Good to be back

For the last month I have been rostered on weekends at work, so it was great to be able to go to church this Sunday. During our worship it occurred to me that some of the songs we were singing would be sung all over the world in many different languages.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

As you are probably aware, I have just finished a month of praying for, and reading and writing about the Shan people of Burma. There are are very few Christians in this ethnic minority, so I would guess that their churches are fairly small. Maybe this is why I kept thinking of them this morning as our little church met to worship. We also are a small group of believers without the resources to pay a pastor, living and working in a culture that is very negative about Christianity.

When I have been unable to get to church for a while it is very noticeable how much I have missed it when I finally get back. This is my spiritual home, these people are my family. We can take each other for granted at times, but boy do I miss these folks when I’m not able to see them for a while!

If this is what other small struggling churches are like also, then I suspect God is very happy when we all meet together in our little congregations all around the world, praising Him in all our stumbling ways.

Pray for what is broken

If anything is wrong with the world that you notice and it concerns you, I challenge you to pray about it. Pray seriously, make a commitment and make it known to someone else. Give it at least a couple of weeks and pray for that thing which is broken in the world. If nothing much happens, fine. If God touches your heart, follow it. Invest in the Kingdom of God.

He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.
(Ecclesiastes 11:4-6 ESV)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 30

Thirteen months ago I hadn’t even heard of the Shan people. One day I felt convicted that I was too comfortable in my disobedience to the Great Commission, the following day God challenged me with an invitation to pray for an ethnic group I’d never heard of in a nation I knew little about.

Over the month of October 2010, I learned and prayed a lot for the Shan people. Their plight and need for Christ broke into my heart and a seed of concern for them germinated. In the following year it continued to grow. In the last 30 days this concern has borne some fruit in prayer and grown stronger as I have read and written about the Shan.

My hope for them has grown, as I have discovered more people who are labouring to help the Shan, and seeing that there are projects bearing fruit:

The exciting thing is that the training is now purely indigenous, being driven by community leaders who are in our Shan network. This training was initially triggered by strong networking by our Shan nationals and by our Shan and Development teams, training JUST TWO trainers from inside Shan State.
Stu Corlett, Partners Thailand

I am convinced that God has orchestrated that I become aware of and pray for the Shan people. I also think He wants me to do more, to pray and serve. I don’t know what form this might take, but last time I wrote that phrase on this blog I was surprised, so it could be an exciting year ahead!

Don’t Waste Your Life

By the miracle of God’s common grace of reproduction, there has never been anyone in the whole history of the world exactly like you and me, and there never will be again. We have only one life, and our whole duty is to obey God and live our life as He would have us live it…

Life is a challenge and ministry is full of challenges. So, do not look for excuses. Don’t listen to someone who draws your attention away from the calling of God. Do respond to the call now and go and serve Him right where you are. Do something that will make a positive difference in the lives of people with the word of God. Because there is no greater joy than to invest who we are and what we have in the lives of people that He created for His glory. (Yangon Grace Bible Fellowship)

What has God been speaking into your heart in the last 30 days as you have prayed for the Shan people?

It could be that the Shan people make no impression upon your heart. I would challenge you then, what does?

If anything is wrong with the world that you notice and it concerns you, I challenge you to pray about it. Pray seriously, make a commitment and make it known to someone else. Give it at least a couple of weeks and pray for that thing which is broken in the world. If nothing much happens, fine. If God touches your heart, follow it. Invest in the Kingdom of God.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
(Matthew 6:33 ESV)

Pray for

  • God to use you in building His kingdom (Luke 12:31).
  • Ongoing blessing of the work of Christians amongst the Shan.
  • Increased awareness of the plight of the Shan people.
  • Expansion and deepening of Christian ministry to Shan people.

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Images of Shan churches: Daphyyy in Thailand, Surehope, MissionsMyanmar.org

Sexual exploitation of Shan women and girls

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 29

Aged 14, raped then burned alive

Thailand has long been known for it’s sleazy sex ‘trade’ and Burma is known for being violently oppressive. This combination makes life for many Shan women a torment at the mercy of lustful men.

Traditional rural Shan society is male-dominated. Men occupy all leading positions in the public sphere, as village headmen, and members of village and temple committees. In family life, they are regarded as the heads of the household. Women play no role in decision-making at the community level. They are expected to marry, serve their husbands, and bear children. In the household, women do most of the cooking, cleaning and childcare tasks; outside the house they also fetch water, plant and collect vegetables. (Licence to Rape, p6)

Rape in Burma

Under ‘normal’ circumstances rape is no more common amongst Shan than in other cultures. However, the Burma Army has been using rape as a weapon of war against the Shan:

Sexual violence serves the multiple purpose of not only terrorizing local communities into submission, but also flaunting the power of the dominant troops over the enemy’s women, and thereby humiliating and demoralizing resistance forces. Furthermore, it serves as a “reward” to troops for fighting in the war. (Licence to Rape, p7)

The suffering endured by Shan women in Burma is hard to comprehend. There is usually no justice – 85% of rapes are committed by officers in the Army who either deny offending or simply take an attitude of “so what are you going to do about it?”, knowing full well that power is on their side. Often when a woman or girl reports a rape to the village headman he doesn’t take it up with the army because of a well-placed fear that he himself will be beaten for making an accusation.

In addition there is a stigma projected upon rape victims, who may be rejected by their community, even their own family, and often by their husbands. The initial trauma of a violent rape causes years of suffering for the innocent woman who was coerced.

The fact that one of the women repeatedly raped during a period of almost two months (case 51) became insane is an indication of the level of trauma experienced by women subjected to rape. Another woman became an opium addict following the rape (case 76), and abandoned her young child as a result. (Licence to Rape, p22)

In another case, a schoolgirl who was raped in the street by a Burmese army soldier, was refused support by her family. “My family didn’t understand, and they didn’t take care of me. They didn’t accept me, and my friends looked down on me. I felt completely alone and depressed. This was in 1991, when I was in 10th standard in Murng Hsat high school. I had to take an examination soon after the rape, but my depression kept me from taking the exam. This affected everything, and my life went downhill.” (case 1) (Licence to Rape, p23)

Sex slavery in Thailand

While the menace of rape threatens women and girls on the Burmese side of the border, on the Thai side prostitution and AIDS decimate the lives of young women and girls. I use the heading ‘sex slavery’ because there seems little doubt that no woman would willingly subject herself to the life of a sex worker in Thailand.

The infection rate with HIV is 50%, meaning that at the time a survey was conducted half of all prostitutes surveyed were HIV positive. These women cannot afford treatment so will inevitably die of AIDS. With such a high incidence of infection, working in the sex industry is virtually a death sentence. Why do they do it?

A ‘customer’

Shan women are very attractive and have unique features so are in high demand as prostitutes. They are not allowed to work legally in Thailand so whatever industry they work in has risks of being deported. And they are very poor, making them desperate to get any work. Many Shan girls end up as prostitutes in order to eat.

A common scenario is that a girl is offered a job which pays well. She naively agrees, not knowing what the job really is – the offer may be of work in a bar or café. She only discovers the sordid truth after she is already indebted to the pimp and cannot escape without paying an amount of money way beyond anything she could afford. She is a slave with invisible chains holding her, being worked to death.

Pray for:

  • Protection of Shan women and girls on both sides of the Thai border.
  • The international community to press for justice for victims of war crimes in Burma.
  • Jesus to comfort and heal the women who are suffering from sexual abuse (Luke 7:37-48).
  • The Church of Christ to be His compassionate face and arms to these women (John 8:2-11).

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Images of Shan sex workers: JPHulme

Refugees Without A Camp

Burmese soldiers advance. They kill our animals, take our rice.
From our schools they take the learning and the light.
They burn our villages and steal our minds.
We hear the soldiers’ voices, and we are filled with fear and hate.
And we must run, run, run, until our legs break,
Refugees without a home, refugees without a camp.

They dress our Buddhas in women’s underwear.
We see our people floating bloated in the river,
We have land but cannot farm it, forced labor is our lot.
“Peace, peace. peace,” they say. Burma says we are at peace.
But we are not. We hear gunshots night and day.
And we must run, run, run, until our legs break,
Refugees without a home, refugees without a camp.

Some Shan live in Thailand, work as servants or as slaves,
some live in relocation camps, without money, food, or hope.
Some live in the jungle and hear their dying child’s cries,
mosquitoes on their limbs, and leeches in their eyes.
They dig a shallow grave and place the child inside.
And then they run, run, run, until their legs break.
Refugees without a home, refugees without a camp.

By Sai Leng Hsim

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 28

The poem above is an original Shan poem by a student at a school for Shan students in Thailand. It was translated into English by Bernice Koehler Johnson, one of his teachers.

If you have been praying with me this month you may also be feeling like me a desire to ‘do more than just pray’. My first comment about this is that praying is the most important thing we can do. Remaining at home in comfort and praying diligently and with love for Jesus and for the Shan people is not a copout unless God has clearly told you to be doing something else.

However, as I pray I find that God has been opening my eyes, heart and mind to notice other ways in which I might also be able to help the Shan people in a small way. Many people doing small things intentionally can make a massive difference. I will be continuing to pray, and with my prayers will also try to do my small things for the Shan.

Run for Relief

One way of helping might be to Run for Relief. As the website states, “for a million villagers in Burma, running is not an option”. I am not at all fit, I can barely run for 5 minutes but after praying these last 27 days and reading the poem above, it seems callous of me to not at least try. Though this will have to be something of a longer term plan!

Talk about the Shan people

Another way to help the Shan people is to talk about their situation to others. The military regime has intentionally restricted the flow of information out of Burma, we can counter this as many people willingly communicate what they have tried to suppress – the truth.

Pray for

  • The diligence and love necessary to continue praying for the Shan.
  • Insights of ways to help the Shan in addition to praying.
  • Encouragement for those who have been already labouring long to help the Shan people, whether Christians or not.
  • For knowledge of the true situation in Burma to permeate the world.

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan

Christ in you, not ink

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4 ESV)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 27

DSCF3111
The traditional method of tattooing in Burma

Tattooing has seen a resurgence in the west, while amongst Shan people the traditional practise is slowly dwindling. The Shan do not view tattoos as body art, but rather body armour.

Shan men get tattoos to help ward off evil and bring good fortune. The tattooist is a powerful person in the village and as he cuts the skin and injects ink he also chants and blows in a ‘spell’ which will protect the recipient from certain misfortunes or bring a particular good fortune in his life.

As Shan men migrate into places such as Thailand and encounter more western and secular forms of thought, the reliance upon tattoos for protection and blessing has waned. In its place is perhaps a more misplaced trust – that the United Nations or United States will save the Shan and bring good fortune to their people.

In many ways looking to the U.N. and U.S.A. for help from a corrupt military dictatorship is a logical thing to do. Both of these like to champion democracy and human rights so surely they would stand up for the persecuted Shan people against the genocide of the Burma Army. Unfortunately self interest, money, power and cowardice infest these human entities just as any other.

As with trusting in a special tattoo for help in desperate times is likely to disappoint, so trusting in any human solution is also likely to let the Shan people down. There is only One who is truly trustworthy, who will never let them down, who has the will and the power to save. Let us pray that the Shan turn to trust in Jesus Christ, that His Church rises up to seek justice for the Shan, and that God delivers them physically and spiritually.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)

Pray for

  • Shan to realize that the power for protection only comes from Christ (Psalm 91:14-16).
  • God to answer the cries of Shan in distress and for Shan to take refuge, spiritually and well as physically, in the Lord (Psalm 7:1-2).
  • For Shan men to trust in the Holy Spirit to be in them, protecting them, rather than ink (Romans 8:9-11).

Other posts related to this topic:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image credit: fabianfred

A tin village

Today I went to visit my other neighbours. About 500m down the road from my house is a Shan slum. It had a rickety wooden fence around it and the houses are made out of corrugated iron. The children are riding their bikes and playing on the dusty earth. I’ve assumed it’s Shan before even though I’ve never been into it, because most of these kind of slums are filled with Shan people who have escaped from the oppressive military regime in Burma and work for around $3-$6 a day as construction workers in Thailand. As a result of their work, they often move around from construction site to site, and so they just bring their families and build these slums near their work. (Visiting my neighbour)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 26

Needing to escape the hardships of Burma, tens of thousands of Shan have migrated into Thailand hoping to find safety and a better life. It is hard to know if they really do get a better life. Being paid a pittance, living in slums, working long hours, often 7 days a week, they end up being little better than slaves.

You could say that at least they are not being persecuted by the Burma Army, but the Thai police can be quite ruthless to those who are unable to pay bribes. Without work permits Shan people still live with constant anxiety that they may be caught by police and deported back to Burma – into the hands of the Burma Army.

Hopelessness can overtake people in such circumstances, and often does. Without hope there can be a rapid descent into alcohol, drugs, gambling, crime, prostitution. How can the Shan have hope? In dark times, in weakness and poverty, what is there to hope for?

We know that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, He gives light and eternal life of more value than any material goods. He gives all this and more to those who believe in Him. All they need to do is hear, understand and believe.

For this hope to come to the Shan, someone must go and tell them.

Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8 NIV)

Cardboard was piled in the gaps between the roof and wall, probably to block the wind. I’m sure everyone could hear everything though. They slept on the floor, but did have electricity. It would be cold at nights, since they only had one layer of iron around them. (Visiting my neighbour)

Pray for:

  • Workers who will go where the Shan live to speak truth in languages they understand.
  • God to prepare hearts and make a way for all Shan to hear about Him and the love He has for all people.
  • The Shan who live in Thailand in subsistence housing who face prejudice, rejection and exploitation daily.
  • The Gospel to spread rapidly from Shan to Shan and transform lives as it takes root in hearts.

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image of Shan slum in Chiang Mai: Jazng

Three-in-one, burning for Christ

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 25

small row of coffee beans with SDOF on white backgroundLikening herself to a three-in-one coffee mix that is popular in Asia, a young Shan woman describes the call on her life to use her gifts as a Bible teacher, social worker, and rock singer to bring the message of hope in Christ to her people.

Although raised in the church, she came to saving faith while attending university through the ministry of a global parachurch organization.  Now planted in her “Jerusalem” for the short-term, she is ministering in her home church, whose acceptance of her has been less than embracing.

The majority of the 15,000 or so Christians among the more than 6 million Shan are third and fourth-generation adherents, with few true believers among them.  They have so separated from their ethnic culture to the point of irrelevancy in their ability to identify with their Buddhist brethren and don’t really even consider reaching out to them.

For the most part, the Shan church is cold and dead, but God is stirring embers among their membership and has already set this three-in-one girl ablaze with the desire to reach her own.  So she identifies with her people in their shared ethnicity, to the point of reaching out through welfare, educational and music programs run by local monasteries that are the center of Shan village life.  But as indicated by the stage name she has adopted for her singing career, she is fully Shan and fully belongs to Christ, and that is the message she longs for her people to understand, that they can come to the One who created them as the Shan race.

Pray for

  • The embers among the Shan church that God is stirring and has ignited, that He would strengthen and encourage their resolve as they seek to reach out despite the lackadaisical, and even sometimes antagonistic, attitudes of the congregations they come from.
  • Their personal worship to be pure and vibrant.
  • Spiritual fortitude and protection from spiritual attacks on them and their families that seem to be prevalent when they are encroaching into enemy territory.

Other posts related to this topic:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image of coffee beans: iStock

Pray for Burmese flood victims

With major floods in Thailand affecting areas where many Burmese workers live, they are being left to fend for themselves as they are not Thai citizens and have the added burden of trying to evade Thai police who are arresting migrant workers who cross provincial boundaries to escape flooding.

Please pray for these people who live in poor conditions on wages barely sufficient to survive and now many are jobless because of the flooding.

Burmese Migrants Fend for Themselves as Flooding Continues

The harvest is ripe

How can a handful of Shan Christian workers save millions? The most needed
in Shan mission is not money but human resources (shan-missions.com).

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 24

The harvest is ripe

Shan who become Christians often have to bear a high cost for their faith. Those who proclaim the Gospel to them also pay a high price in hardships, dangers and toil to get to the places where Shan live.

Some Shan live in Thailand where access is less difficult, but still not easy. The working conditions of Shan people in Thailand mean that outreach to them must be persistent and flexible to follow them as they move from job to job. For westerners, even Thailand can be a culture shock. For locals, finding support for ministry can be difficult.

Then there are the millions of Shan who live in Burma, in remote villages, within war zones, cut off by landmines and jungle. Just because it is difficult to get there does not mean that God does not want them to hear the Gospel. Of course they must hear.

How will they hear unless people take the message to them? How can people go unless many others at home are praying fervently for them and giving resources to support them?

The task is huge and difficult. Our God is mighty and compassionate and wants these people to hear His word. He has chosen a people for Himself, set them apart to be holy, and commanded them to go.

What part are you playing in God’s mission to the lost?

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. (Luke 10:2-3 ESV)

Pray for

  • More people to be willing to take risks, doing whatever it takes to bring the Good News to those who have not heard in difficult to reach places. Praise God for those who are already doing this (Romans 10:14-15).
  • Peace and infrastructure to reach the Shan (John 16:33)

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image of rice: Tianyake