Monthly Archives: October 2018

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.