

As we had not yet ventured much beyond the confines of Kalay, we asked our host, Rev. Ram Thanga, general secretary of the PCM, to guide us into the Chin Hills where many churches of the denomination are located. Early in the morning we set off in a four-wheel drive vehicle up into the hills, soon discovering they are not hills at all, but very high and steep mountains. Mount Victoria, the tallest mountain in the Chin Hills, rises to 10,500 feet, and other peaks are not far behind. The road started out nicely paved but as we climbed higher, there were more and more stretches of very rough and rocky, steep road. Running off the road meant falling hundreds of feet, and there were very few guardrails. Nonetheless, the mountain scenery was fantastic, and our very talented young driver seemed to be fearless.

Quite surprising were the many houses and shops that clung to the mountainsides on stilts, and the fields for farming that were more vertical than horizontal. However, most gratifying was the number of churches we saw. In each small settlement, there was at least one church, and in villages and towns, there were many more. We learned from our host that more than 90% of the people in the Chin Hills are Christian. Over 100 years ago, they had heard the Good News of Jesus Christ from fellow ethnic Chin missionaries who came from nearby India. They believed, and their vibrant faith has been passed from generation to generation.

Tadim Church leaders with the Rev. Ram Thanga, general secretary, in the future sanctuary being built to accommodate the growing congregation. (Photo by Bill Moore)

Our destination was a town called Tadim, where there is a church and synod office of the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by the synod and elders of the Tadim Church. After giving greetings from Japan Mission and the PC(USA), we were treated to a delicious meal, catered by an elder’s restaurant. They showed us their worship space and explained how it was too small to accommodate their growing congregation. Then they led us up steps to the adjacent reinforced concrete skeleton of the new sanctuary. The congregation had given all that they had to build the church, and, in expectant faith, they believe in God’s time the new sanctuary will be completed. Instead of being discouraged, they are prayerfully waiting on God to provide.

Before we left, we asked for some help from the elders. Because most households in Myanmar cook their meals over open wood fires, over time the smoke causes serious respiratory and vision problems, to the extent that cooks eventually have difficulty breathing and reading. This way of cooking also contributes to air pollution and deforestation. In addition, gathering firewood takes a lot of time, and, if purchased rather than gathered, is very expensive.

A Chin Hills village in Myanmar with its church in the foreground. More than 90% of the people living in Chin Hills are Christian. (Photo by Bill Moore)

To address cook-stove issues in areas where food is cooked over open fires, a new wood burner has been invented. We brought one of these new wood burners with us so members of the Chin Hills congregation can test it over time to see how it holds up. The heat from the burner’s fire generates electricity to power a small fan that concentrates the flow of air into the burner. The fire is hotter, 90% cleaner and uses half the wood as compared to the open-fire stove. Another benefit for families without electric service is that the stove can charge a cellphone and power a light.

With the participation of the elders, we demonstrated how to use the new wood burner by starting a fire and boiling some water. When the burner’s benefits became obvious, much interest was expressed. After we all enjoyed tea, using water heated by the burner, we donated the burner to the church and asked that they regularly use it and to let us know how it holds up.

Our return to Kalay was even more exciting and faster than the morning’s drive. It was mostly downhill, in very thick fog. Like Jesus in the storm-tossed boat on Lake Galilee, Rev. Ram Thanga peacefully slept. The rest of us, however, remained very much awake.

The next day we were guided to a country town named Kanan (Canaan) on a river plane to the east of Kalay. With flat, fertile and irrigated agricultural land, the community was more prosperous than those in the Chin Hills. We went to meet a pastor who recently participated in a Japan Mission-sponsored gathering of young pastors from Myanmar, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. Rev. Lal Lian Puia’s congregation is part of a beautiful church compound, with a manse and kindergarten program. A bountiful lunch was prepared by his wife, and we had a wonderful time around the table.

After lunch, Rev. Lal Lian Puia, pastor of Kanan Church, showed us the church’s bell. It was a strange looking oblong bell struck every Sunday with a hammer to summon congregants to services. I asked him how the church had acquired such a uniquely shaped bell, and he said with a grin that it was half of an iron bomb casing scrounged from a defective bomb dropped by the Japanese Air Force during World War II. The congregation could have gotten a proper bell to replace it but, as it had been used since the war, it was prized by all. A tool of death and dreadful destruction had been turned into a sacred object, joyfully calling God’s people to worship. We were moved.

We are blessed to be in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar. Their faith both humbles and strengthens our own.

Rev. Dr. William Moore and his wife Ann have served as mission co-workers in Japan since 1985, working with Japan Mission. For many years, Japan Mission has provided the legal, organizational and logistical bases for the mission work that PC(USA) does together with partners in Japan. Bill is the representative director of Japan Mission and oversees the Chaplain’s Department of Yodogawa Christian Hospital, which is under the direction of Japan Mission. Ann is the administrator of Japan Mission. Consider supporting their work. Subscribe to their letters.

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