Saturday, August 30

The Plane Left on Time

The van picked us up on time at 8:00 AM on 26 August. We had plenty of time to check our baggage even with all the new security measures at DFW airport. Both Debby and Matthew were wearing "tennis shoes," so they were required to remove their shoes before being able to advance through security. The security guards were professional and friendly and did their work with dispatch. Even after making it through security, we still had about an hour left before boarding began. I love traveling, but don't care at all for airports. I don't like the fact that they are so large and it is usually necessary to drag bags around in order to keep them from being lost. Some of that has changed, but I still don't like airports. As it turned out, however, our departure gate was just across from the security gate, so dragging "carry-on" luggage around the airport was not an least not in Dallas.

But The Power Port Was Not Where They Told Me
American Airlines moved us from the seats we originally picked to this row because this row supposedly had power ports. That would give me the opportunity to work on my laptop during the flight. This row did not have the power ports, however. But there was an extra one in the row behind me, so the gentleman that would normally have been using it was kind enough to allow me to stretch my power adapter all the way back to his seat. As a result of his kindness I've been able to get a good bit of study and other preparation done while on the plane. As I write, we have been on the plane for about nine hours and are just about to cross the international date line into tomorrow, just east of the Kamchatka peninsula. Mrs Bacon has been able to get a little more sleep this trip than the last. One reason for that is that this trip has been a little bumpier and so she has taken some Dramamine (or its generic equivalent).

How to Buy Five Seats for Three People

The key is not to be on a "full flight." And that is completely outside the control of the consumer, of course. Our 777 had about 40 or so unsold seats in economy class. The seating in economy class is two seats port, five seats amidship, and two seats starboard in each row. The seats are designated AB, CDEFG, HJ. We reserved seats C, E, and G. On a full flight, someone would have been willing to accept the singles left between us. But on a flight with 40 unsold seats, the likelihood is quite high that nobody will want the two seats designated D and F. That is not a certainty, of course, but it worked for us on this first leg. I've done nearly the same thing on the next leg -- Tokyo to Bangkok. If there are a similar number of unsold seats, then we will have a little extra space for spreading out. If the flight is sold out, well, perhaps we can talk the other passengers into "trading seats" so we can sit together. And that is exactly what happened on the United leg from Tokyo to Bangkok.

I Woke Up Over Danang

An American Airlines attendant met us with a wheelchair for Mrs Bacon when we came into Tokyo. He then managed to set a new land speed record getting us to the United transfer desk. I thanked him after I caught my breath, but by that time he may have been miles away. United was also very kind to Mrs Bacon (she may be the first person to travel half way around the world without having to take more than 10 steps). They used a special bus to allow her to ride to the aircraft (it loaded from the tarmac rather than via jetway), then the bus actually rose in the air and the door opened to form a gangplank onto the aircraft. Coming off the aircraft in Bangkok (where I am writing this paragraph) was a similar experience. But this time the aircraft actually used a jetway so it was not necessary for her to have the special bus. Still there was an attendant who met us at the gate with a wheelchair and took us all the way to the Thai Airways transfer desk. At some point subsequent to that a Thai Air attendant came by with a wheelchair and left it parked next to us for Mrs Bacon to use to get to the aircraft tomorrow. I hope he will also return and show us where the elevator is, because I'm sure our flight will leave from one of the lower level gates (it always does). I had a fairly upset stomach while in Tokyo, I think as much from sleep deprivation as anything else. I slept most of the trip from Tokyo to Bangkok and did not actually wake up over water at all. That seemed to help. When I woke up I was refreshed and my stomach was no longer upset. But I also do not have my days and night reversed yet, so here I sit at 2:30 AM local time feeling like it is mid-afternoon -- which, of course, it is in Dallas.

Bangkok Airport Is Basically One Large Duty Free Shop
Bangkok, Thailand is the SE Asia hub for most of the airlines that service this area. It is very busy during the day and at night those travellers who have been stranded sleep against walls or in "day rooms" that cost dearly. Or some of us go to the airport restaurant and plug the laptop in to charge the battery and wait in nice cushioned chairs and drink Nescafe all night. But for those who love to shop, the second level is just basically one long duty free shop selling mostly Scotch whiskey and cigarettes. Of course, there are also the dried food stands, the internet cafes, and the espresso shops. Bangkok may not be Vanity Fair, but it gives VF a run for the money.


Monday, August 25

Myanmar Standard Time

I've already set my watch ahead 11.5 hours to Myanmar Time. Lord willing, we will leave the house here in Rowlett tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM when the van comes by to pick us up. Liftoff from DFW airport is scheduled for 11:50. We finished up all our packing this afternoon. The three of us are allowed six trunks total at 70 lbs per trunk. Each of our six bags weighs in at between 65 and 70 lbs. In addition we are bringing pretty close to the maximum in carry on weight as well. We anticipate landing in Yangon (Rangoon) at approximately 9:05 AM Thursday MST (9:35 PM tomorrow night in Dallas).

Fifteen Pounds of Books?

Well, fifteen pounds is about the weight of the two laptops we are carrying in with us. But between those two laptops we are actually carrying in about 3,000 volumes of Christian literature altogether. Additionally, most of the weight we are taking in by our luggage is also books. They consist of the books and notes I will be using for the classes I'll be teaching for the next seven weeks, along with some children's books for the ESL (English as a Second Language) school. There are also a number of TOEFL preparation books and practice exams. All in all, it would be impossible to place a "price" on the volumes we are taking in by laptop and physically. We are praying that God will use them to edify and strengthen in grace his church in Myanmar.

Staying Current with MTMBlog

It is my intention to send Blog updates back to the US through Chris Coldwell. He will not be able to send you the individual emails notifying you of the update, so you may simply want to check the website from time to time (every other day should keep you abreast of most of the news). Why not place this in your bookmarks or "favorites" in your browser now, while you're thinking of it? Lord willing, next time you hear from me, it will be from Yangon, Myanmar.


Thursday, August 21

The Visas Have Been Issued

The wait was something like 8 weeks, but we just received notification that our visas have arrived at Global Passport. We can come by sometime today or tomorrow and pick them up. I know that there are many who read this blog who have been praying for this (and other) aspect(s) of the journey. First, we praise and thank God for your prayers and for having so many people who continue to be interested in the missions enterprise in these days. Second, we thank God for inclining his ear to your prayers and answering from heaven. We confess, along with you, that he is the God over the heavens and the earth and does whatsoever pleases him. Therefore we rejoice that it has pleased him to move the "king's heart" (Prov. 21:1) in such a way that entry into Burma is now going to be allowed from Thursday next week.

Laundry Means More Books

We have arranged our luggage in such a way that three people taking the maximum weight ends up giving us nearly a quarter ton (420 pounds to be exact -- one more trunk would get us almost right at the quarter ton mark) for bringing items into Burma. Normally on a six week trip one might think most of that would be clothes, but in this case it is primarily books. We are taking in text books for my classes, some books we hope to have translated, and some books to begin "stocking the library" of the ESL school. This is possible because we can take very few clothes and have them washed in a Burmese laundry. Thus most of our weight can be taken up with books. By the way, if there are any readers who would like to help us out with books, send suitable English language books to:

Mission to Myanmar
c/o First Presbyterian Church
8210 Schrade Road
Rowlett, TX 75088

Please do not send new books unless you don't have any used ones and try to make sure that they would suitably reflect on the glory of Jesus Christ (no, they do not have to be "religious books" to do that).

Speaking of Burmese Laundries

The expense of having laundry done in Yangon is minimal. They even do our socks, though they don't wear socks themselves. The Burmese typically wear sandals out side the home and slip them off and "go barefoot" inside the home. Sort of the opposite of what we did as children back in the good ol' summertime in the 50s. Since they are not really that familiar with socks, the laundry treats them like any other piece of clothing: washing, ironing, folding, and placing inside cellophane wrappers. For some reason, it has not occurred to the laundry that I use in Yangon that socks come in pairs (you know, like feet). So each separate sock is folded and wrapped. Cuts down on sorting time for them, perhaps. Tee shirts come back folded on cardboard as though they were brand new.

Rainy Season in Yangon & Kalemyo

Yangon has been "declared" by WHO to be malaria-free. I guess that is better than Texas, which is experiencing another outbreak of west nile virus this year. But in Kalemyo and Tahan, this is the mosquito season and it is not a malaria-free zone. Neither is it a typhus free zone, nor a Japanese Encephalitus free zone. Of course I would prefer not to have any of these diseases myself, though something like 60% of the population in and around the area we will be ministering are infected. We trust God, but make use of means. Unlike King Asa, who trusted in doctors, we trust in God and make use of doctors. I received a different prophylaxis for typhus this year. Three years ago I received the shot, but it is of shorter duration. This time I took the capsules, which are a little more time consuming (4 capsules, one every other day), but because they use a weakened virus they also supposedly last longer. Also, instead of taking mefloquine for malaria this trip, we are trying a different drug called malarone. The malarone is more expensive and is administered daily rather than weekly, but supposedly does not have the "mood altering" effects that have been associated with mefloquine. MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical doctor and don't even play one on TV. But there are some who play doctor on the internet, who claim that mefloquine is mood altering.

As some of the readers have heard me say, "safety is not the absence of danger, but the presence of the Lord." I ask that you pray for me, not for safety, but for boldness. An overconcern for safety will sometimes rob us of the boldness we ought to have for the Lord's sake. Through the book of Acts, there is not a single instance of a prayer for safety. Rather, when persecution arises, the church prayed in the book of Acts for boldness. It is a wise pattern. After all, the purpose of persecution is not simply to hurt us; it is to stop us. Thus whether we struggle against principalities and powers or simply against the sin that so easily besets us, our prayers to God should be that he would enbolden us by his Spirit.


Tuesday, August 19

Finally -- Word on the Visas

It has been over two weeks since my last Blog entry because I kept thinking that I would like to have some definite news on the visas to report to the folks who read this. We have "worn out" the expeditor with our continual calling, but we finally received word from them this afternoon that the Myanmar embassy plans to send the visas out tomorrow (Wednesday 20th Aug). By the time it is sent fed-ex to Dallas, we should be able to pick them up on Thursday (21st Aug). It seems that the visas took much longer than usual to process this trip -- and so they did. The reason, it turns out, is that business visas must actually be approved in Yangon rather than at the embassy in Washington or New York City (where folks were even literally in the dark last week). We have said all along that the issuing of visas is in God's hands (Prov. 21:1).

Here in Texas, where summer ends on Thanksgiving Day, I was quite concerned that my lawn would burn up with nobody to take care of it. My wife and son will both be with me, so I put in a sort of "poor man's sprinkler system" with hoses and oscillating sprinklers strategically placed so that the loss of pressure would be compensated by the proximity of the sprinklers. Anyway, in the process of doing that I had opportunity to meet with Julio Calles who will be mowing the lawn and replacing the sprinklers to the right positions during my absence.

Of Coffee -- the Mountain-grown Kind

For some time we have been considering what it would take to get some sort of ag product for the chin people to raise in their "high jungle." Some have tried mushrooms, but with little success for the churches. In the Yangon area it is possible for the people to find various kinds of work and even to start businesses, but up in the jungle that is harder to do. So, on my last two trips it occurred to me that the climate (tropical mountains) would be a good place to try coffee. The problem is that I know nothing about growing coffee and knew nobody that could advise on it. I did know that it requires a forward looking vision, because it takes about three years before one makes any money from coffee plants.

So, as I was talking with Julio Calles (see above), he mentioned that he was originally from El Salvador. When he was a child two groups of people came to his village. One group consisted of "teachers" from the Sandanista of Nicaragua, who taught them how to carry guns and hate the government. The other group consisted of missionaries who taught them how to read and love the Lord. Julio's father was converted by the gospel preached by those missionaries and long story short, eventually made his way to the USA. When Julio was a child his father, who had a Protestant work ethic because the missionaries preached a full-orbed gospel, learned to raise coffee in the mountains of El Salvador. Well, that may be some time down the calendar; but don't be surprised if coffee is one day associated with the Chin the way tulips are with our Dutch brothers today.


At present we have at least six volunteers to teach in the English school, if we are actually able to get it going. The fact that the Myanma government seems willing to give me a business visa is a good sign. I will be talking with government officials this trip, attempting to negotiate a venue for the school, and basically arranging for the school to open, DV, in summer 2004. At this point, the Myanmar government now considers me a businessman and as long as I have someone on the ground in Myanmar (i.e. a businessman) who is willing to invite me, I will be able to come to Myanmar for longer than a few weeks. I stopped by the half-price bookstore and picked up a lot of teaching ESL books and some TOEFL practice tests to take with me to Myanmar on this trip.

Learning Myanma

It is quite difficult to learn the Myanma language. It's script consists of two distinct "alphabets" with many, many "diphthongs" and vowel sounds we don't use in English. My son has managed to download some fonts and some sound files and lessons that we intend to install on one of the laptops. Hopefully we will find some folks in Myanmar willing to help us out.

Thank you for all your prayers. It seems that the visas are "on the way." We're looking forward to meeting with our orphans and teaching for several weeks in Myanmar.


Saturday, August 2

Work Progressing on Saamhla

The word "saamhla" is not Burmese, but Falam Chin, a word that has been "coined" within the past eighteen months. One of the key projects we have been working on is getting the Psalms translated into metrical versions for the Falam Chin speaking people. It is our hope that with the advent of a metrical Psalter, Saamhla, the people of the villages will begin singing the Psalms. In fact, one of the things that the MRPC has asked me to speak to them about in the upcoming conference in Tahan is how they might better incorporate the Psalms into their corporate and family worship. We are not "hurrying" this project to completion. While we take the existence of numerous Psalters for granted in our country, we should also remember that it took Calvin and Beza from 1539 until 1562 to complete a Psalter for the French Reformed of Geneva. It is far better to sing a few well crafted and well translated Psalms than to sing 150 "ditties" that are little better than loose paraphrases of the Psalms.

Ultimately, of course, the success of the mission in Myanmar will depend upon the Holy Spirit applying the sweet doctrine of his free grace in Jesus Christ to the souls of the elect there. But hand in hand with that gospel, there must be Psalter and Catechism. It is our hope to be able to teach the next generation of preachers in that country to preach both expositorally (hence we are taking numerous copies of Perkins' The Art of Prophesying into the country on this trip) and catechetically. The doctrines of Scripture must permeate his people; and what better ways than the singing of the Psalms and the memorization and recitation of reformed catechisms.

The Chin people, for the most part, do not read our western musical notation (what they call "stem-notes"). They are able, however, to sing making use of a system of notation called "Tonic Solfa" (no, it has no discernible relation to the boy band). Here is an example of what Tonic Solfa notation looks like. Michael Zahau, one of the Reformed men we know in Yangon, has thus far complete translation of about 45 selections from the Comprehensive Psalter, all in common meter. Rev. Tha Nei Sum and missionary Hrang Zawn have done an additional 50 complete Psalms into the Falam tongue. Hopefully by the end of 2003 we will have the funding in place to mass produce the first Falam language Psalter (Saamhla) and distribute it among the Chin tribes via colporteurs.