Lighting the Path in Burma
Min watched as the shadows of the guards retreated around the corner. His eyes darted to the corner of the dirt floor, and then once more through the bars.
He clawed through the earth with his overgrown fingernails, uncovering the leather-bound treasure. Blowing the dirt from the worn book, he greedily turned the pages, devouring the precious words-his daily bread.
It was all he had, which made it all the more valuable to him. Min, native of Burma, was arrested for preaching the gospel in his country. They tried to stop him, but he would not be stopped.
When the guards were away, Min quietly read his Bible to his cellmates. Many times he looked up from the pages to find that tears had traced paths down the dirty faces of his fellow prisoners.
"Tell me how to be saved!" one man virtually shouted at him.
He was the first. Min will never forget the time he kneeled down next to the sobbing man, and told him how Christ could save his soul. Before Min was released, he had led 72 men to Christ. Several of the men were prison guards, who let Min hold secret Bible studies in the latrine.
A daunting mission field
Min is one of many devoted disciples of Ronnie Tun, native Burmese ministry leader supported by Christian Aid. In a country rife with poverty, disease, gangs of drug smugglers and a corrupt military junta infamous for its human rights abuses, Tun's ministry aims for restoration through the power of Christ.
"Our political situation is discouraging, and we are at the bottom economically," said Tun. "Yet ranscending this gloom is a spiritual awakening."
Tun's ministry welcomes the needy and marginalized into open arms. These groups include women, who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the junta. Many young girls are kept as sex slaves at military bases, and are physically abused or killed should they offend army officers.
The junta, which has ruled the country since 1962, has consistently denied the practice of sexual violence. Action is rarely taken against these rapists; and in some cases, victims are forced to sign written statements pardoning them.
Seeking to subjugate ethnic minority groups, the junta sexually abuses the women of these groups, such as those belonging to the Mon tribe.
The Mon were defeated by the Burmese in 1757, but are still harassed. Today, most of the Mon are descendants of fugitives who fled from the Burmese. Tun's ministry reaches out to this largely unreached people group, less than 1 percent of which has accepted Christ as Savior, as well as many other ethnic minorities in his country.
Witnessing for Christ
Tun's education was interrupted during the 5th grade, when the Japanese invaded Burma in World War II. But the war did not stop him from studying God's Word.
"The Bible was my teacher, my companion, my everything," Tun said.
After the war he returned to school for two more years, while playing guitar in a band to help support his family.
Tun then took an apprenticeship in aviation, and gradually worked his way from mechanic to engineer. He was making a comfortable living, when he felt the tug on his heart to serve the Lord in full-time service.
"People thought I was a fool to leave my job," Tun said. "But, for me, it's a privilege to serve the Lord."
Tun and his wife began "Witnessing for Christ," a fledging ministry that centered around an old Ford. With the weathered vehicle, the Tuns visited houses and shared the gospel, took children to Sunday school and the sick to the hospital.
For those who could not afford to pay for a funeral for a dead loved one, the Tuns' Ford became a hearse. Many times, poor Buddhists would ask the Tuns to bury their dead. Tun made coffins and preached the gospel at funerals, taking advantage of the reality of death and the need for a Savior.
To support themselves, Tun and his wife raised chickens. Each egg was stamped with the letters "WFC," and quickly gained in popularity throughout their village and the surrounding areas.
"People swore that those eggs with the letters on them tasted the best," Tun said.
Tun drove the old Ford with the bald tires for almost five years, until a friend unexpectedly gave him $150 for a set of new tires.
"The Lord always provides what I need, and that's why I never bother about things," he said.
Yet Tun has not been without financial difficulties. As more workers joined his team, his resources were stretched thin. In 1996, Tun could only afford to give his missionaries $1.80 each month.
He recalls that they never complained. With the funds sent by Christian Aid, Tun paid for his workers' medical bills, as well as rice for the neediest families. On several occasions, Tun bought houses for the families who lived together in crowded hovels. Most families were overwhelmed by the generosity, and protested that the money go elsewhere. Each house cost approximately $400.
Opportunities to serve
As the Lord blessed Tun with additional resources, his ministry expanded from an old car to a multi-faceted center of refuge for the suffering citizens of Burma. A rehabilitation center and village community was established to care for the disabled and diseased.
Heroin users and prostitutes in Burma have perpetuated the HIV epidemic that has plagued the nation and spread to large parts of Asia. Through the compassion of Tun's ministry, many have received care. WFC has also sent workers to communities inhabited by those with leprosy. Regular visits, prayer, food and medicine have all contributed to several recoveries.
The annual monsoons faced by the Burmese have also been opportunities for WFC workers to share Christ's love. Bamboo homes are built for families whose houses are destroyed by the floods. Clothing is also distributed. Many times, each family will only have a few items of clothing they must share amongst each other.
The severe floods also contaminate water supplies, making wells a desperately needed commodity. In 2005, Tun's gospel workers were able to drill 30 wells in poor villages in Rangoon.
The wells dug by WFC opened the door for Tun's workers to share the message of Christ. WFC opened a Christian school in Rangoon for the children of poor parents, who would otherwise be sent to Buddhist monasteries by the local authorities.
Tun has also started a radio ministry. To reach Buddhists, Tun speaks in Pali, a liturgical language in which the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism were written.
He gradually acquired an audience of Buddhists, who enjoy listening to his program, because he not only speaks words in Pali, but also includes a life application, which is not included in Pali scriptures.
Buddhists essentially believe in cause and effect. The concepts of forgiveness and mercy are nonexistent. Instead, they believe everyone should pay for what they have done. To experience a good life, Buddhists must perform good deeds. Tun's radio program shakes the foundations of their atheistic dogma, by introducing the topics of mercy and grace--revolutionary concepts that have generated much curiosity.
Tun's radio program expanded to include more than 10 languages, each allotted 15 minutes of airtime.
His ministry also produces thousands of tracts each month in more than 20 different dialects. With help from Christian Aid, Tun bought and distributed radios to places where missionaries are not easily able to travel. Radio evangelism has proven to be one of the most effective ways to reach people with Christ in Burma.
As more Burmese became interested in learning about Christ, a correspondence course was started, and then a Bible school for those desiring to become involved in service.
To become pastors, students must attend classes for four-month intervals, intermixed with practical field training. Once the students pass their courses and start churches of their own, their progress will be monitored for another year before they will receive a certificate of completion.
The training is very personalized, depending upon the area the student wishes to evangelize, whether rural or urban. Through Tun's godly guidance, these disciples are lighting the path to Christ in Burma.