This summer I had the amazing opportunity of spending five weeks overseas in Myanmar. I felt called to missions when I was seven and this is the first time I have been able to act on that calling. Not to mention the fact that I felt called specifically to Myanmar three years ago. I have never before experienced the sense of home I felt in Myanmar.
I was accompanied by another Evangel student, Sarah Marsiglio, and her father, Ron, who is a pastor in Illinois. We were hosted by two AG missionaries who work in Mandalay, Jacque and Steve Sullivan. The first two weeks, Sarah and I taught English to first year students at Peace Evangel Myanmar Bible College, a bible school about an hour outside of Yangon, in a village called Hmawbi. We helped them with basic pronunciation while Ron gave the older students a quick course on pastoral ministry. The bible school is run by Sayamar Htu Lum, a very strict, but very kind woman, and Saya Steven, the campus pastor and our translator.
Sarah and I quickly fell in love with our students. They were always so eager to learn and we were eager to teach them. Over the two weeks, we got to know each of the students’ personalities and watched them come out of their shells. By the end of our time there, they had stopped calling us “Teacher” and had begun calling us “Sayamar”. (‘teacher’ in Burmese) It was a small difference, but it touched me in a very deep way. When our time at the bible school was over, Ron flew back to Chicago and Sarah, Jacque, and I headed to Mandalay where we would spend the next two weeks.
As you drive into Mandalay, the Buddhist hotspot of the world, idols and pagodas and temples line the highway. The closer we got to the city, the more we could each feel a tightening in our chests. I don’t know how Jacque and Steve live there full time, because the whole time I was there, I could feel the spiritual warfare waging around me.
Sarah and I stayed at a bed and breakfast called A Little Bit of Mandalay. We became friends with the receptionist, Leo. He often would drive us around if we needed it because we were the only guests the whole time. He also taught us how to ride motorbikes which made getting around a lot more convenient.
In the mornings, we would go to the preschool Jacque owned and help with songs or with story time. I am not a huge fan of working with kids, especially 61 kids in a room without air conditioning, but these little kids were so fun. We would leave by noon and prepare our lesson plan for that evening. Lessons were usually questions or topics that would lead to open discussion.
Sarah and I had some help with these classes by Hope, Jacque’s intern for the summer. We would split up into three groups with about five students each and work through the lesson. There was only one Christian student in our class, Sin-Sinn; everyone else was very Buddhist. I learned a lot about what they believe through these classes. After about three days, we already got through all the surface level questions and we got pretty deep with them. I remember, one night, one of the questions was, “What do you think will happen after you die?” Everyone said they would be reincarnated, but Sin-Sinn said he would go to Heaven. The other students in my group burst into laughter. They then asked me what I thought would happen and I said, “I believe I will go to Heaven, too.” They then got very quiet. In Myanmar, you are not allowed to say that you are a Christian unless someone asks you.
Our weekdays were pretty much the same, but on the weekend, we got several opportunities to speak at various churches. My first experiences preaching were through a translator- talk about a résumé builder. It was such an amazing experience to worship in a setting where you don’t know what is being said, but you know that the same God you praise is being glorified. We were also able to go to some surrounding cities and site-see on the weekends.
Our very last day in Mandalay, some of our student asked if they could take us to a waterfall and we very excitedly said yes. Before we left, we prayed with Jacque that we might find times that day to plant seeds among our Buddhist students. We went to several tourist spots around the city first. All of these places were Buddhist temples, but we went out of respect for our hosts. Sin-Sinn was with our group and I was surprised by how respectful he was in all of these place after the multiple times they made fun of him about his religion.
Our trip to the waterfall was two hours both ways. I was in a car with three students, and Sarah was in another car with four. On the drive there, Sin-Sinn asked me about what I was studying in school and I told him I studied Biblical Studies and what I wanted to do with that. The other two students in the car started asking me questions too and we talked for some time about my calling. They then asked me about my tattoos and I explained to them how they each had a specific meaning to my faith and to my walk with the Lord. Sin-Sinn then opened up about his relationship with Jesus too. The environment we had prayed for that morning had been created and I was so thankful.
While we were there, Sarah and I did a devotion about humility. Everything we had been learning and reflecting on in that devotion was playing out before my eyes as I watched Sin-Sinn talk openly with these people who had earlier ridiculed him. The people of Myanmar are very humble by nature, but I could see a Godly humility in Sin-Sinn.
As I mentioned before, I have felt called to Myanmar for some time and leaving was the hardest thing I think I have ever done. Myanmar definitely took a piece of my heart, and I can’t wait for the day that I get to return.
Peace and Blessing,