Going Where Christ is Unknown in Burma

April 28, 2016

An indigenous missionary teaches about Christ to ethnic Lahu in eastern Burma.
An indigenous missionary teaches about Christ to ethnic Lahu in eastern Burma.

Among tribal peoples in Burma (also called Myanmar) so isolated that people in one village often cannot communicate with those of a neighboring area, an indigenous ministry has found ways to plant self-sustaining churches.

With the help of translators, the ministry based in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) brings the gospel through dense, semi-tropical jungles – tigers and poisonous snakes included – to such remote peoples. Its indigenous model for planting churches also solves the common problem of prospective church leaders going abroad to seminary and not returning to their impoverished, strife-torn country.

Among the ethnic groups the ministry is reaching in Shan state, in eastern Burma, are the Lahu and Pa'o. Overall the 225,000 Lahu in Burma are now 80 percent Christian (43 percent evangelical), according to the Joshua Project, but the ministry targets villages where the gospel is unknown and finds Lahu who are primarily animists.

Originally from the Tibetan Plateau in China, the Lahu are known to the Chinese as tiger hunters, the "La" of their name meaning "tiger" in their language, according to The Peoples of the World Foundation. The Lahu make offerings and animal sacrifices to various spirits and ancestors in an attempt to secure safety and well-being.

"They worship and fear spirits," the ministry director said. "In one village in east Shan state four years ago, we told the animist priest about the one God who casts out angels from heaven*. He said, 'This is a mighty God – okay, your God is greater,' and they destroyed their idols and the whole village became Christians."

Shan state rebels came under heavy government fire last fall, and about once a month fighting between rebels and government forces flares up in areas where his missionaries work, he said. The ethnic Pa'O, many of whom have fled to Thailand to escape Shan fighting between rebel and government forces, practice Buddhism, though often mixed with animist beliefs. Their mythology holds that they originated from a shaman and a female dragon.

Indigenous missionaries on motorcycles in Burma.
Indigenous missionaries on motorcycles sometimes have to overcome lack of roads to reach remote villages. The ministry director has promised to provide fuel if they can find ways to reach villages where there is no knowledge of Christ.

"In Burma, many Buddhists are not really Buddhists," the director said. "Most of them don't really know what they believe."

Seeking to bring healing to the towns and villages the ministry visits, near-culture missionaries provide otherwise unavailable medicines.

"In these areas there is malaria, dengue fever and dysentery," he said. "For the people in these areas there is no way to reach any hospital or any clinic. So medication is a very effective way to open the way to share the gospel with them."

The team holds week-long evangelistic meetings that include lunches each day. They then leave a missionary who follows up with those who have made decisions for Christ.

"This ministry does a good job of planting churches in unreached areas by hosting camps when the farmers are not as busy, in December and during summer holidays," said a leader at Christian Aid Mission, which assists the ministry. "After the week is over, they leave behind a missionary to do follow-up and to plant a church. They then seek key youth from the tribe who believe in Christ to go to Bible college, and the ministry then returns them to be the pastor in their home village."

The new candidates for church leadership train for four years, at no cost to them, at the ministry's Bible college, which also offers one-month trainings for those who cannot be away from their villages too long. Budget limitations reduced the previous three-month training to one month, the director said.

With five teachers and 19 students at present, the Bible school is the engine driving the ministry's deep-rooted establishment of churches. Tribal graduates sent back to minister to their own people in their native language learn to establish "self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating" churches. The college, which offers bachelor's degrees, teaches the missionaries to seek ways to earn a living to help provide for their families.

Students also participate in evangelistic outreaches. The teachers and some students from the school went to southern Shan state for one of its four evangelistic campaigns last month.

"We were teaching every day and preaching every evening," the director said. "By the grace of God and through your prayers, 18 new believers have professed that they belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and got baptism."

Many children also professed that they had been born again, he added. The team went to another village to teach and encourage previously established Lahu and ethnic Hmong churches, before heading to a site from which villagers had fled fighting but have resettled after government and rebel leaders gave them land.

"Now many have started bamboo houses and started to make paddy fields there," he said. "We have been invited by the Lahu and the Hmong to preach the gospel to them and help them start churches. This time, as there are no proper houses, we stayed overnight preaching to them and postponed the evangelistic camps to the end of this year."

The ministry identified area needs it hopes to meet for water, a children's school and a church building.

"They need special prayers and help, as they are civil war victims who have run from village to village," he said.

In another village, a wealthy, ethnic Danu who is a devout Buddhist invited the evangelistic team into his home. The director said he was looking for peace in his heart.

"We stayed at his house and shared the gospel with his family," he said. "Now they are ready to listen to the gospel at any time. Danu people are the strongest Buddhists in Burma, but this Danu and his family members are opening their hearts and home for the Lord. Please continue to pray for this family."

Before the team's trip ended, they held an evangelistic camp in two northern Shan state villages as well, he said. Besides the evangelistic camps, the ministry at any one time has eight to 12 missionaries traveling to villages where the gospel is unknown. Each requires $40 in medicines per month, as well as a living allowance of $150 per month, he said.

"Our greatest need is support for more missionary workers – every year we have more volunteers, and we need to raise support for them," he said. "Our missionaries have a big burden and heart for the unreached people in their own areas, but as every one of our missionaries has a big family, they have been struggling with their families' daily needs. This is the big obstacle for our ministry. Thank you very much for your prayers and support for reaching the lost people with the gospel."

*Luke 10:18; Revelations 12:7-12; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-18

To help indigenous missionaries meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 715HAM. Thank you!