What Truly Matters?

Gary @ Leprosy HospitalBy Gary Watkins, Co-Founder of Love For Myanmar

Sunday, November 8 will be bookmarked- one way or another- as an important page in the continuing story of Myanmar’s journey towards democracy.
Since 2010, the nominally civilian government has led the country with a veneer of legitimacy as it is widely believed the election was rigged. Many observers and voters worry that this election could follow a similar path.
Regardless of Myanmar’s election results, Love for Myanmar (LFM) intends to continue its ministries within the country as it as done for ten years. We don’t see politicians. We don’t see military personnel. We don’t see Buddhists. We see people–honorable, humble, and hurting.
We intend to continue listening to their perspectives, focusing on their needs, and addressing their hurts. We believe filling people with love, joy, and peace will make them more loving, joyful, and peaceful towards others.
What truly matters to LFM? Whether this election is credible is not a burning question for us. Whether the military’s political role is further cemented in the governing process through this election’s results is not a lingering issue to us.
No matter how far off course this election may take its country, LFM intends to be present, intends to persevere. We hold firmly to the belief that those actions undertaken for the Lord in the power of His spirit are the only steps that truly matter.

(The following is excerpted from Myanmar Now, an independent news service located in Yangon and supported by the Thomas Reuters Foundation.)

Myanmar’s general elections take place on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, and will be the first nationwide polls in 25 years to be openly contested by all political parties after decades of military rule.

President Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is linked to the army, will compete with Aung San Suu Kyi’s widely popular National League for Democracy for the majority vote.

Dozens of parties from ethnic minority states will compete for a share of the votes in their areas, while a large number of smaller parties will also run for seats in the Bamar-majority regions.

Key facts:

  • Myanmar has a population of around 51.5 million people, according to the 2014 census. Those over the age of 18 who are eligible to vote account for about 33.5 million.
  • The former military government ratified the constitution in 2008; it held general elections in 2010 that were considered rigged in favor of the USDP. The 2012 by-elections were openly contested and the NLD won 43 of the 44 seats it contested.
  • Voters will be able to cast their ballot on Nov. 8 from 6 am to 4pm.
  • Ninety one parties will contest the elections, with a total of 6,039 candidates, almost double the figure of 3,069 candidates in the 2010 elections.
  • The electorate will vote in 325 representatives to the Lower House (seven constituencies under control of ethnic armed groups will not hold elections due to security concerns), 168 representatives to the Upper House, and 673 representatives to state and regional parliaments for a five-year term. A remaining quarter of seats in both houses of parliament, and on state and regional level, are reserved for un-elected military officers, in accordance with the constitution.
  • The election results will be determined through the first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate receiving the majority of the votes takes the seat to represent the whole constituency.
  • Post-elections, in a bicameral parliamentary session, newly elected lawmakers vote for a president. They can vote from three candidates; one nominated by the Lower House, one by the Upper House and one by the military. The losing candidates become vice-presidents.
  • A party needs to secure more than 50 percent of parliament seats in both houses – or more than two-thirds of the contested constituencies – to gain a sufficient majority to be able to vote in a new president.
  • Myanmar’s president then forms the new government and appoints the states and regions’ powerful chief ministers.
  • The current legislature’s term expires on 30 Jan. 2016 when it hands over powers to new lawmakers. In early February, the parliament convenes to vote for a new president. On March 29, the current government’s term expires and a new government takes over.

The Impact

The plane touched down in this humid, bustling part of the world.  It was a trip I had prepared for logistically.  I had traveled around the world in mission response, serving in India, South Africa, all over Central America and numerous other locations but as we disembarked I encountered a different sort of vibe, one that would shape my experience and altar how I had prepared.

Myanmar is rich with color, texture, smells, and sounds of people moving forward.  It is a country with a  burdened past and an even brighter future. As I arrived I was immediately taken by the kindness of everyone I encountered.  I had heard about the juntas and as a tourist, was aware that I would certainly stick out but there was no reservation in anyone, no judgement of me as a foreigner.  They readily embraced this stranger and extended warmth and hospitality.

Throughout my visit I wasIMG_3233 blessed to meld into the fabric of life and observe locals as they went about their business.  I will say that the people of Myanmar are focused, driven, very kind, and happy to show you the beauty of their country.  For me, one of the highlights of my trip was in sharing in worship.  Believers are passionate about singing His praises.  They bring Him their best and avail themselves to hear more.  It is an apparent hunger for The Word.  In sharing with them in worship I learned much about my own faith journey, about my own hunger and quest to walk with The Lord in every aspect of my life.

Myanmar is unlike the many places I have traveled throughout the world.  It is a country of hope, of opportunity, of a bright future prepared by a Savior who offers peace and grace. My role in going was to learn about this beautiful place, meet its people, and learn of ways I can share in their future through prayers, time and giving resources focused on the mission response of Love For Myanmar and their passion to make a difference.  I am in awe of the journey that has brought us to this place and avail myself to be a part of the future.

Will you join me?  Learn more through LoveForMyanmar.org or visit their Facebook page.

The Game

The Game, written by LFM mission team member Lucas Crockett.

The sky is bright yet overcast. A large hill or a small mountain rises just above the palm trees and other tropical trees in the background. Just below the trees rest several houses, spread out amongst the trees.  All of the dwellings have thatched roofing except for one with aluminum roofing.  In front of the houses lies a lush green clearing with short grass and a few bare muddy patches.  The focus on the picture is on a group of men running from different directions toward a central location.  Consisting of dark tan skinned natives and white foreigners, the group of about eight men have their backs turned to the camera.  Another eight men are spread out behind the central group facing the camera.  The muddy bare feet are clearly visible on all except two natives sporting soccer cleats.  All are wearing shorts, some athletic, some cargo.  One native has donned a long sleeved shirt while everybody else is wearing a variety of different colored short sleeved shirts.   Feet flying out from underneath him, one foreigner slips on the slick mud.

Soccer-BallWhat is not seen is the soccer ball toward which everyone, foreigners and natives alike, is running.  The location is Thaton, Myanmar.  The foreigners belong to a Christian organization called Love for Myanmar whose vision is to bring an English Second Language program to poor villages.

Because this was the first meeting between Love for Myanmar and these particular natives, the Buddhist natives were timid and wary.  On first approach, the natives were very reserved and watched and listened more than they participated.  Gradually, however, with some urging, the women and children opened up to us and allowed us to be not just foreigners but friends.  Being far more wary, the men were slower in opening up to us.  Traditionally, the men lead the villages and, as leaders, wish to avoid mistakes.    Because we were a foreign organization, the leaders feared that we may break down their traditions or beliefs.  They were unsure as to whether or not they should trust us.

Our organization’s purpose is to provide free ESL classes to any who would attend.  Myanmar had begun to dramatically become more westernized.  With western countries moving in and creating jobs, knowing the English language would drastically improve one’s chances of getting a job.  These jobs would completely change their economic circumstances, which is a simple lifestyle barely above subsistence.  Not realizing this, the men were skeptical of our program and organization.  The soccer game broke all previous barriers.  By the end of the game, all of the men were smiling and enjoying themselves.  Talking to each other in spite of a language barrier, we understood each other perfectly through gestures and facial expressions.

Since this game, I have organized and played other soccer games with friends, but none were more enjoyable or memorable as this one game with people whom I had barely known for a few hours.  Whenever I see this picture I remember the great time we had running, slipping, and playing together.  Some may think that playing sports is silly or is a waste of valuable time, but that soccer game is what broke the barrier between us.  Through all our differences, we formed a bond through one common interest: soccer.

Mission Team Member Experience: Charly Skaggs

We are delighted to share with you a recent mission team participant’s experience of his trip in his own words.  Meet 2015 Team Member Charly Skaggs

Matthew 5: 15-16
15. nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

May my experiences and stories allow you to see good works, feel a real part of the experiences, support  Love For Myanmar and glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Charly & Baby 2My story begins with God’s voice speaking to my heart and telling me to “Just say yes.”  So, I have been trying to do just say yes.  Therefore, when the announcement was made that there would be a meeting for those interested in going to Myanmar; I had to “just say yes!”

Since that time, people have asked me, “What did you learn from your trip to Myanmar?”  I found it difficult to come up with an answer.  The more I thought about it, I realized, it was not what I learned, however it was what God allowed me to experience with Him while on this unique trip.

There were several defining moments that God spoke to me during our time in Myanmar. As it happens, it was at the Leprosy Hospital where some of my greatest experiences occurred.

This is one of those experiences.

On the way to the Leprosy Hospital, it became clear that Satan did not want me going there.  Those little thoughts began to pop into my head on the bus ride to the hospital.  You know those thoughts; “You don’t need to go to this hospital, what if you get leprosy, you don’t have anything to offer these people, you don’t need to do this, just go back to the hotel, you really have no business going to this place”.  I knew these were not my thoughts because I had been very excited about this part of our trip since it was announced we would be going to the hospital.  So, I simply asked God to remove these thoughts that were bombarding my mind.  Of course, at the name of Jesus, He did remove them and replaced them with a sense of positive expectations.

Upon arriving, the room was set up with chairs and people began to fill the room.  Some needed help with wheelchairs, some help with homemade rolling pads.  Cracks in the sidewalk made it difficult for them to maneuver to get to the room and to enter this open-air hall.  We helped and greeted those coming to the program that day.

The room filled and Reed began to talk to the group about Love for Myanmar, where we were from, and the goals for our trip.  I was told I would be telling the stories from the book of Daniel.  I had just finished up with Camp Crestview, so these stories were fresh on my mind. (Coincidence? I think not!)

As I sat, waiting for my story time to begin, God’s spirit began to impress on my heart that I should share the story of my life living with the disease of hemophilia.  The thought seemed odd to me, however, the impression was strong.  I approached Gary Watkins, one of our trip leaders and told him I thought I was supposed to share my story about being a hemophiliac with the group.  He said something like, “Of course you should.  It would be perfect. “

I returned to the little wooden bench (Figure 1) and began to wonder what I would say and how these special people would respond.

Well, I was introduced and through a wonderful interpreter, Gilbert David, told the story of Daniel and his obedience to God’s word in not eating the king’s food, his friends not bowing down to the idol of the king, being thrown into the fire, and Daniel continuing to pray to God in spite of the King’s order that no one would be allowed to pray to any other Gods expect the king.

When I finished this story, God’s spirit began to lead me into the next story about my life.  I began by saying that I was born with a disease that you can’t really see, except at certain times.  The disease is called hemophilia and it makes my blood very difficult to clot.  I rolled up my sleeve to display a huge bruise that I had on my upper arm.  Showing them that there were times you could see my disease, but the disease’s impact was not always visible.  God’s spirit said a lot during those minutes and I really cannot recall what was said.  However, I do know it was God’s spirit speaking and I do recall sharing my experiences as a child.

Starting when I was very young, and more pronounced when I started school, teachers would make me stand before the class and tell my fellow students that “Charles has a disease and you should not touch him!” I can remember children telling other children “Don’t touch him. He has a disease.”  Even if there was a scuffle, my friends would say I shouldn’t be part because I might bleed.

Growing up I played basketball, tennis, track, water skied and did my best to make sure no one could tell I had hemophilia by looking at me.  I explained that I spent a lot of my life in bed or in a hospital because I had injured myself and was bleeding internally.

I shared that people even questioned the sensibility of my going to Myanmar where health care was not going to be able to do much for me if I was sprained an ankle and hemorrhaged or was injured in some other way.  Still, I knew I was suppose to go on this trip and like all my sixty-four years did not let being a hemophiliac become a reason for not to do things that I felt I was supposed to do or needed to do.

It appears God used my life as a hemophiliac to touch the lives of those who were living with leprosy.  Maybe it is the way people think of them or how they have been treated in their life living with leprosy.  Regardless, God touched their hearts with my story.  Women and men cried as God spoke using me and the life with the disease of hemophilia. What many would see as a curse became a blessing that day.

Never in my life would I have thought that my disease would be touching my heart and the hearts of lepers in a country on the other side of the world.  However, God knew what telling my story would do in a Myanmar Leprosy Hospital.  He would touch hearts and make a lasting connection between them and an old American hemophiliac. God is the best story teller ever, if you say “yes” and let Him speak.

The Land of Gold: A Myanmar Experience

2015 Mission Team member Brand Perkins shares his thoughts, observations  and personal message about his recent trip to Myanmar – his first trip abroad:

The Land of Gold, I pray will become the Land of God. Thursday morning I boarded the first of four flights, and 30 hours later I landed in Myanmar, “The Land of Gold.” I have never traveled outside the country so this was a big step for me. Being a Christian for only two years this was a big leap of faith. Leaving my family, friends, and work for three weeks to join God at work on the other side of the world. I’d like to share three main points with you, the team, the people, and my greatest take away.

The team

The team consisted of 18 people, not including the translators we have. This was also the first mission trip for several of the other team members as well. Before even meeting the whole team I began praying we become as unified as Jesus is with the Father. I have never worked on a team that worked so well together, making serving God joyful. The team came together greater than I could have imagined. This is the work of God. Experiencing Christ being the head, and each member being a part of the body that is important for the whole mission. In times of members being sick and having to stay behind really made us feel incomplete. The team came together for laughter, service, prayer, tears, and sickness. We all play a vital role in the body of Christ. He calls us all the a special work, that whatever we do, we may glorify Him. We visited several different churches, villages, children homes, and a leprosy hospital. We taught the people health and hygiene, we taught them about diseases, stories out of the bible, and we had great fun with them.

The people

The people in Myanmar are incredible people. One of the ladies from a village there literally washed my feet. That was a new experience, extremely humbling. I came to serve, but it truly seemed these people wanted to serve me. As I think of the people my heart experiences many emotions. It cries because most of the people are buddhist. Walking around the country seeing hopeless people pray to a god that has no hope to offer, that doesn’t exist, or even hear them is heart-wrenching. I witnessed three people approach a monk to bow at his feet on their hands and knees. As I type this my heart screams out, “Why didn’t I tell them to get up!?” The country is poor. Here in America we drive down the highway seeing grass, maybe untamed grass. In Myanmar you drive down the roads and see mounds of mounds of trash. In the trash are people barefoot digging for recyclables to sell just to get a bowl of rice. The kids at some of the villages we visited showed signs of malnutrition. My heart also sings for the faith of the Christians living there, in the middle of the buddhist communities. The Christians there have a fearlessness in their eyes as if they’re ready to die in Jesus name at any time. It’s incredible to see how Jesus Christ came for all, and there are people on the other side of the earth that know Him too. To see the Gospel prevail in the midst of poverty, only the love of God can explain this joy!


As I think about the way the word of God prevails, I consider my own life. The way it has drastically changed from hatred, hopelessness, depression, to love, unending hope, and joy. I learned the reality that the Spirit of God lives with in me, allowing me to live with Him for eternity. Upon landing back in the states I became very sad. My thoughts were “God is at work in Myanmar, that is where I want to be. I experienced God I only want more.” Then I learned when Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age” this is a truth the Spirit has helped me grasp in my few weeks of mission work in Myanmar. Incredible the way the Spirit of God guides us, and helps us learn Himself. Since the day I learned Jesus Christ died on a cross for my sins. I learned Jesus became everyone of my cheats, lies, hateful acts, and was hung on a tree for all of our sins. Being buried and raising from the grave three days later, conquering the grave, so we may live with Him for all eternity. Making life worth the living just because He lives. I have learned to hear His voice the more I walk with Him, and since that day, it has always been my plea, “Jesus may I please just have a closer walk with thee.” Jesus Christ did not only die for my sin, but for anyone who will believe. Jesus Christ has made a way, and with each day passing He is waiting for us to call on His name so that we may be saved. If you are saved, He is calling you each day into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Himself. As this happens, the things of this world will grow strangely dim. Which is what happened to me, making the decision to follow Christ into Myanmar so much easier. I encourage you today to ask yourself, “Why are you living?” “What drives your every day actions?” “How is my relationship with Christ?” “Is God calling me to help in Myanmar after seeing all the opportunity there through Love For Myanmar?” After answering the questions, I encourage to respond to Christ, whatever that may look like. If you do not know how to respond, find someone, and ask them!

Prayer Works!


As the team continues to prepare for the trip into Myanmar, it is important to recognize the spiritual preparation essential to the success of achieving God’s Will for the country as well as for the members of the team.

Please stop what you are doing, reflect upon the following requests, and share your heart with the Lord.

Your prayers can make a difference, and help transform the spiritual landscape of a country whose people are longing for answers.

Government– Despite the continuation of the longest civil war in the world, Myanmar is in the midst of transitioning to a more democratic government. Some progress has been made; however, it will take a long time to overcome decades of oppressive actions against its people. Pray for patience and forgiveness for the people towards their government, and pray for open and honest efforts from the government to restore the dignity of its people.

Economy– Corruption and mismanagement has brought this naturally, resource-rich country to its financial knees. As the country continues to open up to foreign investment, pray that these new dollars will not be siphoned off by a small elite group, but will truly be used to initiate programs for positioning families to prosper.

Churches– Myanmar is 90% Buddhist. There are many challenges facing Christianity in Myanmar. Pray that those who are Christian will unite around their shared belief in Jesus Christ, and lay aside those denominational differences and turf issues that cause division. Pray that in-depth, scriptural-based training opportunities will emerge for pastors as well as seminary students that will provide them with the theological background they need to be the confident, courageous spiritual leaders critical to Christianity’s understanding among the people of Myanmar. Pray that Christians in Myanmar will truly seek to understand Buddhism and its way of life and find ways of building goodwill among its followers that can then lead to a pathway for sharing the Christian message of hope. Pray for Buddhists who listen to God’s Word and believe in its message will be provided with the resoluteness to overcome the powerful cultural and social constraints against leaving Buddhism.

Families– Trip after trip into Myanmar, we encounter parents heartbroken from their decisions to send their children to far away cities in hopes of better lives, and the equally humbling sadness of children separated from their parents and families for reasons not yet understood. Pray that our ministry will continue to search for and surrender to God’s Will for His service to the people of Myanmar. Pray that our ministry will continue to be blessed with the resources necessary to provide programs that not only fill stomachs, but open hearts; programs that protect the abandoned while seeking the lost; programs that restore individuals’ dignity and erase their despair.

Team Members– God has said in the book of Jeremiah that He has a plan for each of us. Pray that each team member will come to know God’s plan for them. Pray that their purpose in this life will become clearer as a result of their participation in this trip to Myanmar. Pray that each team member will have the courage to recognize that God can work through their weaknesses and fulfill His plan for them if they will just set aside their fears and allow Him to direct their steps.

Moving Us Ever Forward

During  their first visit to Myanmar as tourists back in 2004, Reed and Glenna Iwami experienced an awakening to the needs of the beautiful people of country.  It was then that Love For Myanmar got its start.  In this visit they fell in love with the people and learned more about their issues, their needs and the opportunities that lie before them through Jesus Christ.  In 2008 they formed the Burma Connection to better provide assistance to a people group the rest of the world seemed to have forgotten.  They started serving by leading mission teams into the country, supporting and working with orphaned children.

For over 10 years now, Love For Myanmar (formerly the Burma Connection) and the many volunteers who have served have extended themselves to provide much needed assistance  through specific projects serving people groups in-country in addition to helping resettle refugees from Myanmar to the Austin, Texas area, the home of Love For Myanmar.

Love For Myanmar has a deep love and respect for the people of Myanmar serving in many areas throughout the country.  With unparalleled experience and a commitment to make positive change for years to come, Love For Myanmar is poised to extend this legacy to generations to come.  And one of the key factors towards a successful future is people.

Volunteer passion is the strength behind this successful ministry.  Each year Love For Myanmar engages volunteers from nearly every stage in life to serve in mission to Myanmar, experiencing for themselves the incredible joy of serving others.  In addition, volunteers assist in the United States to help organize these teams, sharing information about the important work being done both in country and in the United States, as well as helping to secure necessary funds to further our efforts.

To that end, we continually ask for prayers for this ministry, prayers for strength, resources, volunteers, and platforms with which to share our incredible story.  As you read this blogpost, please share with others the opportunity to partner with us in response to the ever growing needs.  Let us know if there is a group that would like hear our story first hand.  Our website provides valuable information on how we serve, where we serve, who we serve, and where we feel the Lord moving us ever forward!


A Light in Myanmar

A blog post by mission team member Rachel Goad.

When asked to write something for this blog about the time I spent in Myanmar last summer, I excitedly opened my notebook to begin writing about all the many things I observed when I was there.  Unfortunately, staring at a blank page with a pen in hand was about as far as I got for several weeks.  Every time I sat down to write, I found myself experiencing writer’s block (of sorts). How do I write about a country that is full of contradictions?  How do I talk about a country full of people who have touched me so deeply that it feels like I am exposing my heart to everyone who reads this blog post? I suppose, though, that to love is to be vulnerable (to quote the brilliant C.S. Lewis), and I will just have to be brave and share with all of you my love for this country.

Rachel LFM blog 01

Water Buffalo in the countryside

Upon arriving in Myanmar with the LFM team in July of last summer, I was shocked by the intensity of the drivers on the road.  I’ve experienced crazy driving before, but I have never had a taxi driver tell you NOT to put a seatbelt on, or countdown, “Three… Two… One… GO!” at a red light waiting for it to turn green, like a Nascar race.  The first time I tried to cross the road when adventuring around Yangon with the other youth, I didn’t realize initially that cars don’t actually stop (or slow down!) for pedestrians, crosswalk or not.  I figured it out pretty quickly, though.  Suddenly, “walking” across the road turned into “running-for-my-life” across the road.  Talk about an adrenaline rush.  Oddly enough, there is a huge difference between the demeanor of the people of Myanmar when they are on the road, versus off the road.  The shopkeepers and street vendors that we encountered while exploring the city were all very warm and friendly, smiling or waving in greeting when we would walk past their shops. The people that we passed on the street were the same way–unafraid to make eye contact, entertained when we attempted to greet them in Burmese, willing to pause what they were doing to acknowledge our presence. There was even a group of middle-aged men who called out to us because they wanted to show one of the guys from our team how to correctly tie his longyi (traditional Myanmar outfit).  When we bought watches from a street vendor, the shopkeeper spent a good portion of time meticulously sizing the watches for us until they were just right.  Do you see the contradiction?  Kind, friendly people in person; chaotic, brisk, and impatient drivers on the road.

Rachel LFM blog 03

The beautiful green landscape of the country

The landscape of Myanmar is absolutely stunning.  Although, I only had the opportunity to visit a small portion of this almost-Texas-sized country, the places that I did get to see were incredibly beautiful.  From the leaves on the acacia trees, to the rice patties that can be seen in any direction, to the grass and moss and shrubs that cover everything in between, I think that every possible shade of green could be found in just one picture of the Myanmar countryside.  For a Texas girl who is more familiar with all the many shades of brown, dead grass, the vibrancy of a rainforest that is teeming with green, living things is really quite something to see.  This country, with its innate beauty, does have a flaw, though: the ungodly amount of rubbish that can be seen nearly everywhere you look.  The following is something I wrote down one morning while on the trip:
“I’m sitting on the dock of the bay, looking at the green hills and golden pagodas on the opposite shorelines around me that are so beautiful and surrounded by mist in the sunrise and clouds, and what ruins this picture from merely three feet below where I sit?  TRASH.  Awful-smelling trash.  Rotting bananas and soggy bamboo and old rice and used styrofoam to-go boxes and worn-out shoes and just trash, trash, trash, that serves as food for the giant river rats and mangy dogs that I can see shuffling through the waste.”

It broke my heart again and again while on the trip to see such a gorgeous country full of natural resources being polluted by trash and waste that is being dumped into bodies of water or burned outside of homes and businesses.

Rachel LFM blog 05 (2)

Inside the Leprosy Hospital

Here’s a topic that I didn’t know much about before going to Myanmar: leprosy.  All that I knew of leprosy was it was very prevalent during the time Jesus walked the earth, as the Bible makes mention of Him healing lepers during His ministry.  I thought leprosy had been eradicated, but this trip proved me otherwise.  Almost all of the LFM team members, myself included, had the blessing of visiting the Christian Leprosy Hospital of Mawlamyine, in the Mon state.  We hugged and loved on as many of them as we could.  Many of the people that we met had only stubs for fingers, or no hands at all.  Others were blind, others in wheelchairs because the leprosy had left them without feet.  Although, the majority of the 300 or so patients at the hospital are afflicted with leprosy, there are others who are being treated for other ailments, like the woman I met who was admitted for treatment of a skin disease.  This disease caused her skin to peel off in large sections all over her body, including her face, neck, and hands, exposing the tender, red tissue underneath.  Not only was she experiencing incredible physical pain due to her condition, she was suffering emotionally as well.  She spoke very softly, in a monotone voice about how her family had rejected and abandoned her because of her disease.  Even though she had stated that she was a Muslim, and knew that we were Christians, she readily agreed when my interpreter, Aunty Rosy, asked if we could pray for her.  After we finished praying, I opened my eyes to find tears pouring down the woman’s face.  Oh, how desperately she needs the peace that passes understanding that God promises to His children.  That woman is one true story of a human life who is impoverished, in more ways than one.  I once heard someone speak of eight forms of poverty.  There is poverty of spirit, poverty of intellect, poverty of affection, poverty of the will, physical poverty, poverty of a support network, poverty of civic involvement, and economic poverty.  Being there at the leprosy hospital was the first time I had seen all eight of those forms of poverty.  You may think it was a dreadful experience, going to the leprosy hospital, but for me, it was a highlight of the trip.  It was incredible to see the way the faces of those with whom we visited light up with joy in those few, brief moments of human interaction.  Just think of how those lives could be changed if only they were filled with the eternal hope and joy that comes from knowing Christ!

A home church in myanmar

A home church in myanmar

We had a chance to attend a small home church in Yangon one of the Sundays that we were in Myanmar.  This experience was the opposite of what we saw at the leprosy hospital.  The church congregation meets in a small, two-room building–one large, empty room, and a small kitchen.  The building is not only a family home but also a school during the weekdays, and a church on Sundays.  Although Christianity is recognized by the government in Myanmar as a protected religion, the believers there still face persecution from people in other religions within the country.  Christians in Myanmar are facing violence, imprisonment, forced labor, and discrimination.  Many Christian villages have been burned to the ground over the last decade.  A passage of scripture that kept repeating itself in my head while in Myanmar was Ephesians 6, where Paul talks about the armor of God.  He states that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  The Christians who are in Myanmar have to fight this battle daily.  I do believe, though, that it is because of those struggles that the believers under persecution have such a strong faith.  They are able to see again and again God’s faithfulness to them.  I wish I had a way to let each one of you witness what I saw at that home church in Myanmar.  I glanced around at the believers surrounding me as they sang “As The Deer” in Burmese and it brought tears to my eyes to see them singing these lyrics with such sincere hearts: “You alone are my strength, my shield, to You alone may my spirit yield.”  Yielding to none other than God takes on a whole new level of meaning when faced with persecution from those surrounding you, including neighbors, military, employers, and schoolteachers.

Just like with any relationship, the more you get to know someone, you may enjoy their personality, character, and quirks, but the more you will also see their flaws and shortcomings.  Myanmar is the same way.  It is a country full of beauty, and a country full of darkness.  In my mind, I see Myanmar as a country that has been covered with darkness, but those who follow Christ are now light in the Lord! There are little flickers of light all over the country, and the light is hope.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  -John 1:5- Although, my heart breaks over the sickness, poverty, and oppression that can be seen in Myanmar, I deeply love this country that God has created and the beautiful people that live there.  I know that the Love For Myanmar team feels the same way, and I hope that you have been able to see a glimpse of that.

There Is An Answer

During a trip to Myanmar in the Spring of 2014, LFM’s founders and spouses were led to a leprosy hospital in Mawlamyine located in the Mon State. What was observed stirred a mixture of emotions centered upon a cry to understand how our loving God could allow such a lingering, miserable disease to continue among such caring, humble people.

Gary @ Leprosy Hospital

LFM Co-Founder Gary Watkins with a leprosy hospital patient in Myanmar.

These patients appeared scared, perhaps because they were going through the valley of the shadow of hopelessness. Being Buddhists, there is a distance between themselves and God. They are living in the shadows with no sense of God’s presence, where trusting that their suffering will end is increasingly difficult.

But, we knew our God had not forgotten them. We knew our God had never left them. We knew our God had brought us to this place to be His light. To help them turn away from the shadows, and allow God to restore their hope.

As a result of that trip, LFM has expanded its ministry to include the leprosy hospital. Discussions are underway regarding the implementation of an ESL program to benefit the patients and their family members. Aside from an estimated 300 patients in the hospital, there is a nearby community of about 2,000 of their family members. Because of the stigma of leprosy, there was no other place for these people to live. These ostracized Buddhists are in various degrees of spiritual deterioration, and longing for answers.

Leprosy has been a public health problem in Myanmar for a very long time. Progress has been made in recent decades, and the number of new cases has stabilized to about 70 annually. The service area of the hospital is primarily the Mon State located in Eastern Myanmar which has about three million people. The out patient department treats more than 13,000 patients per year with the majority of these patients coming for the treatment of skin diseases.

Although, the number of new cases of leprosy is low, around 85,000 leprosy-affected people in Myanmar still suffer from deformities, blindness or ulcers.

These people are facing a time of great discouragement and need the courage only available through our Lord, Jesus Christ. If you want to stand beside us to give hope and motivation to these hurting people, please click here to donate. Beginning with an ESL program, LFM intends to share with these people how our Savior promises to love, protect, and guide us throughout our lives. None of us is immune to disappointment, struggles, and suffering. However, we do not need to face these challenges without hope. There is an answer!

Gary Watkins is Co-Founder of Love For Myanmar and has been responding to the needs of Myanmar for many years.  He and his wife Carolyn are actively involved in response not just in Myanmar, but with refugees now living in Central Texas.

Post 3 – Thoughts and Reflection of the United States by Myanmar Native Chin Chin

Chin ChinIn our final post in this series, Love For Myanmar presents conversations with Myanmar Native, Chin Chin, and her orientation with life in the United States.  She has volunteered and accompanied LFM on many mission trips helping in a variety of ways – from organizing and playing games with the children at our orphanages to serving as our interpreter with village leaders, pastors, and teachers to explaining cultural traditions and practices to team members.  She is a dear and long-time friend of LFM visiting friends and relatives in the United States and will returning to her people group in Myanmar of whom she loves.

(LFM)  Other than family, what do you miss about Myanmar?

(Chin Chin)  I miss eating rice, tea leaf salad ( tea leaf pickle) which is the main traditional food for Myanmar and drinking tea with my friends or family at the tea shop. I miss warm weather too.

(LFM)  In your opinion, what should the USA adopt, learn, copy from Myanmar that would make the USA better?

(Chin Chin)  I am not sure for this and I think it will not be easy to adopt or copy something from other country. Because these two countries have a very different background. In my opinion, Myanmar people still keep the tradition of our ancestors’ custom or culture. For an example, most parents or teachers still teach the children to give full respect to older people even though they don’t know each other. And wearing a short skirt at church, monastery, school or pagoda places is strictly forbidden until today. Sometimes it’s good to visit or live for a while in an undeveloped country like Myanmar, so that you would see and learn from reality rather than just reading a book about that country. It would be good if people don’t use credit card a lot here. It’s good for somethings but it can still make you get into debt if you aren’t aware of how to use it well. Honestly, some people are a bit fat here from eating fast food. So it would be good if they could eat the way Myanmar people eat. If possible, decrease eating fast food and increase eating healthy fresh food and vegetables. And sometimes use your energy rather than using an automatic machine. So that you would still remain healthy.

(LFM)  When you get back to Myanmar, what do you want to be sure your family and friends better understand about the USA?

(Chin Chin)  I would like to let them know about the people from here are really friendly and still stay close to God compared to other States like California.

(LFM)  As a young person, have you noticed any differences between what USA young people talk about, worry about struggle with? If so, what are some of those differences?

(Chin Chin)  It would be about education and choosing a job. We don’t have a very good education background, but USA young people do. But there are many good and bad schools or colleges to choose here so they worry and have to be careful which school or college will be the right place for them. In Myanmar, most students just go to school or college to get a degree but learn nothing. They prefer to get experience from work so they just choose to work that is available to them. When I ask some of my friends here what are they going to do after school, some are not sure for their job but some they know what they want to do. However there are a bit competitive here for jobs.

(LFM)  Is there any advice you would like to pass along to those who are thinking about coming to the USA for the first time?

(Chin Chin)  First, it would be good to prepare for the weather. It can be hotter or colder here than the place they come from. May be it can be the same weather, however, you can’t know what’s like for a place you have never been before. It’s good to be aware of it and make sure they have enough money for themselves unless they have family or relatives or friends to get help when they need something or get into trouble. And it would be a good idea if they could bring some of their favorite traditional food which they can’t find it here. In my experienced, I missed Burma food a lot at first.