A former police officer in Burma (Myanmar), Nyan*, had been fired from the police force after 10 years on duty due to his first drug offense, for which he had served three years in prison; now he was back again on another drug conviction.
He was one prisoner in a crowd of inmates listening as a native ministry leader spoke of Christ at his prison earlier this year. The ministry leader remembered Nyan from a visit late last year, when the inmate had plied him with many questions about why Christ willingly went to death by torture. Since then Nyan had read the Bible and gospel tracts the team left with him.
As the leader provided the inmates with food and spiritual nourishment in his return visit, Nyan was impressed by the ensuing time of fellowship. He sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit. But as the ministry team left, the preacher had no way of knowing his impact on Nyan.
Two months later, the leader received a call from a native missionary in the area.
“He was unaware that his work would bring eternal life to someone who would be hit with a life-threatening disease.”
“He said, ‘One of the prisoners was born again and is released now – his name is Nyan,’” the leader said. “He said, ‘He got saved in March when you preached at their prisoners’ camp. He wants to study at Bible school. He wonders whether you can accept him or not.’ I said yes.”
Convinced that his life was ruined unless he followed Christ, studied the Word of God and served the Lord, Nyan was admitted to the ministry’s Bible school and is preparing to be sent to his own people to proclaim Christ – in spite of a debilitating disease.
“Unfortunately, he is suffering from AIDS and has liver problems,” the leader said.
Native missionaries work by faith, he said; just as he could not know how Nyan would respond, he was also unaware that his work would bring eternal life to someone to be hit with a life-threatening disease.
Dangers and Difficulties
The native ministry focuses on unreached people who live in poverty in remote areas. Nyan has a wife and four children, and she is taking care of them while trying to support her family from whatever wages she might earn from daily jobs, the leader said.
Unreached villagers’ poverty is compounded by dangers from rebel military movements.
“They’re farmers, but often they cannot harvest all of it, because they also need to pay some to rebels,” the leader said. “At the same time, they are also suspected sometimes by soldiers, putting their lives in danger.”
Earlier this year Shan and Palung rebels came to an undisclosed village and ordered all the men in one church to go with them to fight government soldiers, he said.
“When our church people refused to follow them, they persecuted them and overtook all their fields and cast them out of the village, saying that if they stayed in the village they would be killed,” the leader said. “So our church helped them with shelters and some emergency food.”
Poverty renders an everpresent threat. Surviving on two simple meals a day, families usually have one or two members who are sick, and malaria, dengue fever, dysentery and high fever are common, he said. Hospitals are far away, and they have no transportation.
“We try our best to help these poor and afflicted people spiritually and physically,” the leader said. “We try our best to equip our church planters with some medicines and motorcycles. Our missionaries help the patients with free medicines and share the gospel. When these sick people and family members can have medicines, they are so happy and listen to the gospel.”
Showing Christ’s Love
Burma’s population is 90 percent Buddhist but heavily influenced by animism, and many villagers adhere solely to animistic beliefs and rituals.
Providing aid and other kinds of help in accordance with Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor helps overcome the gospel barriers of centuries of animistic tradition. Equipped with motorcycles and other vehicles, native missionaries help children attend school and offer rides to work for some adults.
“These people are very poor, and they worship evil spirits, so their life is full of fear,” the leader said. “But when they know about the sovereign and living God, they are so interested. Early this year, one woman came to faith and decided to follow Jesus Christ with her children. We were so worried about her relationship with her husband, but the Lord worked in her husband’s heart, and he said, ‘OK, I will also learn about God.’”
Some missionaries provide tuition for schoolchildren who could not otherwise afford it, resulting in children and their parents learning about Christ. Showing the love of Christ helps break up rocky soil for gospel seeding, but most people the ministry is reaching come to Christ through attendance at gatherings and camps where the gospel is explained, he said.
Ministry church planters offer both new Christians and established members follow-up discipleship through study and counseling.
Such aid and outreaches are becoming increasingly expensive as Burma opens up its economy to foreign investment and free market policies, he said. Inflation has outstripped wage increases, and not everyone has work, he said.
“It is a great strike to our ministry, because we cannot increase our missionaries’ support,” the leader said.
Increased gas prices have limited use of motorcycles; increased school fees are hampering missionaries’ children from attending school; the ministry’s Bible school cannot accept as many students due to higher costs; and the ministry struggles to meet the needs of the unreached even as church members’ needs go unmet, he said.
“Though we will never stop from doing the Lord’s ministries, inflation hits our ministries, and it is a big challenge to face and overcome it,” he said. “But the more we are in difficulty, the more we put our faith in the Lord.”
Missionaries throughout the region are facing such challenges even as they see more people coming to Christ. Please consider a donation today to help them bring eternal life and growing faith in Christ to hurting souls.
*Name changed for security reasons