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NATIONAL REPORT: MYANMAR

Thawng Khan Siing

Scope of Report

This report is based mainly on the mission works of Myanmar Baptist Convention. I would like to present this report from four perspectives: Biblical, historical, strategic and global. Then I will conclude by inviting churches and organizations to partner with us, in Myanmar missions.

 

MBC Mission: Biblical Perspective

Our greatest concern, at MBC, is to convince our churches according to biblical perspectives and be encouraged to implement them in practical mission fields. In one sentence our mission is: “To make MBC churches Great Commission Churches.” Our main emphasis is …

 

  1. The Church must ‘go’ to make disciples of all nations. (Matt. 28:19-20)

Go to Plant Churches: Due to unfavorable political and social situations in the past, for more than five decades, the church in Myanmar had been used to ‘sit’ with fear. Due to this situation, our mission theology emphasis became ‘come and see’ instead of ‘go and witness’. Being light and salt is now our highest agenda among churches.

Now, our emphasis is to GO to make disciples all nations as commanded by the risen Lord. In most common practices we can see three forms of mission in Myanmar: Evangelization means sharing the gospel, Disciple-making means teaching the Bible in depth and church planting, not as a step by step process but separate actions. But we at MBC, try our best to make it as long term process by sharing the gospel, teaching new converts to become true disciples and forming them to be a reproducing new church.

GO  to All Peoples by Three Means: For us, all nations means, every and any unreached people groups of different language and dialects with one commonness. At least there are over 100 out of 135 languages, still in need of mission works among them.

Firstly MBC encourages to go by means of praying by adopting an unreached people. Building networks and sharing information from mission fields are very helpful here. We set the second week of July, for 168 hours in chain-prayer, as MBC Prayer Mobilization. All Baptists are praying. Here, we accompany prayers with fasting, and spiritual warfare with Bible studies.

Secondly our churches are encouraged to support mission, especially in financial terms. Though poverty is a reality, we believe that if there is a will there is a way to support the church and her ministry. A church with a normal size membership and are actively serving, supports as much as 137 missionaries in cross-cultural, far-flung mission fields. Every church is urged to engage in mission giving, even in co-operation with other churches.

Finally each and every Baptist member is expected to share their faith as a witness. The example of the first century believers as recorded in Acts. 11:19-21 is very helpful. Sharing the fruits of witnessing makes the believers mostly inspired.

  1. To make the gospel preached to all peoples at all places. (Mk. 16:15, Acts. 1:8)

To all Kinds and Cultures of People at all Places: Our beloved missionary and Bible translator Adoniram Judson beautifully translated Mark 16:15 as Go ye into all the lives and walks instead of world. That means social classes like soldiers, prisoners, taxi drivers in Yangon city, AIDS victims in the border areas; educational workers in Mandalay, disaster and war victims in temporary camps, etc. are on our agenda to share the gospel with.

As to another biblical emphasis in Acts 1:8—From Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, we stressed the importance of mission work in our own Jerusalem, where we are culturally at home. The problem with the Baptists in Myanmar is they usually over look the need for this. As we practice the Believers’ Baptism, many sincere Baptists have taken for granted that a church member is a baptized member, at the same time and a born-again believer. Because of this, in certain cases, believers from other denominations come to Baptist churches to the invitation of a Baptist member or to win their Baptist friend sincerely but resulted to unfavorable things like turmoil instead of peace and co-operation in evangelism.

We also stressed the importance of one conjunction in KJV: both in Jerusalem, and in all — the uttermost part of the earth. Mission is but seeking ways to preach the gospel to all places: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost part of the earth at the same time.

  1. Blessings of being a missional church. (Acts. 11:26)

Examples of Two Churches: Christianity started out from Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. The Jerusalem church is with such historical dignity and traditions as the center of Jewish culture but, in one sense, it was not so much missional or obedient to the great commission as it should be. After preaching the gospel all around in Jerusalem (Acts. 5:28), they have filled Jerusalem with their doctrine, the gospel of Jesus, it was a perfect time to move ahead as commanded by the Lord. But they failed to do it. That was the beginning of all calamities which can be seen in each and every church without enough mission spirit: No more conversions as seen in Acts. 4:4, but financial related problems (Chapter 5), internal church splits (Chapter 6) and persecutions (Chapter 7) followed by dispersions (Chapter 8).

On the other hand the Antioch church was started through the witness of dispersed church members of Jerusalem. So to say, because of persecution that arose due to Stephen’s stoning to death, who travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only (Acts 11:19). The good thing is the Antioch church appointed Barnabas and Saul, their two best teachers out of five, for the mission enterprise. (Acts 13:2-3)

So Antioch became the first missionary sending church to initiate a missionary movement.  The Bible records: And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea (Acts 11:29). That means the Antioch church deserved to be called the first Christian Church and to enjoy physical blessings.

Examples of Two Seas: Our church members got inspired as we share the similarities and differences of two seas in the Bible, Galilee and Dead Sea. Galilee has River Jordan flowing in and flowing out while Dead Sea is of flowing in only. The Sea of Galilee was fully interwoven with the life of the Lord Jesus before and after resurrection. On the other hand no Bible record of Jesus visiting the Dead Sea can be seen in the Bible. To be flowing out with mission is the key to a healthy church.

MBC Mission: Historical Perspective

Officially speaking Christians in Myanmar includes Catholics. With this background I would like to present the mission history of Myanmar in four eras as following.

  1. Pre Judson Era (1514-1812)

Arrival of the Catholic Mission: Following the trade routes of the Portuguese merchants, The first Catholic missionaries arrived in Myanmar in 1514. But to certain reasons the mission was not very much fruitful as it should be and the main reason was the response of the local people. It was seen and labeled as 3M mission strategy: Merchants, Military, and Missionaries. This was as abhorable as it was to them until this day,

Arrival of the English Baptist Mission: After these arrivals, there were three hundred years of Catholic mission, and British Baptist mission led by Felix Carey, the son of the renowned missionary William Carey who arrived in 1806 with very little success.  Here, I can positively justify why God didn’t allow English Baptist mission to succeed as the history later revealed that the British Empire was invading Myanmar with three-step intentional wars respectively in 1824, 1852 and 1885. The God of history carefully arranged the gospel attempts in Myanmar as not to be misunderstood and identified with colonialism. Felix Carey had given up his missionary career and served as an interpreter to Myanmar kings.

  1. Judson Era (1813-1850)

The Protestant mission in Myanmar began with Adoniram Judson, the chosen vessel, in 1813.

Why Judson: It’s no wonder God had chosen this young American atheist to be able to sympathize with Buddhist philosophy, the dominant religion in Myanmar, since 1044 AD. Though all the white foreigners are mistrusted, Adoniram Judson successfully built good relationships through his relevant mission strategy: Incarnation, cross-culture and holistic approach, etc. His model “Service and Sacrifice” becomes the motto of MBC.

  1. Post Judson Era (1851-2013)

Within this era, about one century-long period, the mission had been growing to become the largest religious organization in the country. According to political settings this period can be seen in three divisions: Sowing and Expansion (1851-1948), Rooting (1948-1962), Fruiting and Jubilation (1962-2013).

Sowing and Expansion (1851-1948):  When Judson was promoted “To the Golden Shore” in 1850 he left behind 74 local churches, 7904 believers with 892 baptized members led by a handful of American missionaries. With the strenuous efforts of them, the gospel had been vastly introduced to many different races and tribes. A number of people movements to the gospel were recorded during this time. In 1865 the Burma Baptist Missionary Society was formed and the name later changed to Burma Baptist Missionary Convention, Burma Baptist Convention, etc. and now it is known as MBC.

Rooting (1948-1962): After Myanmar’s independence from the British rule in 1948, within a very brief period of democracy , on its first wave, instead of enjoying religious freedom and peace, much more difficulties and challenges openly broke out.  It was because the public as the winning party and its government, backup by nationalistic Buddhism,  supported the movement of the legislature that passed Buddhism as the state religion. On the other hand the gospel very quickly spread to the tribal groups and was firmly rooted in them. Today Kachins with 97%, Chins with 85%, Lisu and Lahus about 50-60% and Kayins with 30-40% of the population are all Christians.

Fruiting (1962-2010): In 1962 the military seized  the government power and they expelled all the missionaries in 1963. As the regime practiced the so-called Myanmar way of Socialism, the country which is very rich in natural resources, went down to substantial poverty until it became LDC member in 1970s.  However the Church in Myanmar at large efficiently copes with challenges along the way.

The story turned out to be the worst after the military took power and began cracking down the country’s democracy demanding rallies in 1988. The church and its mission, along with democracy movements, met the most severe treatment of history. Some churches were burned down and new church buildings were not allowed. Worship services and gatherings were strictly limited. Pastors and ministers were sent to forced labor, and some were killed. Ethnic areas were raided very often to security reasons but getting against Christianity was mainly in the mind. However Myanmar church history itself was a proof of the saying: Blood of the saints, Seed of the Church.

On the other hand, during this period, most of the remarkable milestones, jubilee celebrations followed by mission sending, can be seen. For example, the Kachin Baptist Convention made history by launching out the renowned “Three-year Three Hundred Mission” (1978-1980) by sending out 300 evangelists to preach to every Kachin villages to the goal of evangelizing all their peoples. It was after their celebration of Baptist Mission centenary in 1977. The Asho Chins, living in plain regions, celebrated their jubilee in 1988, hillside Chins in Chin land also did in 1999, etc. Chins also adopted a mission called “Chins for Christ in One Century”, known as CCOC(1983-1999) to mark the centenary. Many other similar mission projects were practiced by other smaller dialect groups.

Coincidently this period was full of jubilee celebrations for MBC and its churches. MBC’s 150th anniversary of the gospel came in 1963 a year after the  seizing of power of the military, while the 175th exactly came in 1988 in which the military regime took power again and brutally subjugated everyone. As “jubilee” in the Bible times was very closely related to freedom. It has long been our heart’s deepest yearnings, including our beloved missionary Judson that the Myanmar Bicentenary will play a significant landmark of changes in Myanmar. Since the constitution adapted the   second wave democratic kind of government in 2011, the future has been as bright as never before.

  1. Beyond Bicentenary Baptist Mission Era (2014-)

After celebrating the bicentenary jubilee in 2013 MBC adopted a new project entitled “Beyond 200 Baptist Mission”. To ensure its effectiveness a church planting mission project was also adopted, “Golden Myanmar Baptist Mission-2nd Decade”(2014-2024) with the aim of evangelizing the country, mainly focused on the unreached people groups, with a target of making Baptist churches reach 6000 in number, and 10% of the Myanmar population become Christians.

MBC Mission: Strategy Perspective

MBC has been very keen to the given situations. We usually draft projects and tried to implement accordingly. Thus, mission projects such as: Survival and Grace Mission (1963-1973), Mission to Communities (1973-1982), Maturing the Church (1983-1992), AD 2000 Baptist Mission (1992-2002) and Golden Myanmar Baptist Mission (2003-2013), etc. come into being.

In adopting our strategies we are very well aware of the religious composition and the role of Christians in this country. Out of Myanmar population, 5-6%  are Christians, and 95% are from minorities from hillside tribal peoples. Due to years of mistrust and enmity because of discrimination based on racial and religious affiliations, the mission in Myanmar calls for carefully designed strategy and relevant methods. Our most important strategies can be seen as follows.

  1. Incarnation Mission

As termed by the late Dr. Ralph D. Winter, the mission in Myanmar is of E3 mission: Mission to different culture and peoples, different places and religions. Therefore we need to get inside to the worldview pattern of the unbelievers we target to share the gospel with.  To a typical Buddhist, the Race, the Language and the Religion go together. Therefore we encourage living among them and thinking like a Bhamar if one is to witness to a Bhamar as Paul says: yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. (1Cor. 9:19)

  1. Contextualization

To be frank,  we are not very much successful at contextualizing the gospel in the way our people could understand and conceive as the only truth and to get outside of samsara, the reincarnation or endless cycle of birth as Buddhism has taught. We preach the gospel of the remission of sin by the death of Jesus but they believe all the evil things must be rid-off through meditation of one self alone. We wanted to introduce eternal life to their spirit but they believe that nothing is eternal. Actually they do not want it as their main idea is to cut off the cycle of samsara. Here, we give one big careful notion that contextualization is of a great strategy, the method only but not of the message.

  1. Unreached People Groups Prioritized

As seen in the Biblical Perspective section, our mission strategy is people groups based. In doing this we prioritize the major UPGs like Bhamar (Burmese) being the largest group with 63% of the population with only 0.07% Christians, for example. The second group is Shan with 13% of the population but only 0.05% Christians. The third largest group is Rakhine, 6.54% of the population, with less than 0.01% believers. Mon follows with 3.48% of the population but only with less than 1.0% Christians. We give very careful approach to them with unique solution methods instead of standardized ones.

  1. Cross-cultural Mission

To put together the things we discussed, the barrier we need to get across is cultural. Myanmar is a rich mosaic of culture that witnessing in Myanmar requires some necessary cross-cultural understandings. Larger people groups are suffering from cultural superiority complex. They think Christians, most of them minorities, are second-class citizens.

  1. Some relevant methods

Myanmar society, especially the Buddhists, is community based. To get into them is somewhat difficult. Here is a list of methods we saw fit for Myanmar mission field.

Business as Mission: In every village and town blocs there is an immigration form 10-B to be filled up by the newcomers which can be turned down by the community head. Many missionaries could not access to the desired target because of this. But if one is a business owner he or she is not likely to be treated as such. We encourage small businesses as an entry visa to the field, platform for contact and source of funding. On the other hand excessive concern to the business, in many instances, can become a hindrance to mission effectiveness.

Man of Peace: The person with whom the missionary identified is key to the response and impression of the local populace. In cases of being unable to identify any one, becoming a man of peace through community development/NGO work is necessary.

Family Evangelization: Myanmar society is family based. If someone gets out of the family cluster, he or she has no place to fully identify with. Pulling new converts out of their family circle, even with good intention, is strategically wrong. They will never get inside back. Our encouragement is: Go home — and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. (Mark 5:19)

 

MBC Mission: Globalization Perspective

Globalization brings Change: Speedy and forceful change to Myanmar churches and its mission with very heavy and irresistible impact. In responding to these, we put them in two categories: Adaptation and Mission. We need to adapt to some issues while with others, we need to respond with a mission. MBC has been, as a big organization with high value on stability, usually very slow to take action in any case. Nevertheless it’s necessary to take action to the following with certain necessary changes from MBC.

  1. Adaptation to Globalization Impacts

Flexible Change: Given the internet and information technology at hand we at MBC, need to make some necessary and flexible change to be in line with the speedily changing world. We need to evaluate the relevancy of our protocols, by-laws, official process, etc. Or we can compensate the risk by improving managerial skills like empowering and delegating more and more, etc. Leadership promotion and development is a must for us in which we need to take part with the mission-minded churches around the world.

Value Change: Globalization heavily imported various worship styles and any sort of doctrines. The so called gospels with the effect on taste and even lifestyle bring changes to MBC churches and believers. Unrest and instability also ask for our careful response to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16).

  1. Mission to Globalization Issues

For us, at MBC, globalization brings a mandate to change our mission focus. Here are some important issues.

Re-emphasizing Biblical Values: Because of globalization believers become more liberal, in one word. Lifestyles become secular; attitudes become indifferent, ego centric or individual based, there is no wonder Jesus said: when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8). We have to re-emphasize biblical values and teachings.

Urban Mission: Due to globalization and many reasons like security, job and better life, disaster and so on Myanmar become more urbanize, very rapidly, than ever.  At the same time urban mission seems to be more secure or promising than rural. Urban church planting is very important to our mission.

Migrant Mission: In the time of globalization, for better jobs and education, for some due to it’s political concern, Myanmar becomes a migrant nation. Its citizens migrated to at least 37 different countries. Thailand alone has not less than 4 million Myanmar migrants. Once they are away from home they feel lonely and helpless that they become very receptive to the gospel as never before. Millions of Myanmar migrants around the world, someone estimated at 5-6 million, have been waiting for a church planting effort among them. To meet this need we form International Myanmar Baptist Fellowship in 2013. Its bi-annual gathering will be held during September 13-17, 2016 in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

Internet Mission: Globalization makes this generation digital. Because of certain physical barriers, internet evangelism seems to be promising than ever. It has its own advantages such as directness, time saving, and openness without any string attached from the seekers’ side. MBC is going online with Bible correspondence, news release, and so on.

 


 

Dr. Thawng Khan Siing is the Director for Evangelism and Missions of Myanmar Baptist Convention. MBC includes over 5000 local churches which are formed into 115 church associations, 18 regional and racial conventions. As the largest and strongest Christian body in the country it has 1.8 million members out of 2.5 Christians in Myanmar, representing 72% its population. mbcem.mission@gmail.com

 


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