Monday, September 1

Arrival in Myanmar

We arrived in Myanmar on Thursday morning. Our plane was not only on time; it was actually a little bit early. Going through immigration and customs was an entirely different experience this trip than it ever has been. First, because of the SARS concern in this part of the world, the health department had a screening system set up. We filled out forms while still on the aircraft, documenting where we had been and whether we had come into contact with any SARS victims. We filled out the form on the aircraft and then handed it in to the authorities at the terminal, who took our temperatures and gave us forms saying we were admitted by the health department.

Second, somebody apparently bought a lot of computers for the Myanmar government. Entering through immigration has never been easier or faster for me. In fact, had it not been for the fact that our trunks were among the last to leave the plane, we would have been completely through the immigrations/customs process at the airport in record time.

Finally, in the past the Foreign Exchange Bank has been located just past immigration and it has been mandatory for visitors to Myanmar to purchase $200 worth of Foreign Exchange Currency (FECs). FECs are denominated as US currrency and can be spent only in Myanmar; and there are no refunds. It has the effect of assuring that every visitor will spend at least $200 on the trip. Inflation being what it is here, it is no longer difficult to spend $200 in Myanmar, however. There was no notice or sign; the kiosks were simply not manned. I asked one of the customs officials about buying FECs and he simply informed me that if I really wanted to purchase some, there was still a branch of the Foreign Exchange Bank at the airport. It was clear that he could not think of a reason why someone would actually want to purchase them, though.

Three Cars, Six Trunks, and Five People

We had sufficient luggage that the small cars used even by hotels was not enough. U Khin (proprietor of the Golden Guest Inn) had two cars to take us to the hotel, but we also had to hire a "town ace" minivan to carry us all. Siang Hope and his cousin came to the airport to see us in, so there were five people in addition to our luggage. We ended up with five pieces of "carry on" luggage, plus six trunks full of books and clothes. We did our best to "max out" the weight allowance on our luggage. Each piece was supposed to be only up to 70 lbs. We tried to make sure that when we left our house that each of them was at least 67 lbs. and as close to 70 lbs. as we could get without going over the limit. The baggage handlers at the airport definitely earned their tips from us. We arrived at the hotel with all bags intact.

Matt, Pasiang, his cousin, and I went into town to pick up a few incidentals. We stopped by Blazon, Super One, and one other shopping "mall" before finally finding everything we needed. We also dropped my Greek notes off at a printer who made copies for each of the students who will be in my Greek class next week. By the time we finished up with the shopping and other errands, neither Matt nor I could keep our eyes open. I was falling asleep at every stoplight. So we returned to the GGI, where I fell asleep by four o'clock and slept the clock around.

Meeting With The City Star Establishment

I spent most of Friday meeting with the managers of the City Star hotel. The City Star is conveniently located near downtown Yangon in an area called Sule Plaza. Pasiang and I spent most of the morning in meetings with Zaw Lin Htut. We negotiated a room rate that was $3 per day lower than what we paid last year and for a larger meeting room. More importantly, we only have to pay for the days we are actually using the room. Last year the negotiations were handled by a different national and the terms were much less favorable. We met in a sleeping room in which the bed had been removed and tables put up. There was barely room to move. We had to pay to keep the room "reserved," which meant that they were charging us for the days we were out of town and the weekend days as well. So we went into this negotiation already knowing what changes we wanted to see. We actually have a regular meeting room this year -- the same room where we held final exams last year. We are paying $3 less per day and we are paying only for those days we actually use the room.

Other Changes in Our Working Environment

Of course I have been here only a few days, but so much seems to me to have changed. Everything seems more open than in the past. I do not mean that there has been open and evident repression in past years. But there is such a thing as "atmosphere" in a city or nation that one may not notice when he is located there every day. It is the "atmosphere" that seems to have changed. People still stare at us because it is unusual to see westerners on the street (especially dressed in Burmese attire), but when we smile they smile back; when we joke they laugh. The Myanmar people are very friendly -- that has not changed. Perhaps as the trip progresses I will be able to put my finger on the change with greater accuracy. Friday closed with a very profitable meeting with Rev. Thang Bwee of Reformed Bible Institute. We discussed curriculum, future plans, financing, and had a very good time of prayer together before he left.

Saturday's Sad Meeting

MTM decided last spring to sponsor up to six theological students to attend the RBI of Rev. Thang Bwee. Though six students came down from Kale, only five stayed. Those five students requested to meet with me on Saturday at 11:00. The meeting lasted for nearly two hours, so it is difficult to summarize in a paragraph. The students originally came to Yangon with the idea that they were going to be learning the Bible in English -- or so they said. I asked them if they already know English and each of them replied in the negative. They seemed genuinely surprised that I would then ask how they expected to understand what they were studying if they did not speak the language in which they expected to study. They assured me, however, that they would be able to learn English as they studied. They did not know that Rev. Thang Bwee visited me on Friday evening. They also apparently did not know that I had copies of their transcripts and educational records. I encouraged them to stay the course for the coming year. Their request of me was that we sponsor them elsewhere. I told them that was not going to happen. They were, of course, free to attend school anywhere they wish. But MTM will not sponsor them at any school but a reformed school. This means higher standards and a more vigorous curriculum. It also means that it will not be simply a school where students can come to learn English and pretend to be doing church work. There is nothing wrong with having an English school (we hope to have one), but it is not identical to studying for the ministry and should not be confused with that. Anyway, I pointed out to the students that they have a history of quitting one school after another for several years (I knew this because I had their academic records in my hand) and that regardless of the academic requirements of their study, there are spiritual issues of faithfulness and steadfastness involved. I explained that it would do their souls positive harm to continue the habit of quitting in the face of difficulty and encouraged them to stay the course. Of course, one of the advantages of being young is that young people possess all wisdom. So they simply explained that their reason for coming to me was not to gather counsel, but simply to gather funds for a different school. At one point I even explained a possible basis for their request. I said that by next Friday I would prepare an English comprehension exam for them. I would commit to sending them to a school where courses are taught in English if they passed the exam. But if they failed the exam, then they would have to commit to staying at RBI until the end of the school year. Of course, even as I suspected, they could not make such a commitment because they knew themselves that they could not pass such an exam. They had not even thought through how they would get home or what they would do once they arrived there; they simply wanted to quit. I could not conscientiously leave these six youngsters on the streets of Yangon without any knowledge of how to get home so I gave them busfare, but also explained that my gift should not be construed as an endorsement of their plans (or lack thereof). So, finally, I prayed for them that God would not hold this against them, but would forgive it for Christ's sake and that even as John Mark eventually became useful to Paul's ministry that God would also make these young men useful for the ministry in his own time and in his own way.

Why Send Home Willing Workers?

In a word, because there is a difference between a willing worker and a willful worker. Calvin quoted Augustine as saying that the three indispensible virtues for a Christian minister are humility, humility, and humility. When a man claims to have been called into the ministry but already thinks he knows more than his teachers how he should be prepared for the battle, he is not yet in the place of a disciple. He still has not learned the first lesson of discipleship. Part of the problem with these five young men, I am convinced, arises from a false idea of a call to the ministry. They have been encouraged to drop out of "secular" school in order to follow the ministry. They have left first one school then another as they have been able to convince sponsors that there was a problem with the "school." Of course there is not going to be a perfect school this side of Jordan. But they have been encouraged to think that their assessment of a school has a greater validity than the assessments of their elders and sponsors. Such pride in such young candidates is a harbinger of worse things to come. The requirements for the ministry are both spiritual and academic. One without the other is not much use. The school and the presbytery have a responsibility to assess a man's academic gifts to determine if he really has the gifts requisite for the ministry. But there is also a responsibility that falls to the churches to assess a man's spiritual potential for the ministry. If a man has a history of quitting under pressure or of not finishing work assigned to him or of not working well without supervision or of being unwilling to do difficult or unsavory work, his problem is not fundamentally academic. His problem is fundamentally spiritual and should be approached as a spiritual problem requiring repentance. And that is the solution that these young men must eventually hit upon. Their problem will not be resolved by years of emotional therapy, but by repentance granted by the Spirit of God. Lest I give the wrong impression, however, I do not think that this particular problem is specific to MM. It is a problem that runs through many churches in many countries.

Which Brings us to Sabbath Eve

Matt and I went to the Junction Eight to pick up some supplies for the Sabbath Day. In addition we got some "incidental" items that we forgot to pick up last Thursday, while still in the fog of jetlag. I've asked Matt to keep track of his incidental expenses for the next several weeks so we will have an idea of how much teachers should expect to spend on those items while they are in MM teaching. Tomorrow, DV, I will be preaching at Grace URCM from 1 Samuel 14:1-23. What can two hope to accomplish where 600 have been unable to advance?


Golden Guest Inn
182, Insein Road,
Block 9, Hlaing Township,
Yangon, Myanmar.

Phone : 951-524642
Fax : 951-526008
Email :

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