Martyrs in Myanmar

After our family moved to Myanmar in 2003, we were struck by how every major governmental agency – health, education, finance – had languished under the ruling junta. The government had closed the universities because they feared the students would revolt. All the hospitals in Yangon, a city of six million, shared two ambulances. The exchange rate rose and fell wildly, sometimes day-to-day. After a few months, I remember Holli and I saying, “Think of the worst decision possible and that is the one the government will make.” Unfortunately for the Burmese people, we were right most of the time.

We weren’t the only ones who noticed the decay and corruption. International organizations condemned the human rights abuses and inept handling of routine government matters. The United States had levied an economic embargo on the leading generals and their cronies to force the country to change. Everyone knew Myanmar was in a bad place. The problem was no one knew how to press a change. The ruling elite continued to amass vast fortunes at the expense of everyone else.

Amid all of this, Holli set up home, organized chores, and found a good international school for the kids. We began language learning lessons, trying to master a tonal language that was opposite of English in every way possible. We found a house to rent and began buying everything we needed. Myanmar did not allow crates from the United States, so we bought all our household items after we arrived in the country. Our American appliances would not have worked anyway, Myanmar’s electrical grid ran on a different voltage system.

We started to offer small training events in discipleship, leadership, and church planting. I contacted the Myanmar Baptist Convention about hosting some of these events and they politely declined. The MBC continued to hold onto dreams insurgents or America would overthrow the military and the country would return to normal. They had lost buildings, churches, offices, and land to the junta, and dreamed of the day it would all be given back. That day, or course, never came.

The Burmese government continually tried to convince their people that their lives weren’t so bad. They argued the country was hurting because of outsiders. They tried to alter everyone’s views with propaganda. If that didn’t work, they used brutal force and imprisonment. Thousands of objectors found themselves in dark, damp Insein prison – known for its cruel torture and barbaric treatment of the inmates.

I met a man in a weathered red bandana who had been tortured for seven years because he was a Christian. U Soe Win* was docile as a child. The man who introduced this dear brother to me shared that U Soe Win had suffered until he lost his mind and then been released. My brother in Christ could only speak about 200 words, the rest of his vocabulary was gone. Rest peacefully tonight, U Soe Win. Someday Jesus will hold you in His arms and all will be whole again. Your tears were not for nothing.

In such chaos, Holli and I began to pray that God would change the hearts of the Burmese. That Buddhists in Myanmar would find the Rock that cannot be shaken. We remained firm in faith, though the spiritual warfare could take your breath away at times. Somehow, someway, we believed Jesus would show us the way to reach these people with whom we had fallen so deeply in love. Holli’s faith in God shown like a beautiful white rose amid the charred remains of a formerly great country. We had dedicated our lives to seeing Myanmar come to Christ and looked to the Lord with faith, hope, and love.

*name has been changed to protect his family

AERIAL VIEW OF INSEIN PRISON, YANGON, MYANMAR

 

Victories and Challenges

-This is a message from Ruby, Gilbert’s wife, to everyone who partners with Love for Myanmar. Originally written in Burmese, it was translated by a Burmese person into English. I have kept the translation with a few parentheses of comment where I thought it would be helpful. Thank you for the difference your gifts are making in the lives of our dear brothers and sisters in Myanmar. Many of our house churches were destroyed by the flood. As God leads, please share sacrificially to help our brothers and sisters in Myanmar. www.LoveForMyanmar.org/DonateNow

Blessings,
Dan-

Mr. Vivian (our translator). Ruby, and Gilbert

Mr. Vivian (our translator). Ruby, and Gilbert

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To our beloved leaders and members of LFM.

We pray that all of you are in the best of health in the name and the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ. The 16th was a very exciting day for the Myanmar LFM team. We went to a flooded area called “Pretty Woman Island.” The village of Saya Sai Lon. It was like a vast ocean with no land to be seen at the left or right or front or back. Just water. Some very deep, over 15 to 20 feet deep. Frankly, we were much afraid.

Victories

Going by boat with 3 people on each plus things (rice, cooking oil, vegetables, fresh water, small toys for the children) for the victims of the flood. While aiding the essential things right to their door steps of their homes, most of them were very surprised and much delighted and weren’t even able to say a single word. Our group wanted to cry over the hardship they were suffering. The leaders and members of LFM group members of LFM group must have been chosen by God to love Myanmar and obeying Him to follow His command to help Myanmar, may God abundantly bless you all for your kindness. (Gilbert, Ruby and Wai Yun also shared the gospel at each house they gave the gifts)

The trip was worthwhile for us. On the trip, Wai Yan and I fell into the water, but we were pulled up in time. (Most Myanmar people do not know how to swim, and Wai Yan and Ruby both would have drown, if they were not pulled out of the water) We were ok with a little bruise. We got to homes that were never given help by anyone since the flood hit them and God sent us to them and your help through LFM was very effective. Most of the family members were dumbstruck by our coming and the joy and happiness on their faces wanted us to praise our God, who is good, all the time. God’s glory did shine. We sowed your kindness on fertile land.

Challenges

While success was on one side with God’s blessing the other side of devil’s battle we had to face. My daughter Melody’s hands got numbed and dizziness. We went to a clinic and had a CT scan. Later she was admitted to a hospital. Although no internal bleeding but being hurt badly, needs to be treated carefully. God is good and with all your special prayers I think everything will come out fine. (Some friends were playing catch with a water bottle and it hit Melody in the head, she passed out, and still has bouts of dizziness.)

Today, the doctor told us to take MRI, but my husband and I said we would like to see our daughter first and we would do it later if need be. I am writing from the hospital. While playing with friends, Melody got hurt and vomited 5 times, I hope you are not worried by my writing. God made it small (problem) from a very big one. While there are victory yet there are problems

So, asking for you to pray for my family and the missionaries of LFM far and near and especially more and more for Myanmar to know and accept Him.

From the family that loves you very much,
Ruby

How to Become a Third-World Country – Lessons Learned in Myanmar

After moving to Myanmar, Holli and I quickly realized that the government’s main concern was to maintain control – at any cost. They didn’t want things to change because that would mean they would lose their power. Red signs with white letters were everywhere commanding the people to turn in traitors or those trying to break the unity of the nation. The government-run news agency aired stories of the junta elite giving gifts to industry, agriculture, education, and medical community.

It was all a public image ruse. The reality was Myanmar was slipping further and further into a third-world, third-rate country and the generals didn’t know how to stop it. Word on the street was the generals had been raised in the jungle and didn’t know any way to rule expect barbarism. They ruled with an iron fist and fought among themselves for more power. Competing government-run businesses were bombed, as a result.

The future of Myanmar was being depleted and fast. And it broke our heart.

I think seeing all these things was particularly hard for Holli. She was good at organizing things and finding ways to turn the hardest situation into a life-giving oasis. She was overwhelmed with the brokenness and decay she saw around her. She believed God could change the hearts and begin to work with the Burmese women to help them come up with solutions to the problems they faced every day. Through casual conversations over tea, Holli began to bring some order to the chaos around her and these ladies she loved. She had a God-given ability to persevere that always amazed me.

I visited with the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) to see ways we could partner with them to share Christ and His love. Some of the leaders were amazing examples of Christlikeness and we spent long hours together. But persecution from the Burmese government had hardened the denominational leadership’s hearts over the years. Like an old car, rusting in the back of the house, they seemed unable to move forward or forget the past.

The MBC thought the answer to all their problems was for everything to return to the way it was before the Junta took over the country. Pastor’s laughed when we talked about how their Buddhist neighbors would spend eternity in hell if they didn’t receive Christ. “They deserve it for how they have treated us” was their reply.

Myanmar – The Land Time Forgot

When General Nei Win took over the Burmese government in 1962, he began isolating Myanmar from the rest of the world. He took a country rich in natural resources, skilled workers, and the best education system in Asia and bankrupted each one paying his cronies and living a lavish lifestyle. We often called Myanmar “the land that time forgot” when we moved there in 2003. Everything was rusting, decaying, and spoiled. Another example of how pride comes before the fall. In this case, Nei Win enjoyed the lucre of his pride, and the Burmese people endured the oppression and humiliation of watching their country collapse from within.

Holli and I had felt called to missions when we were in college, but the opportunity didn’t come until after I had celebrated my 40th birthday. God was preparing us all those years. Bringing dear friends and ideas into our lives that we needed for the mission field. Then, we found out I had ankylosing spondylitis while we were planting our second church in America. The members of Highland Fellowship were so supportive and loving during this difficult time in our lives. We thought we would never be able to go to the mission field.

The doctors finally found medicine that turned our night into day, however, and the dream of serving Jesus by taking the gospel to places it had never been heard shone again. Holli and I had learned how to equip leaders and multiply ourselves because of my illness. Now God was sending to do the same overseas.

I took a vision trip with a dear friend in the spring of 2003 to Southeast Asia. As soon as I stepped off the plane, God said, “You are home.” That night, I called Holli and she said, “You, don’t have to tell me, I already know. We are supposed to spread the gospel in Southeast Asia.” Holli’s faith never wavered. I found out several years later that she had prayed throughout my illness, still believing God would send us.

We had seen spiritual markers in our lives for years pointing towards the foreign field: our desire to see people come to Christ, our joy at baptizing adult believers, our gifting to share gospel truths in simple but profound ways, our heart to not build on any other man’s foundation, and our willingness to go wherever God led us. Our journey through church plants and church pastorates may have not made sense to our friends and family at times, but God was getting us ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

The toughest issue Holli and I faced was taking our children (ages 11, 9, 7, and 4) to a hostile country. We knew it would be difficult for all of us. But Jesus said, “to take up your cross” and promised He would be with us. After much prayer and surrender, we announced to our church that we would be selling most all we owned, receiving training as Gospel-bearers to foreign lands, and leave for Myanmar in the fall of 2003.

There were mutual tears, fears, and excitement as our friends, family, and the members of Highland Fellowship in Lewisville, Texas, sent us out.

(Please forward this to your friends who are passionate about missions and ask them to join our newsletter. Persecuted and poverty-stricken believers in Myanmar need our prayers and support)

The Power of Prayer

I’m currently in Myanmar enjoying meeting old friends, training people how to follow Jesus, and ministering to the orphans and other less fortunate people we support. Things certainly have changed a lot over the years.

When we first landed at the airport in Yangon in 2003, things looked bleak for this lovely country. So many dreadful things had happened in their past and the people yearned for a better future. Christians told us stories of pastors being crucified by the Junta for their faith. Believers endured beatings in jail for years and were released after they had slowly lost their mental faculties.

Myanmar was a broken country with old cars, old buildings, and an old dictator who suppressed freedom and stripped the people of their dignity. Everything was again the law in the land of a thousand golden pagodas. Multitudes died from starvation when the price of rice rose ten cents a pound.

Much like the people of Israel in Egypt, the people continually cried out to their god for deliverance. But Buddha never answered. The more the people endured, the larger and more elaborate their pagodas became. Hoping that somehow their sacrifice of gold and chanting would stop their suffering. It did not.

Things were going from bad to worse, something Holli and I could see with our own eyes. God burdened my heart to figure out the best way to reach the Buddhist people with the gospel of Jesus Christ – the genuine answer to their dilemma. I began to ask other people in the country how they were ministering to their neighbors and sharing the good news. We had many conversations which helped me see what was working and what was not. My lack of language seemed an insurmountable obstacle.

One surprise we encountered after we settled in Yangon was how the Myanmar Baptist Convention distanced themselves from believers from America who had come to share the love of Jesus with Myanmar. We had thought they would be allies, but quickly found them unsupportive of our efforts. At the time, we decided the reason for their skepticism was because of all that they had been through under the military regime.

Amid much spiritual oppression, Holli began to pray every day for a breakthrough in Myanmar. She believed in what we were doing and knew God was with us. She claimed promises from God’s word and shared them with others. Quiet, yet strong, her faith began to weave itself into the hearts and souls of our Buddhist friends. As we faced intense spiritual warfare, I never doubted for a second that she was by my side and we were going to see God’s kingdom come in Myanmar together.

Next time, I’ll share with you how Holli and I knew that God had called us to move to Myanmar and share the Good News. It was one of the toughest decisions we ever made together…

 

P.S. Please consider giving a one-time or monthly gift to the Holli Lancaster Memorial Missions Fund. Your gift will continue her legacy among the Myanmar people and help us raise up disciples, leaders, groups, and churches throughout Myanmar. CLICK HERE to give and thank you so much.

The Problem with Karma

I remember when we first got to Myanmar in 2003. It was a different country back then – karma had made it a country that time had forgotten.

The government was not open to outside influences and exercised punishing control of its people. Myanmar at that time had one of the largest standing armies in the world – mainly employed to keep their own citizens in submission. The government had a “black list” of those it would not permit to return to Myanmar if they were deemed dangerous to national unity. We were never sure if we would be let back in after our visa runs.

The result of closing their doors to the world were everywhere. Old cars, broken down buildings, an economy on the brink of collapse, government cronies raiding precious resources, and Christians openly persecuted and jailed. A land of contrasts – it was common to see a mansion as you walked down the street and a shanty village next door with an open sewer.The problem Buddhists faced in this situation was karma. Karma teaches you are being rewarded now for what you have done in the past. The end result of this belief is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The powerful get more powerful and the oppressed become more oppressed. Government officials receive lavish funerals, while common people are buried in shallow graves in the jungle.

In a country closed off to the national community, human rights abuses abounded. The dictator’s daughter received a 75 million dollar necklace as a wedding present — while the average laborer made 30 dollars a month. A twenty-year-old beat up Toyota van cost $30,000 while a two-year-old Lexus cost $4,000 – because you couldn’t get parts or repairs for a Lexus.

So, those who ran the country found themselves in a difficult place. Power and money were the signs of good karma, so to relinquish them was to lose status economically and spiritually. All the while, the population endured the situation, hoping they were earning a better life for themselves in their next go around.

While Myanmar believers doing their best to live for Jesus in such a difficult situation, Holli and I were packing up the family to go into Myanmar, teach English, and share the love of God with the most beautiful, kind people we had ever known.

Which Path is Right?

Everyone has some type of belief about how they can live a better life now, in the future, and for eternity. In Myanmar, the majority culture holds that the teachings of Buddha are the key to a fulfilling and satisfying life. One saying our family heard over and over again when we lived in Myanmar was “to be Burmese is to be Buddhist.” Needless to say, this made sharing Jesus feel like an uphill battle.

The Buddha, however, taught that people should study and learn from other religions. It was healthy to entertain alternatives and make sure one’s beliefs were firm and correct. We invited Buddhists friends into our home and bible studies to find out more about Jesus. Some were interested in hearing more about Jesus – the head of a religion very much different from their own.

What happened next is interesting. Seekers would learn about Jesus and His teachings. Many of them would start to worship Jesus and pray to Him during a crisis. It seemed that they had decided to become Christ-followers. But then the question of baptism would surface.

Parents, friends, and local leaders didn’t mind Buddhist people attending house churches, bible studies, or worship events. They didn’t mind them studying the Bible or praying to Jesus. Families might even discuss the new beliefs of one of their members and find them interesting. If that person wanted to be baptized, however, they faced open hostility and persecution.

Baptism, for those in a Buddhist culture, represented denouncing Buddhism and embracing Christianity. You were choosing one Master and leaving another. Baptism was a point of no return.

What we saw, as a result, were scores of seekers who began to slip back into Buddhism and slowly turn their back on Jesus. The peer pressure and persecution were too intense. The initial excitement over following Jesus waned and they decided to go back to Buddhism.

Baptism, of course, does not save a person. But even non-believers know it represents a spiritual marker in one’s life. Please join us in praying for new believers in Myanmar who face this difficult decision. Pray that God will give them the strength to withstand so many forces trying to pull them back into darkness.

Love for Myanmar Training Resources

Our vision is a sustainable church-planting movement led by Burmese believers. Our core strategy is to teach the seven-step strategy of Jesus to believers and help them implement it in Myanmar.

Here are the resources we provide believers to succeed at each step:

  1. Go
    1. “Be Fruitful and Multiply” (Training Module)
    2. “Pray Powerful Prayers”
    3. “Walk in The Spirit”
    4. “Join God Where He Is Working”
  2. Share God’s Love
    1. Orphanage Support and Coaching
    2. Trauma Healing Counseling
    3. Micro-Finance Groups
    4. Neighborhood Schools for Poor Children
    5. Assistance to Refugees
    6. Leprosy Hospital and Village Support and Coaching
  3. Share the Gospel
    1. “Defeat Satan In Spiritual Warfare”
    2. “Share Your Testimony”
    3. “Share the Simple Gospel”
    4. “How to Answer the Hard Questions”
    5. Evangelistic Outreach Events
  4. Make Disciples
    1. “Make the Great Confession”
    2. “Obey the Great Commandment”
    3. “Obey the Great Commission”
    4. Bible Seminary
  5. Form Disciple Groups
    1. “What Is A Simple Worship Group?”
    2. “Lead A Simple Worship Group”
    3. “52 Bible Stories for Your Discipleship Group”
  6. Train Leaders
    1. “Lead Like Jesus”
    2. “12 Principles of A Strong Ministry”
    3. “Raise Up Leaders”
  7. Start Churches
    1. “The Ten Commandments of a Great Church”
    2. “Grow Your Church Inside and Out”
    3. “Shepherd A Church”

Our goal is to empower groups of believers step-by-step and coach them through any roadblocks they encounter. We are organized with a national director, ministry directors, an area director, six village fellowship coordinators, and sixteen house church leaders.

We support the movement through regular prayer, weekly Skype calls, mission trip teams, onsite training events, printed materials, audio and video files, coaching, outreach events, and online training events.

What is Love for Myanmar up to these days?

The Joshua Project estimates that there are one-hundred and forty-six people groups in Myanmar, forty-nine of which are less than 2% evangelical. Buddhism is the major religion (76% of the population) and eighty-four percent of the population have never heard the Gospel.

The Burmese people are kind, gentle, and hospitable, but face an eternity separated from God and their loved ones if they do not hear and respond to the Gospel. The need is great – forty-six million people who are lost and never heard the good news.

Missionaries have worked in Myanmar since 1813 with scanty results. What makes us think our approach will produce better results? Simply, our strategic plan is based on imitating Jesus’ approach to mission in the Gospels.

Following Jesus’ method, we have trained more than 5,000 believers throughout Southeast and Southern Asia. Those believers have started more than 1,200 discipleship groups, and by God’s grace, 200 of those groups have become churches.

The seven steps of Jesus’ strategy are:

  1. Go
  2. Share God’s Love
  3. Share the Gospel
  4. Make Disciples
  5. Form Disciple Groups
  6. Train Leaders
  7. Start Churches

We provide resources, training, and coaching for each of these steps, leading to healthy, reproducing churches. Since most people in Myanmar are semi-illiterate, our materials are practical and easily remembered with repetition and hand motions. We also create audio and video resources that can easily be distributed via smart phones and DVD discs.

Our long-term goal is to establish a church in every city, town, and village in Myanmar following Jesus’ method. The spread of the Gospel will bring eternal salvation to countless Burmese people, facilitate peace among the ethnic groups, and provide a brighter future for the youth of Myanmar.

We have a network of sixteen house churches among the Mon and Karen people (Unreached People Groups) in southern Myanmar. We are testing a model of reproducible church planting using Follow Jesus Training (see www.t4tpress.com).

Our short-term objective is to double the number of people within each of the seven steps of Jesus’ strategy in the next eighteen months, perfecting the model, and then launching it to the entire country of Myanmar.

We have established a network of leaders over the last fourteen years and emphasize both mercy ministries and sharing the Gospel in everything we do. We have the training materials, the supervisory people in place, and a solid plan, but need additional funds to take the work to the next level, including creating audio and video training sessions that will be freely available to every Christian in Myanmar via smartphones and the internet.

The current move towards democracy in Myanmar has created an openness to new ideas and the Gospel. God is moving, and we believe the time is ripe for a church-planting movement in Myanmar.

Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God

“Expect great things from God: attempt great things for God.” – William Carey, Father of Modern Missions

Most people agree that we need to share the gospel and heal the sick throughout the world. Jesus commanded us to “go” in the Great Commission. The Great Commandment says to love your neighbor as yourself and that certainly includes helping and healing the downtrodden. I would want someone to help me if I was the victim of persecution or injustice, wouldn’t you?

The problem many face is they want to do something great for God, but they believe they aren’t qualified or don’t have the skills. It’s a hard place to be. You want to make the world a better place, but you don’t feel like you can really do anything worthwhile. You want to be on mission with God and see people’s lives changed for the better, but your past or inadequacies stand at the gate like giants and forbid you to pass.

I often hear this as people are considering going on mission trips. “I don’t know what to do,” they say. Or “I’m not qualified.” Or “I’ve messed up too much in my life.” These are legitimate concerns, but they should not stop you from doing great things for God. These are the same reasons for not attempting great things for God the disciples gave Jesus. He told them not to fear. He is telling you not to fear, also.

So, I don’t know what the next step is for you to be on mission with God, but I want to challenge you to take it today. Obey the Spirit of God and figure out a way to pray more, or give more, or encourage more, or go more. Fear not, friend. Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.