Monthly Archives: March 2014

They will know us

IMG_4334A few weeks ago Rachel Goad wrote a blog for us and talked about the Austin Refugees she works with in Austin. She ended the blog with an old hymn and one line has just been stuck in my mind every time I start working on Love For Myanmar ‘stuff’.

They will know us by our love

How fitting is that? They will know us by our love.

See, it is critically important to us the people that interact with us know who we are and Who we belong to not by our voice, but by our actions. It is right there in our name. It’s why we are a non-profit humanitarian aid organization and not a church. We LOVE the people we work with. We have been given a specific passion and a definite calling to be present in Myanmar and to share our love (which is only made perfect through the God we serve).

It is impossible to tell someone who God is while they are starving or homeless. While they are dirty and oppressed and struggling to survive walking in to a person’s reality with your clean clothes and your western luxuries and saying (even in your kindest voice) ‘God loves YOU’ is utterly pointless. It breeds contempt and loathing and does nothing to show a person hope.

The good news is we have a perfect biblical example of how to meet people where they are and just BE love. Christ does this repeatedly during his time on earth and shows us it is not our words that comfort and heal people. It’s our love.

They will know us by our love.

Spring is here!

It’s the beginning of spring! A time when we symbolically celebrate new beginnings and welcome the end of winter and the brightening of the world outside (yes, even in Texas!) Suddenly greens seem so much greener and there are wildflowers popping up all over and we revel in the newness of nature all around us.

We are taught from the time we are very small that there are four seasons; Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. As we begin to understand the world outside our backyard we realize that though these season ‘exist’ not everybody everywhere experiences all four.

Oddly enough, in Myanmar there are three all together different seasons. There is the cold season, the hot season, and the monsoon season. The cold season is marked by coolness in the breeze, especially at night. Occasionally the weather gets down into the 60’s and you might even need a light sweater…unless you’re Burmese and then you need a jacket and a hat and maybe mittens because MAN that is COLD! The hot season is oppressive in it’s heat. Imagine the hottest Texas summer days and no central cooling. People literally sleep (in their shops, in the streets, at their jobs) during the heat of the day because the sun saps your energy and strength and all you can do is lay very still and hope the evening comes quickly. The strangest most foreign season to us westerners is monsoon season. Sometimes lasting six months, this is marked by torrential rains everyday alllllll day long. Living in Myanmar for two years, I can tell you that I only THOUGHT I knew what a rainstorm was. When you walk everywhere an umbrella does little to help keep you dry and a few days in to the season you resign yourself to just getting drenched.

Why does this matter? When everything stays wet all the time aggressive molds and mildews take root in your walls, and your clothes, your pillows, your bedding, your…..well you get the picture. When you don’t have proper satiation and the flooding starts the streets that you walk through, sometimes even your home, are taken over with bacteria filled water. You can imagine that this season sees a rise in sickness and the need for medical care as well as proper hygiene and cleanliness.428529_10151023463756251_414475853_n

At Love For Myanmar we provide basic hygiene items like soap so that children can bathe and wash their hands daily. We also ensure that our homes are well made and clean, with proper bathroom facilities and places to sleep that remain clean. This means that we replace bedding and pillows regularly so that children are not inhaling dangerous mold/mildew.

It is donors like you that help us provide these services to the people of Myanmar. It is donors like you that will ensure we can continue to help in these seemingly simple, but life changing ways (When a bar of soap is a coveted and pricey luxury it IS in fact life changing). Thank you.

 

 

It was the best of times….

Love For Myanmar founders Gary Watkins and Reed Iwami are finishing up a two-week ‘vision’ trip in Myanmar. They have been prayerfully gauging the new economic and government waters and have been in consideration for the next steps to take concerning LFMs exciting new opportunities in country. This week we have a note from Reed Iwami discussing some of the powerful disparities we seen in Myanmar as it is today…

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We have been traveling to Myanmar for the past 10 years and each trip is so truly different from any other. The people we come in contact with, the places we visit, and the different opportunities for ministry all change and present themselves differently each time.

This trip is no different.  It reminds me of the classic novel by Charles Dickens, ‘The Tale of Two Cities’ which says in the beginning of the book, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”.  The stark contrast between the rich and the poor is more evident today than ever before.  As the country of Myanmar opens up it brings a wealth of investment capital into the country, which in turn drives up prices on everything from land to food.   The cost per square foot for land in Yangon is greater than in New York City, the hotel we used to stay at has tripled in price, food prices in many instances have doubled.  This speculation environment has created havoc for the poor.  Low-income housing is getting bulldozed for new construction; apartment prices escalate each year pushing tenants to find other housing opportunities further and further away.  In Yangon apartment leases are paid in full for one year.  As a result, many cannot afford to do so leaving them in a very difficult situation.  The investment boom in Myanmar has not generated jobs for the poor.  Unemployment continues to remain high.  Children are working in teashops, restaurants, and other low-income jobs just so families can survive.  It is indeed the best of times and the worst of times in Myanmar today.

We are prayerful that job opportunities and living conditions will improve for the poor as the investment boom begins to trickle down from ‘top to bottom’. We are here to try to make sure that people do not fall through the cracks in the mean time. 533071_10150991133077666_1939003727_n

It’s a JOY

Our guest blogger this week is LFM Karen Church Youth Teacher Rachel Goad. If you ever get the opportunity to sit down and talk with this interesting young woman of God, take it! She is currently working on becoming a home birth midwife and has a passion for foreign missions. Rachel has been investing time in the refugee’s youth population in Austin for six months and has seen God moving among them!IMG_2248

In comparison to your whole life, six months doesn’t sound like a very long time. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, though, because so much can happen in just a few months. Six months ago, I jumped into a ministry opportunity that was 100% brand-new to me.  It was a little bit frightening and overwhelming at first. Now, a half-a-year later, I find myself amazed by the positive changes that have occurred within the Karen youth group over such a short period of time.

In September of last year, three young adults—Phillip, Christian, and I—began visiting the Karen Baptist Church that meets on Sunday afternoons in Austin. Now, I’m not the best at estimating, but I would say there are roughly 100 Karen refugees who meet together for worship, teaching, prayer, and fellowship each Sunday.  We started going there in order to teach and mentor the 15-25 youth who come every week.  I don’t know about Phillip and Christian, but at first I felt like I had no idea what I was doing! There were so many names, so many faces, so many needs, so many personalities, and so much to get to know about each one of the youth. Would I ever be able to really know them and be friends with them?  Just the simple task of remembering their names was difficult!

Well, I am here to tell y’all that laughter is one of God’s greatest gifts when it comes to building relationships! We started playing icebreaker games with the youth every week before sitting down for the lesson, and boy, did we have fun! One Sunday we played a version of charades and a guy in the youth group acted out the story of Jonah and the whale (and, let me just tell you, he is not at all the type of person to jump up and goof off in front of a group!)  Another week we had a fall party and played a game where we had to pass a miniature pumpkin from person to person without using our hands.  Mhm, you read that right – no hands, only our chins – lots of laughter with that one!  Another week the youth were divided into two teams, given an objective, and told “Ready, set, GO!”  Whoo! That was the week that we found out which kids are the competitive ones of the group!  I wish I had a way to sit down and show you all of the pictures and videos that I have taken, or, better yet, take you to the church on Sunday so you could hear the laughter for yourself and see what I mean when I say that it is truly such a JOY to be with this group of teenagers every week.

It took some time, but over those of months of games, lessons, small groups, prayer, and lots of laughter, real friendships began to form between “the whites” (as we are affectionately called) and the Karen youth. For example…

One Sunday, two brothers invited us over to their house after church for a full-Karen feast. When I say feast, I really do mean a feast! They had cooked so much food that it wouldn’t all fit onto their dining room table!

Many church members meet together every Saturday to practice the worship music that they will sing on Sunday, and they love for us to come and help them with the songs that they want to learn in English, like “Amazing Grace”, “10,000 Reasons”, and “Whom Shall I Fear?”.  They all sing with an enthusiasm and passion that is so often lacking in today’s culture.

On a Saturday when the Karen boys were going to be playing in a soccer tournament, they invited Christian to come and hang out with them.  (Definitely a time for bro bonding–haha, the girls were not invited!)

One high-school senior asked us to visit a college with him and his dad, to see what we thought of it and whether or not it would be a good option for him.

Another Sunday, one girl cried and cried as she told me how much she missed her friends from back home, and how hard it is to make friends here. I cried with her.

One Sunday after church, we were invited to the 18th birthday party of one of the girls in the youth.  When we had to leave a little bit early from the party (before the food was served) in order to make it back to our church in Georgetown in time for the evening service, they stopped my car in the parking lot of the apartment complex and wouldn’t let us leave until they gave the three of us food: four containers of sushi and at least 10 plates full of fresh fruit and birthday cake decorated with hot pink icing were passed to us through the car window!

What started out as our sharing with the youth what we’d each learned from our daily devotions that week has grown into a truly wonderful, slightly more organized Bible study with our awesome Karen friends.  There are now five of us who go to Austin every week–Phillip, Christian, Joel, Taelor, and I.  Every week one of us prepares a lesson on a specific passage of the Bible (right now, we’re going through the book of Mark), and then shares it with the youth on Sunday.

I have absolutely loved seeing how the teens are becoming more and more open as the weeks progress.  A couple of months ago, asking one of the youth to close us in prayer at the end of a lesson was akin to asking them to sing the alphabet backwards while simultaneously playing “God Bless America” on the accordion. The answer was always a definite, “No way, man!”  Now, on most Sundays at least, we’re to the point where we will have two people readily volunteer to pray, one at the beginning of class, and one at the end.  Throughout the lessons, the teens are not only answering the questions that are asked, but they’re asking questions, too!  They truly want to know how to become more like Christ.

In December, we were present for the baptism of two of the young men in our youth group.  It was so beautiful to see how the whole congregation gathered around the baptistry and sang hymns of praise both before and after each baptism, rejoicing in the public declaration of both of these young men to be buried in baptism into death and raised to walk in newness of life.  All I can say is, “Praise the Lord!”  I know wholeheartedly that the changes that are becoming evident in the lives of these youth are solely due to the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and minds.

I ask you to be in prayer for these youth.  They really struggle with school.  Every week it’s the one common prayer request from each of them.  Tests are hard.  Several of them stay for many extra hours after school for tutoring.  For the ones that don’t speak English as well, school is even harder.  Something simple, like a phone call to set up an appointment, can be something very challenging for them.  As far as spiritual needs go, pray that they will each continue to develop a close relationship with Christ.  We have been talking with them recently about the parable of the sower, who sows seeds in different types of soil (Mark 4).  My prayer for each one of the youth is that they will be the fertile soil that Jesus discusses; the type of soil in which the Gospel can become deeply rooted in their hearts.

The care and generosity that the Karen show to me every single time I’m with them continually blows me away.  The fact that I don’t speak their language and don’t look anything like a Karen (I am tall and very pale, haha!) doesn’t seem to faze any of them in the least: I feel as though I’ve been completely adopted as one of the family.  It is cliché to say this, but I do feel like they have blessed me far more than I have been able to bless them.  I am so excited to see what God will do with these incredible youth over the next six months.Blog 18 collage

I’ll wrap up this blog post with the sweet, simple lyrics to an old, gospel hymn that I learned years ago:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and give up all our pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love

So all praise to the Father from whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son
And all praise for the Spirit who makes us one
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love