Watching a miracle performed

A brief Burma update and link to a story of hope and compassion in Shan State

I know there has been a lack of posts about the Shan people from me lately – this is due to lack of time rather than lack of happenings in Burma. President Thein Sein has now commanded an end to attacks on ethnic groups by the Burma Army (initially on 10 December 2011, again on 16 January 2012). Despite this there has been ongoing attacks by the Burma army, particularly in Kachin State.

Real help is happening

However, there is also some good news I would like to share – the following link is to a story of medical hope being delivered by trained local people in Shan State: I’m alive, because of you…

Nothing looks the same

Last Friday evening my wife and I went to a concert by New Zealand’s two best gospel singers, Derek Lind and Steve Apirana.
Steve & Derek regularly tour NZ in support of Tear Fund, playing for donations in local churches. Their concerts are humorous and spontaneous, these guys are relaxed and genuine. They also have depth, there is no flashy lights or stage makeup, what you get is real faith accompanied by experience and wisdom.

This particular concert has challenged me. It occurred at a time when God seems to really be on my case about reaching unreached people groups in hard places with the Gospel and love of Jesus. Then along comes the Christian singer who has been in my ears since 1989 and seriously reinforces that message!

In fact God niggling at me about missions work is nothing new either, over 20 years on that one too! (I’m a slow learner). There has also been a lot of background work needing done before I would be fit to inflict upon the world.

During the month of October I was praying and writing about the Shan people of Burma. For over a year now they have been on my heart and I would love to do more than praying only. Recently I was offered the possibility of going to Thailand to visit some of the work being done amongst the Shan people there and see first hand what I have been writing and praying about.

What I am finding is that my perspective is changing. I am seeing things differently, myself, my life, my place in the world, the realities facing others don’t look the same.  There is no undoing the knowledge I now have of how much suffering is happening in Burma. With that knowledge I am responsible (to paraphrase Brooke Fraser), I cannot just pretend it is not a problem.

Nothing Looks the Same

Fly the friendly skies,
nothing looks the same.
From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
Fly the friendly skies,
and hang your head in shame.
From this altitude,
nothing looks the same.

Was that a lightning bolt?
Nothing looks the same.
Was that a camera flash?
Nothing looks the same.
Is God taking photographs,
for evidence for blame?

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.

But under the spell of gravity,
there is dissonance and danger.
This voyeur gets to touch,
and taste and small and see,
This is not fiction,
it’s fact, and it’s stranger.

This is not a checkerboard,
these are paddy fields and fishponds.
This is not quaint,
it stinks and it’s ugly.

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
From arm’s length,
nothing looks the same.
Even from 35 millimetres,
nothing looks the same.

Just remember this
at the end of a long hard day,
I get to fly away,
you get to stay

Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same

Derek Lind – Nothing Looks the Same

External Links:

Shan follow their traditions

Shan follow their traditions. Their traditions are Buddhist.
How can a Shan Christian follow Shan tradition, which is Buddhist?
How can a Shan become Christian without abandoning their tradition?

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 9

A pagoda on every hill

Shan have an almost 2000 year tradition of Buddhism, to add another ‘god’ to this is not so hard for them but to reject Buddhism for Christianity is very, very hard for a Shan person to do. They are not so much resistant to the Gospel as resistant to rejecting Buddhism and their culture.

Although ‘to be Shan is to be Buddhist’, many do not know much about Buddhism and they believe in many spirits in addition to the fundamental Buddhist beliefs. They have their own way of worshipping gods and spirits, paying homage to elders and parents, celebrating marriages and honouring the dead. The entire Shan culture has a Buddhist ‘flavour’, the religion and the culture are melded together.

Many Shan say, “All religions are good. It doesn’t matter what religion you follow, what God you worship.” Some even worship all kinds of god but it will be difficult to ask them to abandon all their traditions and practices in order to become Christian. Old people say, “I believe but I cannot abandon Buddhism.”(shan-missions.com)

How can the Shan be shown the difference between religion based on tradition and religion based on faith?

When a 65-year-old Shan woman was presented with the Gospel and asked: “Do you agree that you cannot go to heaven by your own effort?” She said, “Yes.”
Then she was asked, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God and He can save you to heaven?” She answered, “Yes.”
The final question was, “Do you want to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and become Christian?” She said, “No.”
She explained that she had been worshipping Buddha for 65 years. All her generations were Buddhists. She did not want to leave Buddha and follow new God at this age. She just wanted to be faithful to her religion. She was willing to add another hope for her future (shan-missions.com).

These traditions are holding Shan people captive to their culture, keeping them from eternal life in Christ.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 ESV)

Pray for

  • Revival among the existing Shan church, that they would seek Christ with their whole lives and teach their children to also seek Christ (Revelation 3:16).
  • The Shan to realize the real inheritance they have in Christ when they believe and follow Him alone (1 Corinthians 3).
  • Christians reaching out to the Shan to wrestle with the question of how can a Shan become Christian without abandoning their tradition? (1 Corinthians 9:20-21).

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image of monastery roof: iStockphoto

Where can they go?

What does a refugee camp of 600 people look like? Well a bunch of thatch huts, an orphanage boarding house, a library, a weavery, a bunch of communal wash places, toilet blocks and of course a temple. Here we are just a few kilometres from the border to Burma, and many can see the ruins of their old villages that they were forced to flee. (Read more)

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, day 6

Shan who flee fighting in Burma are not given refugee status in Thailand, they are considered illegal ‘migrant workers’. Shan are not permitted to establish legally sanctioned refugee camps on Thai soil. They are forced to live in illegal makeshift camps and cannot receive international aid because the Thai government classifies them as economic migrants.

Without refugee status they have no legal access to schools, health facilities, or work and are constantly under the threat of being caught and sent back to Burma. If caught by Thai police and appropriate bribes are not paid, beating, imprisonment or deportation are likely outcomes.

The Thai say I am Burmese, but the Burmese say I am Shan. So where do I go?
(Surehope)

With Thailand threatening to close existing Burmese refugee camps and send the occupants back to Burma, and the Burma Army intensifying military operations in Shan State, these people are in a very perilous and uncertain situation. They have no place to call home.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV)

Pray for

  • The Burmese government to cease its oppressive policies toward the Shan  (Psalm 140:1, Isaiah 60:18, Matthew 5:44).
  • Thailand to extend compassion and provide basic assistance to the Shan who cross its borders (Leviticus 19:33-34).
  • The Shan to seek citizenship in the kingdom of God (Hebrews 11:8-10).

Other posts related to this topic:

External Resources:

  • View a film about a Shan refugee living in Thailand at Deidox (click on the link and select Pii Chui). This film gives a good idea of what life is like for Burmese people in Thailand. Don’t miss the extra scenes with narration by Director Brent Gudge which gives more detail on how tough life is for Pii Chui.
  • A Shan Missions report of a 2005 visit to a Shan refugee camp.

These kids live in a cold ravine in NE Burma. Their homes were burned down in 2008 and they have had to run for their lives 12 times since then as Burma Army forces advance. Having shoes, even socks, they are the fortunate ones. (Burma on My Mind)

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Image of a Shan refugee camp: The Branch Foundation

Join me in praying for the Shan people

Shan-Tai prayer month 2011, Introduction

During the month of October I am dedicating myself to praying for the Shan people of Burma, Thailand and China. I did this last year and God has planted a desire to persist in prayer for this ethnic group. Please consider joining myself and many others around the world in praying for the Shan in October.

Most Shan people have not even heard of Jesus. Many of the places they live are remote, inaccessible, conflict zones and off-limits to foreigners. The relatively few Shan who have heard of Christ have many barriers to overcome in following Jesus. Please join in praying for these people that God will break down these barriers and bring many to faith in Him.

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
(James 5:16b-18 ESV)

Shan State is the largest of the seven states in Burma, with a population of approximately 8 million people, 4 million of whom are of the Shan ethnic group.

Shan State is rich in natural resources, such as gems, minerals and teak. Large hydroelectric dams are also planned for the state.

The Shan are ethnically related to the Thai and have a similar language. The Shan call themselves “Tai”. “Shan” is a Burmese language term. Their cultural religion is Buddhism, and also strong animist beliefs. Most Shan people live off the land, generating a small income from agriculture. (Report: Crisis in Shan State)

Some ideas on how to approach this month of prayer:

  • Download the Shan Prayer Guide and personally devote one month to pray for the Shan, reading a new entry each day and meditating on the verses provided.
  • During Sunday school, small group, or family devotion have a time of reading an entry and praying together.
  • Meet with a friend or co-worker over lunch once a week and pray for the Shan during that time.
  • Exercise by going on a walk with a friend or spouse, reading one entry before going, praying for the Shan as you walk together.
  • Write out your prayers and meditate on God’s concern for the Shan people during your day, pleading for their relief and salvation.

Other posts related to this topic:

More Information:

Download the Shan Prayer Guide:

30 Days of Prayer for the Shan
Map of Burma: prayforburma.org  (below)
Image of Shan village woman: iStock