But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. — 2 Co 4:7-10 (NIV)
Some of you may have read Naomi Reed’s ‘The Plum Tree in the Desert’ and been inspired or overwhelmed. My favourite story from Reed is called She Must Love Us about Dr Iris who went back to Malkangiri, India, after her husband Paul’s death and where they had had no response. Within six months, 36 people came to Iris and asked to be baptised. They said “You see, she loves us. She came back. The God she loves must be real.” Can we look at the trials and joys of others and grasp that their joys are enough? When we can’t we are operating on feelings, but feelings are real and it’s Paul’s BUT NOTs — I am going to call them KNOTS later — that we must choose to focus on and operate within.
We are in Myanmar (yes, where?), previously known as Burma, west of Thailand, east of Bangladesh and south of China. Since 2015 this country has become more democratic, with the promotion of Aung San Suu Kyi to Chief Adviser, and following a number of other political and economic advances. The West knows little of the impact of the military junta here. Professors and students were slaughtered, with Suu Kyi only escaping because of her heritage. Going forward, it will be the young and the God-centred nationals who will build this nation. Those who have returned with the beginnings of democracy come with commercial and practical skills. They have an opportunity to build businesses and families, and churches with values and vision. The next generation (we could name students) can be Myanmar leaders. Other MKs we have as students can take on the UN and North Korea, and evangelise Japan with success.
PAIS (Promise an International School) has a unique place and function to fulfill in this beginning. On the back of the experience and testimony of our leaders, Promise values in students and staff alike will build a culture the nation can be rightly proud of. We chose Promise values in the acronym PROMISE: Perseverance, Respect, Obedience, Mercy, Integrity, Service and Excellence. Already our school’s community interaction includes sponsoring a local band, assisting with building costs at a local school, improving the road for both our benefit and that of the community, and continuing to emploa local builder. Our Myanmar Christian staff build bridges by just chatting with the locals in the street — the Buddhist street. How important that liaison might become, in a time of sickness or disaster, God knows and loves.
Back to feelings. We arrive in this field as older and maybe ‘wiser’ heads to assist in the nurture and encouragement of students and staff alike. We love to play ‘grandparents’ (we aren’t yet in reality) and parents to those whose mums and dads and support groups are far away. It delights us to see the young — vibrant and passionate young families and young ladies (where are more young men?), from our own country and from several others.
We feel we can continue here for a little while. We
feel great — Grahame Kerr commented that I was looking 10 years younger and he says he wasn’t aware it was my birthday. We feel healthy; we sleep restfully in the midst of a vibrant, close-knit, dense apartment-building city-street community. We feel we can cope, and when we falter (and we do) we feel we can reliably call for prayer assistance from family and church family. When we feel overwhelmed, tired, niggled or ill — more significantly and potently than ever before in our lives — prayer has been the answer.
We had such good advice before we came: what to expect; what to consider; read Foreign to Familiar (by Sarah Lanier) — and we’ve had such brilliant ongoing support on home visits and even pastoral care visitation.
We feel different — maybe the Holy Spirit is saying to the Father and Son “Now I can finally work on them to make them what they ought to be.” On our 12-month visit home we helped out with the distribution of notices for a meeting at Faith Community Church. We spent two hours wandering through beautiful Buderim with its family homes (i.e. accommodating at most six persons) on half-hectare blocks — it felt so different to Hlaing, Yangon. The level of noise was so different — not even an occasional sound of music (demographic and noise pollution laws explain that I guess) and the apparently non-existent population made the whole area feel so different. Our hearts longed for the security of activity and noise 24/7, of the callers on the street that signal by their predictability “Get moving — the school bus will be leaving in 15 minutes!”
Other workers of course feel differently and have struggled with the street as a poor substitute for the backyard they could have at home in Australia or elsewhere. We feel their frustration as they limit screen time on devices with little to substitute. Without backyards are teenagers looking more
than normally bloated and lethargic? Far from it — we can’t make it through the school yard carrying anything without more than one offer of assistance. Our Christian education must cover spiritual attitudes to naivety and corruption (and even the Internet) or this gorgeous culture will lose its spontaneity, but it feels wonderful now.
Sometimes we feel stress from back home — having to say goodbye to a much loved but aged pet from a distance, literally days before our return, felt awful (but just a pet obviously). Others have had to make extra support trips home to family. One of our young ladies lost a close friend and relative while she was here and clearly felt overwhelmingly sad. Once again, the way we feel about such happenings and difficulties — feeling overwhelmed and allowing the support mechanisms available to us to work and support — are part of the Spirit’s work in the growth in our lives.
Stepping out in faith is scary — our physical, but perhaps not financial, existence would be more comfortable on the Sunshine Coast in Australia. Paul states (and Naomi Reed testifies to) the NOTS or KNOTS of 2 Corinthians 4:7-9. We now live and feel in this new environment as if we are going hand over hand in the dark, somewhat guided only by a secure rope with knots — Knot of us, Knot crushed, Knot in despair, Knot abandoned, Knot destroyed.
Do we have an overwhelming feeling of this journey’s ‘rightness’? Yes! Still feel scared? Yes!
by Ruth Harriott