The logistics of God’s work…

Before going to Myanmar on a missionary encounter trip I had been told by friends and coworkers that people were incarcerated and even persecuted for openly claiming to be a christian. I had spoken with my girls about the dangers and possibilities of such things, but also of how the Lord was taking me on this path. We discussed how we had to trust that He would take me and also bring me back safely.

Once in Myanmar, I realized that although there were people that were indeed still being persecuted and displaced because of their faith, there were thousands upon thousands that openly worshipped God and felt honored in doing so. What the media failed to report was that christianity in Myanmar had grown. And yes there were people in the thousands whose villages were being destroyed, but it was in the border areas and there were christians and other organizations in fact that were assisting with their basic needs and survival.

When my group of 17 women arrived at the various women’s groups and associations we openly prayed and worshipped God. I did notice however that christmas was not celebrated in this country. I mean, there were no christmas trees, no christmas lights on buildings, no santa or even advertisements making any reference to the commercialism of christmas. Nothing. Although our calendars said it was December, we were walking in humid tropical weather. No one mentioned the shopping that was not getting done for our christmas celebrations at home, it was as if it were summer. It was refreshing and odd.

Many times in my life when I was going through what felt as an impossible season in my life, I’ve looked around me and seen people still laughing and going on with their lives. While my life has been in shambles I’ve wondered how others could be happy when I was not. Didn’t they know what I was going through? I’ve sometimes felt the urge to shout to the world that they need to stop carrying on because I’m hurting.In this instance I wanted to shout that in a few days we would be celebrating the birth our savior.

One of our guides who was a teacher at the Christian seminary in Myanmar reminded us that most of the Burmese had never even heard of Jesus Christ. Those that did didn’t have money to spare on frivolous things such as lights and trees. They celebrated by going to worship, they were honored by being allowed to gather and praise. She wasn’t condescending, she was simply surprised to hear how we americans celebrated. (Tell me again about this missionary ENCOUNTER trip…where you encounter God?)

A lesson that kept coming up in the months before this trip was the scripture of when Jesus fed the five thousand. Crowds of thousands followed Jesus. On this particular afternoon the disciples told Jesus that he should send the crowd away to find food and lodging for themselves. Jesus told them to feed the crowd instead. The disciples stunned at Jesus’ instruction informed him that they had nothing. A boy came forward and offered what he had which were 5 loaves of bread and two fish. The bible tells that there were about 5,000 men, but women and children were also present so you can only imagine the size of the crowd.

Jesus then instructs them to divide the crowd into smaller groups of fifty. He takes the loaves of bread and the fish and he looks up to heaven and gave thanks. The disciples proceeded to feed the people and still had twelve baskets of food left over.

Now, the bible doesn’t talk about specific logistics of this mass feeding of people. It doesn’t go to describe how long it took, how much they ate, how many small groups there were, if anyone helped besides the disciples, or who prepared the pieces in the baskets, or where the baskets even came from. It simply states that these events happened. Sometimes that is where our faith is challenged because we don’t see it prepared before us and because we’re older and out of practice, our imaginations can’t quite wrap around the facts.

At the 200th annual  Judson missionary celebration we were told at one particular service that there were about 30,000 people all gathered at that moment in that vicinity to praise and worship. This particular gathering was important and very special to all because they were going to partake in communion. How on earth were they going to accomplish this I asked myself.

At my home church getting everyone quiet and seated before the service is still a task in itself. When communion comes around, it’s a traditional process that takes about 17 minutes from when the deacons walk down the aisle, to the bible readings, to the prayers, to distribution of the bread, then the grape juice and then the prayer again. It’s a process. I was excited to witness this and wondered how these people planned to share in communion with everyone with out taking the whole afternoon to do so. Would there be a mob? Would we become impatient?

And then there we were. The congregation patiently waiting for our piece of bread and juice to celebrate the life and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. I was on the edge of my seat. I had pulled my camera out and was ready to shoot and capture this herculean task. (Out of reverence I don’t usually pull my camera out to take infinite pictures in a sanctuary, so I had asked for permission to do so and gotten approval)

There was a special guest who would lead, a clergyman from so and so province, it was an honor to partake in this gathering he said and he blessed the communion. Three other clergymen had accepted the honor to share in this event and they also prayed for the bread, juice and priviledge. When it was time to hand out the bread and juice that represented the body of christ like in the last super, deacons from the various churches (hundreds of them) began coming forward and produced baskets filled with small pieces of bread and small bottles of grape juice.

At the end of the last prayer and at the pre-determined signal they very orderly began their task of handing out of the Lord’s communion. Each of them went in different directions. some went down the steps to the two stories bellow to share with the thousands of parishioners that were seated in the other floors of the building. Others went into the gardens and still others disappeared into unknown areas.

As we all sat there waiting for our communion with God the musical group sang. I broke my reverence to look around as a deacon and deaconess approached with our bread and juice. As the first basket with bread got to me I took my bread and within minutes another basket filled with small bottles of juices made its way to me. I took the bottle and when it came to say the final  prayer I ate my piece of bread, placed the bottle of juice in my pocket and said a silent prayer of forgiveness for my sins, yes, but for wanting to keep that little bottle to remind me of all of this.

 

In all, communion took a little over 25 minutes. I must admit that I didn’t pay attention to what followed. I was still in total awe of the communion that I had just witnessed. The planning that must have gone into it! The cost, the time, the volunteers, the preparation, the blessings, the prayers, the faith, the convictions, the sacrifice and the symbolism! I wanted to stand on my pew and praise my Lord!!! Did everyone realize what we had just witnessed? Did we understand the sacrifice that Jesus had made on the cross for the 30,000 that were gathered at that very moment?! I promise you that it took all of my strength to stay seated and contain the joy that I felt at that very moment to be there.

God had safely taken me all the way to Myanmar to share in communion with thousands of brothers and sisters who’s language I didn’t understand, but who shared in the faith as me. We were all praying in at least 16 different languages and countless dialects to the same God!!!

I could only sit and wonder how it must have been for the crowd of 5,ooo+ that day in the presence of Jesus when he shared in the miracle of the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and fed the multitude.

In the remaining days in Myanmar, I walked in the comfort and safety of my faith. I walked in total freedom knowing that God was with me. He was there, walking before me, beside me and behind me. I wore a black t-shirt with a cross on it for all to see. My group wasn’t phased by it, some of the ladies even liked it. The people in the streets stared at us, but I will never know if it was the novelty of our looks, or of the white cross on my black shirt. Nonetheless, I was beginning to understand and also share in the knowledge that these ladies walked this earth with. Years before they had already come to understand the lessons that I was just now learning…about being free in God. And that God doesn’t lead you where he can’t go.

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On our trip we visited the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. I walked barefoot everywhere in my loud lava lava and christian t-shirt. I whipped out my camera always respectful of the people. Even before the Judsons had arrived this golden pagoda was hundreds of years old. I walked in awe for about 2 hours with Kim and her mom. Yes I was there physically enjoying this sight…but my spirit was in worship. My heart and my soul rejoiced with the opportunity to walk amongst this distant culture. I thanked God for every snap of my camera and for closing doors and opening new ones just so I could be there.

We also visited different places that might be considered touristy. We went to a market. We went to a pier. At that time and place in time, western tourism was not as evident or thriving as it is in other parts of Asia. There were no McDonalds or Starbucks on any corners. The cars were old. People walked everywhere. We saw progress, but western influences in commerce or in fast food were not as present as let’s say El Salvador. It was a step back into time. Even the style of architecture is beautifully different.

We also visited a World War II Cemetery. That experience made me feel sad. Walking amongst the graves of fallen soldiers so far from their homelands. That just brings different sorrow and an experience to share at another time.

 

 

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