May They Be One …

Visiting Myanmar for the first time – a country only recently opened to the west – was an exciting and slightly daunting prospect for me. I was invited to be a guest presenter at the Biblical Lutheran Women Conference in Yangon in November 2018, hosted by the Federation of the Lutheran Churches in Myanmar and co-sponsored by LCA International Mission.

I had many questions. How open was the country after decades of military rule? How ‘free’ were the people? What could I possibly share with people who had suffered deprivation and repression for so long?

As it turned out, my few days in Yangon with 38 women from four different Lutheran churches were wonderfully blessed. The locals I met were warm, gentle and courteous, smiling and gracious, especially with newcomers like me!

Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a large South-East Asian country with a population of 54 million people belonging to more than 135 ethnic groups and speaking more than 100 languages. The people are primarily Buddhist, with Christianity at around six per cent of the population. While the country is rich in natural resources, including gems and minerals, much of this wealth is held by supporters of the military junta and the income gap between rich and poor is one of the world’s widest. The first free elections of 2015 established the democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi, though the military remains a powerful presence in the country.

The theme for our conference was ‘Gifts for God’s Church: Spiritual Gifts and Christian Vocation’, a topic close to the women’s hearts as they sought to understand better their own calling as Christ-followers in this complex, highly structured, traditional culture. And a deeper context was a prayer for unity among these people from Lutheran churches with very different backgrounds, who come from differing people groups and very diverse geographical regions. Even the languages used among conference attendees differed. How could God bring unity in just a few days?

And yet the Holy Spirit did just that. As we made crafts, shared God’s word, prayed and sang and laughed together, the Spirit revealed to us all how we are one in our Lord Jesus Christ, through our baptismal identity. We learned again that we are the family of God, sisters in the body of Christ, and that, when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.

One of the Mara women shared how she needed to go before village elders on behalf of her community, asking for fellowship and the right to go on living in the village as a minority people group. So we prayed for our sister in her difficult and dangerous calling.

God used all this to knit us closer together as his family. So many prayers were answered for me as I witnessed the wonderful work of God in drawing us all together – Kiwi, Aussies, locals from Myanmar – in his rich, glorious family. A communion of saints indeed!

This story was also published in the April 2019 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

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