The Rev. Christa VonZychlin and the Rev. Wayne Nieminen are ELCA missionaries in Hong Kong. To support Christa and Wayne, or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/globalchurch/donate.
A little bit about our recent Mekong Mission Forum teaching trip to Myitkyina, Kachin State, Myanmar:
Of all the Mekong countries, Myanmar (or Burma) has the highest number of Christians. Much of this is due to the perseverance of a husband and wife American Baptist mission couple, Ann and Adoniram Judson, who established a Christian mission in Myanmar 200 years ago! The Myanmar Baptist Convention is expecting more than 20,000 visitors for the celebrations in Yangon next month. Of course, those old-time American missionaries just got the ball rolling. Since then there have been generations of faithful indigenous ministers, pastors, Christian parents and grandparents, and yes, Myanma/Burmese/Kachin missionaries who have attempted to live lives of service, witness and love in extremely difficult conditions, in response to the gospel.
Wayne and I had the great adventure of visiting the Kachin Theological College, in Kachin State, Myanmar. We had the opportunity to teach alongside a fantastically diverse group including Kachin Baptists, Independents, Anglicans, one Presbyterian (Dr. Lal Tin Hre from the Association of Theological Education in Myanmar who was the chief organizer of everything), two Lutherans (us!) and even one Roman Catholic priest! We Americans talk about ecumenism, but these folks are living it. When times are hard, when you are a minority ethnic group AND belong to a minority religion, when you realize the gospel calls us to be counter-cultural, then you unite for continuing education events. Beautiful!
Along with a trip to the site of the Myitsone Dam project (halted last year due to the outcry among environmentalists and the Kachin people who fear for their lives if the dam should break) and taking a boat ride in the cold and fast moving river we also had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Prayer Mountain, overlooking the exotic Kachin State landscape. Many people come up to pray for this land and its people who have been embroiled in war for years with the Burmese military (whose fighter jets we saw flying overhead, in what seemed a menacing show of power over the Kachin people).
We were able to briefly visit a camp for “internally displaced persons” filled with children. The children at the camp just shouted with joy as (together with the Kachin Baptist Church members) we shared the gospel with them through a simple children’s song. I imagine the sounds of the angels are no sweeter to God!
We also heard about a nearby camp where there are three toilets for 500 people, (a young Swedish guy working for UNICEF told us this … and thankfully it appears that, together with the local people, UNICEF is working to help this nearly unbelievable situation). Don’t take your toilets for granted, people!
We then heard from one of the Kachin ladies about her mission trip of encouragement and medical help in yet another camp, nearer to the Chinese border, where people have to learn how to function without arms and legs that have been amputated because of landmine casualties and lack of medical facilities.
As we begin to head into the Advent/Christmas season, (decorations are up all over Hong Kong when we arrived back last night) I am newly aware, again, of the real gospel of Advent/Christmas — that into this hurting and dangerous world, God sent his son, fully human, a vulnerable baby, born to a poor family, in a land occupied by the Romans, where babies could be slaughtered upon the whims of a ruler.
What love is this that God gives to us, and which we are called to share in practical ways?