A Trip to the Hospital

Early one Monday morning in 2004, our housekeeper’s husband knocked on the door and told us the night before she had suffered a heart attack. She was in the government hospital and could we please help. Their ten-year-old son stood behind him with eyes brimming with tears. Most Burmese go to the government hospital because you only pay for your medicine, not the room. We loaded the van and set off for the hospital.

The hospital was an aging cinder block building originally painted white, but now gray with mildew. We walked past several large grimy rooms that looked like the emergency wards you might see in a World War II movie. Patients filled rooms, moaning on rusty iron beds outfitted with plywood and bamboo mats. Fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling with spider-webs, but only one worked. Ceiling fans were still, wings broken and never repaired. Antiquated IVs, catheters, and gauze bandages were common. The room smelled of alcohol, body odor, decaying flowers, and left-over food families brought from home, so the patients could eat. The woman in a corner bed was in a coma.

You could tell that most of the patients thought they were going to die. A group of doctors “made the rounds” stopping by each bed, checking, conferring, prescribing, then moving to the next patient. We waited and watched them visit twenty-five
patients before it was our housekeeper’s turn.

Their diagnosis…she had suffered an asthma attack. Medical education is so poor that many times the Burmese people have no idea what is happening to them. Our housekeeper returned to work a week later fortunate…at least Yangon has hospitals.

The villages of Mon people in Myanmar contain few medical clinics if any at all. Please pray with us about the medical needs of the Mon people. Part of our ministry connects Mon people with volunteer medical teams from the United States. Pray with us that God will raise up a network of doctors and nurses who give their vacation time to minister to the Mon.

We know that hurting children are safe in His arms. May the healing touch of Jesus draw the hearts of the Mon people to the cross of Christ and everlasting salvation.

Money Changers in Myanmar

I wrote this in 2004 when our family lived in Myanmar…

Money changers are an indispensable evil in Myanmar. The official bank change rate from Myanmar kyat to American dollars is six-to-one, but with a street money changer it is nine-hundred-to-one. So, you can pay fifty cents for a coke or you can pay ninety-five dollars for one. It’s totally up to you. The government wants Americans to pay the higher price, of course.

Secrecy shrouds changing money because the Junta arrests money changers. No advertising here, cautious money changers come equipped with cell phone, unmarked cars, and erratic delivery routes. You call ahead to find out the rising and falling exchange rate for the day and often talk to someone who then calls someone else. After guaranteeing their security, they make the drop.

But money changer demands are stiff . . . only new, unblemished, crisp bills that have no marks. That’s where I got into trouble.

A hundred-dollar bill with a slightly blemished picture of Benjamin Franklin, a tiny part of the right corner clipped, and a small black line doodled by some naive person on the front side. Mr. Franklin wasn’t sporting a mustache, I promise, but he might as well have been. That bill became known as “the unchangeable bill.”

I tried to exchange it at the hotel first because they are more helpful to tourists. The cashier pointed to the small mark on Mr. Franklin and asked me if I could give another one to exchange. Strike one.

Then, I slipped the bill behind several others at a store, hoping no one would notice the shuffle. The next day the store clerk returned it and asked for a new one because Mr. Franklin had a mustache. I was starting to feel like a money changer myself. Strike two.

I took Mr. Franklin to a dingy restaurant one evening and tried to pay for a small meal. I truthfully told the waiter it was the only money I had with me. Part of my sinister plan to rule the world, I suppose. Strike three. I was out. My taxi driver paid the bill and I sheepishly paid him back later.

Well, I could tell you more stories about trying to pay the airport tax, money changer cousins in Thailand, and other tries to exchange Mr. Franklin. All you need to know, though, is the money changers retired the side. At least nine different times I failed on my quest to get rid of the unchangeable bill.

What amazed me about the unchangeable bill is it represented the equivalent of three months salary for the common worker in Myanmar. One would think exchanging Mr. Franklin wouldn’t be hard at all.

At the end of World War II, Myanmar was the most prosperous countries in the region. Now she ranked as one of the poorest because of greedy government officials pillaging Myanmar’s rich, natural resources. A few years ago, salaries doubled and prices at the market followed suit. Months later, salaries returned to their original level, but store prices remained the same. Now, Myanmar doctors work two jobs trying to give their children a future.

Barring significant change, however, the children of Myanmar have little hope. Unless the Great Liberator sets them free from the Great Liar they will remain persecuted and poor. Believers cry to the God of the Exodus for deliverance from evil oppressors. Join us as we join them in prayer. Jesus loves nothing more than answering such prayers and bringing glory to His Father. Now is the time for Myanmar.

 

 

Language Learning in Myanmar

One Friday afternoon, I traveled downtown Yangon to purchase an electronic adapter. Weaving through the throng of sweaty shoppers, sidewalk vendors, and fruit hawkers, I finally located an electronics shop in the middle of the block. The store looked like a droid repair shop from somewhere, far, far away. Most of the merchandise was second-hand (that is being kind) and the few boxes of new items were stained with mildew. I found an adapter, paid my bill, and turned to go. It was then I heard a man behind me say, “Sufferin’ succotash.”

Now, I have heard many things since coming to Burma, but this had to be the most bizarre. Great pity filled my heart. “This poor man,” I thought, “has a speech impediment that makes him sound like Sylvester.” But then he began to talk in Burmese to the store owner, and the terrible truth dawned on me. His Burmese was flawless. There was no speech impediment! Apparently, this man had learned to speak English by watching endless hours of cartoons. Now, when he spoke in English, he sounded just like his teacher: Sylvester the cat!

I talked to Sylvester for several minutes and then politely excused myself. “I understand, you have other fish to fry,” he said and thanked me for letting him practice his English. Honestly, I wanted to tell him, “I’m sure you have other birds to catch as well.” But, I didn’t. In a country were most people don’t finish the third grade, someone with Sylvester’s motivation and abilities should be respected and not ridiculed. In a country where literacy is defined by the government as “being able to read a street sign,” people like Sylvester attempt to educate themselves. Unfortunately, most of the time they never quite catch the canary, and when they do, some big ugly dog clobbers their efforts, and they have to start all over again.

Pray for our efforts to increase literacy among the Mon people in Myanmar and Thailand. We are helping others teach Bible stories in English, Mon, and Burmese. The Myanmar government claims a 95% literacy rate, but given their standard of measure, much work is left to be done. Pray also for our ability to communicate the gospel at a heart level with the Mon people. Sylvester is a good example of how you can master a voice, but not the depth of a language. Adapting to a new language and culture is the key for authentic ministry. Significant transformation occurs as deep calls to deep. That’s all any of us really need. That’s all folks.

Bridges and Human Sacrifice

The following story may seem like an urban legend, but it is not.  It has been verified by reliable sources and represents a window into the superstitious, dark side of life in Myanmar….

Many people in Myanmar believe that a spirit must guard their house, or business, or a public place.  Usually, this amounts to constructing a spirit house, or its equivalent, and giving daily offerings of food and drink to appease the spirits.  In the case of a bridge, however, it is different.  At the completion of the project, someone is sent out to find a human sacrifice.  If they do not find their quarry, they themselves are taken.  The victim is beheaded with the belief that this will cause their spirit to always remain at the bridge, guarding and protecting all those who pass over.  Currently, the government of Myanmar has hundreds of bridges under construction.

The story goes a stranger entered a village and struck up a warm conversation with a young family.  The wife was at the point of birth and her husband asked the outsider to stay with her while he ran to the doctor to get help.  When he returned, mother and child were gone.  Frantically searching, he found them both underneath a recently completed bridge near the village.  Both had been decapitated.  Locals believe mother and child haunt the bridge and watch over it.  Neither probably received a funeral because Buddhists believe the mother and her child were being punished by karma for some heinous crime they had committed in a previous life.

Very aware of a spiritual world, the Burmese are willing to go to any length to protect themselves from evil spirits.  Most have never heard that One gave his life so that they could be free from the shackles of the Hater.  One has crushed the power of death and offers undying life to all those who will trust in Him.  Truly, it is Christ and not karma that rules over this world and holds all creation together, but they do not know and have not heard.  Pray that many will join us as we share the Good News and that countless Burmese will believe and receive the glory of God.  Pray that the things done in darkness will be exposed in the light and, as a result, many Burmese will turn to One who can save them forever.

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

————————-

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.