This newsletter was written while traveling on a plane returning from Myanmar, where the temperature was about 104 most days. Once again it has been a very busy and profitable two months. It seems as if things just keep getting busier, but maybe it just seems that way. March was a very busy month. Jerry had to catch up on some things after being gone to India most of February. And of course, we had to get ready for our trip to Myanmar in April as well as plan and book tickets for Jerry’s trip to Honduras in May. All of our lessons have to be prepared in advance, since there is little time and no study materials available overseas. Many mornings while overseas, we wake up early and do some last minute studying and refreshing of our lessons for that day.
The Month of March
As we mentioned earlier, many things were going on in March. We continued our visits to churches as usual. We had a gospel meeting with the Central Academy church near Batesville, MS about 10 days before we left. Ed Casteel is now preaching for that good congregation, and we were impressed with their friendliness and dedication. There were no responses, but a good crowd attended all the meetings, with several visitors from neighboring congregations. That Sunday was to have been an open weekend in our schedule. We have very few of those, but while Jerry was in India, Ed e-mailed him about the possibility of preaching in a 4-day meeting in March. It was good to be able to work that into our schedule, even though it did eliminate any down time. Batesville is only one hour away from Winona, so we commuted every day. That way, we were able to get some office work done, which was greatly needed.
The Voice of Truth arrived from the printer in March, and so we had to ship out many of the boxes to churches and individuals here in the states. This occurs quarterly, and it seems it always falls just before we leave the country. In addition, we also had to prepare many boxes for foreign brethren who had requested literature to aid them in their work. We mail these boxes quarterly, along with the Voice of Truth; nevertheless, we had many requests. Each box will average about 12 pounds. Can you imagine the look on the faces of these individuals when they receive this present of books and tracts?
Jerry also traveled to Denver for a meeting with all the extension staff of Bear Valley schools. They try to meet together twice a year to discuss various issues or problems with each of the schools. It is also a good time to be together and have a period of fellowship together. While he was there he received a call from Russell Bell requesting him to accompany Russell for a ten day teaching trip to Myanmar this September. You may remember that Jerry and Russell were in Chandigarh, India together in February. Russell was having some problems finding someone to travel with him to Myanmar this fall, and almost begged Jerry to travel with him. Unfortunately, we are unable to fill that request. There are more places to go than there is time to go.
We also had two groups to come to the office and work in March. A large group from the Booneville church (about 25 of senior adults) came for one day. We are glad to have groups come and help, even though they are a lot of work, both in preparation and while they are here. Much was accomplished though. They prepared Betty’s newsletters, organized our tracts, packed about 50 boxes for preachers in Guyana, unloaded about 30,000 copies of the Voice of Truth and three other books, and several other things. They carried back with them nearly 2,000 pounds of books bound for Guyana. They had a large bus and it was loaded on the way back with the people and all the books as well. They send containers to Guyana in South America on a regular basis, so it was an excellent time to send some much needed study material to that country.
The other group was composed of only four women. These four, Ruth Orr, Jane George, Prissy Sellers and her daughter, Holly, were hard workers, though. They stayed about three days, and they were still here when we left for Myanmar. They worked on packing special boxes for Nigeria, Malawi, and Ghana, as well the Philippines. Ruth travels to all three countries in Africa, so she had many contacts and many requests to fill. Prissy Sellers travels to the Philippines, and worked as a missionary for 10 years before her husband passed away about 5 years ago. She continues to work extensively in that country
especially in the area of establishing Bible classes and creating educational materials for churches in the Philippines. These women did all the packing of the books themselves. They have all been to Winona many times, so they know where everything is and they make themselves at home. This was great since we were trying to finalize many things in the office in preparation for our departure. There are always a number of things that have to be taken care of at the last minute, and this time was no exception. All these books will be shipped out after we return.
We always enjoy our time in Myanmar each spring. Myanmar has been in the news a great deal lately, and when we went we had no idea about the political situation. We started reading about it in the paper the day we left. In case you are in the dark politically, let us briefly catch you up. For especially the last 20 years, Myanmar has been controlled by a very repressive and controlling military government. The people had few freedoms and little opportunity to voice their opinions. Most of the people are very poor, with the government taking much of the wealth of the country. The people’s hero and leader of the opposition party, Aung San Su Kyi, has been under house arrest for 20 years, because she tried to work for the welfare of the common person. They had an election last year, but it was a rigged election. so the people still had little voice. That was basically the situation just one year ago.
Things have changed tremendously in just one year. Whereas, last year there were long lines to buy gasoline, there are no lines now. The government has released control of the stations to private ownership and so there is now plenty of gas. It seems that governments everywhere just mess things up. There was another election while we were there, and this time, it was apparently a free election. The opposition party won every seat that it was seeking except for one, and it appears they will now have a minority voice in government decisions. The people were ecstatic over the outcome. Everyone was openly talking about the election, and nearly every home has a big picture of Aung San Su Kyi hanging on the wall. As a result of the elections, different governments, especially, Japan, England, and the U. S. are very interested in forging trade and business alliances in this new environment. Economic sanctions have been relaxed due to the elections, and the British Prime Minister visited Myanmar while we were there. We think we may have seen his motorcade leaving the airport one afternoon when we were coming back from the school. I guess that is our claim to fame! Almost every day, something about Myanmar was in the world news on CNN.
At no time did we feel any pressure from the government. We haven’t really felt any in the past, but we knew they were watching us and knowing what was going on. Things felt much different this time. Last year special permission had to be obtained from the government to allow us to teach in the school every day, but none was needed this time. Hopefully, things will continue to improve and religious conditions will be relaxed. As of now, no TV or radio religious programs, newspaper ads, etc. are allowed. If things continue, I feel that it will not be long before such things will be allowed. That should help the church tremendously.
The school in which we taught in in session for a total of five weeks each spring and fall. We were there for three weeks this time. The ages of the students vary tremendously, and each school session is composed of different individuals, due to work or school commitments. One thing is constant though, the interest of the students. Most travel several days in order to attend the school and stay the entire five weeks. Some are as young as 12, but most are in their late teens or 20’s. We teach about 5 hours each day, but different Burmese preachers also teach in the early mornings and evenings, so the days are really packed for the students. Several baptisms usually occur during each school, and such was the case this time with six putting on Christ in baptism during this school session.
We were privileged to have Guy Stanley from Springfield, TN, travel with us this time. He recently became the Mission Deacon of the Main Street congregation in that city and he is taking his duties very seriously. This congregation has been supporting World Evangelism for many years, and he wants to see firsthand all the works that they support. We were fortunate to be first on his list of places to visit. He also wants to visit India sometime. We had only met briefly last fall, when we made our first visit to his congregation, eating lunch together at that time. However, we had a Christian bond together and we soon felt like we had known each other for much longer. All the Burmese brethren assumed that we had known each other for a long time. We had an especially close relationship as we all rode in a small taxi with our translator each day for 45 minutes to and from school.
Guy is a seasoned traveler and a retired English teacher. We decided that he was uniquely qualified to teach some beginning English to the students. English is a much needed skill for these students, and they were all very eager to sharpen their skills in this area. He related well to the students, using Bible songs and verses to teach the lessons. The students greatly appreciated his efforts. Guy only stayed for two weeks, and so we finished up the school the last week by ourselves. Paula taught the Birth and Life of Christ to the ladies the entire time. Jerry taught about the church and worship for the first two weeks, and during the last week, he taught a short course on Church History from the very beginning until modern day.
Myanmar is a very hot country, especially in April and May, since these months are their summer months. The monsoon rains begin in June and it cools off some. Last year was unusually cool, but this year certainly was not. The temperature was over 1000 most days, and the electricity was off some just about every day. There is no air conditioning at the school or in the car, so it was especially hot when the power was off. Even though it was hot, the students did not seem to mind as they were eager to learn what we had to teach. These students are part of the future of the church in Myanmar.
The older adults are also very committed to the school. Some Christians from different congregations cook on a rotating basis for each school session and they live at the camp for the five weeks. Several preachers come with their students and volunteer to teach some additional courses to the students. We enjoy fellowshipping with many of these experienced preachers. One highlight of this trip was being able to meet Tin Lin. We had heard much about him for many years, even before we started going to Myanmar. He is very busy, and so he had never been to the school when we were there. Two of his grown sons were there for the entire time, and he came for the last week. We also received a request from Peter about some printing work. He translates and prints several books, and he requested some funds to print two more books. The translating was already done, so they should be printed soon. We did not know in advance about this, so we were not able to give him as much as he really wanted, but it was close to what he needed. We always carry some extra cash with us for such things as this or emergencies, and so we gave him all we had left. We left the country with $15 in cash. This is another unusual thing about Myanmar. Guy was shocked to find that you cannot use Travelers Checks or credit cards in Myanmar. We had warned him about that, but it is hard to fully realize what that means until one experiences it.
Besides the political aspect, our trip ended with their holiday season called the Water Festival. This is a national week long holiday ending with the Buddhist New Year. All government offices and most retail businesses, including restaurants and fresh produce stores, are closed for at least a week. It is a time of great celebration for these people. The water festival is as it sounds. Special stages are sometimes built for the celebration, and people stand on the sides of the street throwing or spraying water on the passersby. Many ride on the back of open trucks, and the trucks will actually pull up to these groups and let them soak everyone. This shows that you can have fun without spending a lot of money. We even got a little wet a few times, because sometimes either we did not notice or we were too slow in closing the car windows. It was all in good fun though. We chose to stay in the hotel some nights and all day one Saturday because it was so hectic on the streets.
We have a Missionary Retreat planned in May with usually about 85 missionaries or people very interested in missions. World Evangelism sponsors this each year. It is held at Maywood Christian Camp in Hamilton, AL. The dates for this year May 10-12. You do not have to be a missionary to attend, and we hope that some of you will be able to attend this year. Just let us know and we will send you a schedule and let you know more about it. Jerry will be going to Honduras for two weeks, leaving May 18th. Paula thought a little about going, until she realized what else is happening about that time. Our oldest daughter, Lynette, is expecting her second son May 28th, and nothing would compel Paula to leave the country at that time. We are sure you can all relate to that.
We continue to be grateful that we have the opportunity to be involved in this great work of world evangelism. Thank you for your support of our work and we are proud to be your co-workers in the kingdom of God.