The Joy of the Lord is our Strength

100_2729It started off like pretty much every other day – a quiet time in the word, family prayer and making sure the needs of their own three children as well as the twelve orphans were taken care of. The last minute packing had been done and their ministry partner had just arrived via taxi. The weather was typical for May, in the mid 80’s with high humidity and a chance of rain. It would be a slow journey and very hot in the bus, especially if the windows needed to be kept closed. The trio was heading to their homeland in Southern Chin State from Yangon, Myanmar.

As the group boarded the bus for the 450 mile drive to “M” Township each had different thoughts running through their heads. For Pastor Benjamin, his thoughts were focused on the teaching that he would do and his heart hurt for the people of his homeland. He remembered back to his days as an orphan in Southern Chin State and how he had heard the Gospel from a missionary and how he had given his life to the Lord. Oh, how he prayed that his words would be those of the Lord and that they would touch the hearts of the people in the villages they planned to visit. His desire to see these people firmly rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ is what gave him the strength for the long journey that lay ahead of them.

His wife Mary was filled with many of the same thoughts, but she was also thinking about their three daughters and the orphans in their care. She prayed silently that everyone would remain healthy and that there would be no problems with the government officials coming with inquiries about the rebuilding of their home. They had known many other pastors who had their families put in jeopardy and who were hauled into the government offices being forced to sign documents stating they would no longer hold church services. The risks they faced on a daily basis were great, but she calmed herself knowing that the Lord was protecting her children and that He had called them to make this trip and He would protect them according to His plans.

For the youth pastor, his thoughts were on the work at hand, of course, but he couldn’t help but watch Benjamin and Mary and think about his soon to be bride. What a blessing that the Lord had answered his prayers for a wife – a young woman also from Southern Chin State. The next time he made this journey he would not be alone, but would have his bride by his side to share in the work the Lord had called him to. He had many preparations to make before the June 6th wedding, but the Lord was in control and he knew that the time would be redeemed.

The trio had pleasant conversation during the long bus ride to “M” township, which, at 4,860 feet is as far as public transportation could carry them. They greeted many Christian friends in the town, which had been evangelized for many years. The fellowship was so unlike that which they had in the city where their every move was monitored and where there were so few Christians.

The real journey was about to begin. They had made the trip just last year, so they knew the challenges that lay ahead of them. They grabbed their belongings, rehydrated themselves and prepared for the climb up the dusty mountain roads which greatly resemble foot paths. There was no way to catch a ride as virtually everyone walks where they need to go – vehicles are not practical in this rough terrain. Being May, they knew they the temperatures would be pleasant, probably around 70′ F, but the effort of the climb would cause them to lose fluids. Although the road ahead was rough, their hearts were light with joy at being back in their beloved homeland and being used of God for His purpose to share the Gospel with these people who were so dear to their hearts.

After four days of hiking up the mountain trails the happy trio praised the Lord for their safe travel and for the warm reception that they received at their first village stop. They were there for three days, and each member of the team had specific teaching that they had prepared. During their brief stay there were about 250 people attending services and training which, although a blessing, created a problem for there was no facility large enough to handle that many people. Thanks rang out to the Lord for this kind of problem and thanks also for preparing a safe and quiet place for the group to meet and pray in the beauty of His mountain creation.

Mary had about 60 women who she was teaching while the youth pastor focused his messages to the young people. Pastor Benjamin did salvation training and conducted prayer meetings. The time was short and the focus of the trio was to share the love of Christ with as many people as they could in a very personal and applicable way. Their personal testimonies and that fact that all of them had been raised in Southern Chin State reached to the hearts of the people and many were eager to hear more about Jesus. By the end of the three days the angels in heaven were rejoicing to have 25 new sisters and brothers as a part of the Kingdom. The Holy Spirit was moving during the prayer meetings – there were many tears, sincere repentance for sin and some who were healed from lengthy afflictions. The villagers understood that God answered their humble prayers and many spirits were broken by the preaching and teaching. The people of this village understood God chose these three former residents of Southern Chin State to fulfill the great commission of Jesus Christ in their area.

The Lord was already watering seeds and the next day they went to another village which already had a church building. Here they had a place to preach the gospel and share the love of Jesus Christ. Again their hearts were encourages as seven people understood that salvation was a free gift of God to mankind and accepted Him as their Lord and Savior. Meetings continued, not only at the church, but also from house to house which is the typical form of meeting. Prayer meetings were conducted in each village.

There were some unexpected turns of events in two of the villages. Pastor Benjamin and his wife Mary gave testimonies of the ministry they had with the orphans. Relatives of orphaned children from one village approached the couple. “Please take these four children who have been left in our care with you to the city so they can be fed properly and so they could be raised in a loving Christian home.” The same thing occurred in a second village where there were three additional children who were living with very poor relatives. Benjamin and Mary did not know how to respond – they were already caring for their own plus 12 others and had many other children living with families from their church. They sought the Lord in their personal time of prayer and the Holy Spirit gave them a peace that they were supposed to bring these seven children back to Yangon with them – how could they deny the definition of pure and undefiled religion? – taking care of widows and orphans in their time of need. (James 1:27) There were many starving children that they met on this trip, but the Lord had prepared for them to take these seven back with them and they knew they could trust Him to meet the financial needs to get the children all the supplies and uniforms needed for school and to assist with the additional needs of the household in feeding and caring for them. The Lord continues to expand their boundaries and to grow His family. These children are not only His, but they are now Benjamin and Mary’s and although leaving their relatives brought tears and anxiety, the warmth they received from their new parents made their new life prospects and adventure.

The Holy Spirit also convicted Pastor Benjamin of the need to return annually to continue with the teaching as most of the people were not literate and would not be able to continue study independently. The harvest was greater than the trio had expected and although they were tired, they were strengthened by the doors that the Lord had opened for them and by the desire of the new believers to be baptized. As the group prepared themselves and the children for the hike back down the mountain, they felt that the Lord had been moving in a very special way during their time in their homeland. They realized that God had equipped them to be the messengers to this particular tribe for such a time as this.

The weary group that had started as three was now ten, and the pleasure of sharing the journey with the children back to Yangon was incredible. The tribal children do not ride in vehicles, have never seen a big city and are not used to non-tribal clothing, so each and every step of the journey opened their eyes to a world they had never known and opened opportunities to share of God’s love and blessings. As the trio was winding down this evangelism trip, these children were just beginning their own journey, but that story is for another time. As the group reflects back on this trip, the following verse is their summary:

“The spirit of the sovereign lord is on me, because the lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Is 61:1