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200 Years of Baptists in Burma


November 27, 2013

200 Years of Baptists in Burma

BPFNA members travel to Burma/Myanmar and Thailand for a Friendship Tour in Jan-Feb, 2012.

2013 marks the 200th anniversary of Ann and Adoniram Judson’s arrival in Burma and, from December 3-20, tens of thousands of Baptists will gather in Burma (Yangon and Mandalay) and Thailand (Bangkok, Chian Rai, and refugee settlements along the Thai/Burma border), to celebrate this momentous occasion in Baptist history.
As ABC missionary Duane Binkley writes from Chiang Mai, Thailand: “We know of several groups from American Baptists and Central Seminary, people from the Baptist World Alliance and we've heard maybe a couple hundred Karen from Thailand will be there and are already underway. Within Burma, I'm sure that as I write, there are people walking, driving, in boats, planes, crunched in the back of trucks large and small, filling buses and maybe hopping in ox carts or riding water buffaloes all heading to this extraordinary gathering.”
Among those tens of thousands, several BPFNA members, along with BPFNA Operations Coordinator Evelyn Hanneman, will be in attendance. “When we received an invitation from Dr. Maung Maung Yin of the Peace Studies Center at Myanmar Institute of Theology to attend this celebration, I knew I wanted to be there," said Hanneman. "I learned about Ann and Adoniram Judson as a child in Sunday School and am thrilled that I will be able to visit those “Golden Shores” and join the Baptists there to celebrate the ministry of the Judsons."
Adoniram and Ann Judson were the first Baptist missionaries to arrive in Burma. Arriving in 1813, the Judsons worked to bring the gospel to the people of Burma; working for years to translate the Bible into Burmese. While it may have taken them six years to get their first convert, there is no doubting the Judson’s influence, as currently, there are more than half a million Burmese Baptists residing in Burma (Myanmar) which is predominantly Buddhist. (link).
“I am in awe of what God has accomplished through the life of Adoniram Judson,” said Duane Binkley. “At the same time, as I think of his life, I see how he and none of us do anything on our own. Judson only survived because of Ann, Sarah, and Emily (his three wives). The Karen church got started with the help of Ko Tha Byu. Luther Rice organized support in America that kept the missionaries on the field. Evangelists, pastors and educators rose up among the people of Burma and the church has grown despite a long list of obstacles. So as we go to celebrate Judson's life and ministry we really celebrate what God has done and is doing in Burma and around the world. What a privilege to participate in this event and even more so to be a part of the Judson legacy.”
Please keep all those attending this event in your thoughts and prayers.

by Evelyn Hanneman

They arrived In procession, dressed in their native clothes, carrying banners and signs indicating their ethnic group. All different in their patterns, colors and headdresses. Yet they are all Baptists, here in Yangon to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Ann and Adoniram Judson, the first Baptist missionaries to Burma.

More than 30,000 people are expected to join the celebration; coming from all over Myanmar, across the mountains from Thailand, and from throughout world. At the welcoming ceremonies these groups of Baptists were recognized. I especially remember the joyous group from Japan, a country that had invaded Burma during the Second World War.

We met a Swedish missionary named Otto who works in Thailand at the Burmese refugee camps. Winston is Kareni who came to St. Paul, MN as a refugee and is now a naturalized US citizen. In his retirement he is living on the Thai/Burma border, teaching English and acting as an interpreter. He translated Burmese signs for us in the special museum set up to recognize the Judson's' work. Ko Ko Lay is head of the Pwo Kayin Theological Seminary, a school which was started by a Baptist missionary, Mrs. Brayton Rose in 1897 as a Bible school for girls. With most of the students needing scholarship assistance, Ko Ko Lay spends much of his time in fundraising. However, service is at the heart is the school. Followings Cyclone Nargis in 2008, he closed the school and the students and professors spent two months helping the survivors. Two students died while there, and Ko Ko Lay speaks of the 42 days they spent burying the dead with a shake of his head at the painful memories.

The Myanmar Baptists built a special hall for the ceremonies, and received a promise from the authorities that the electricity would remain on for these days. It went off while we were talking to Ko Ko Lay, yet another broken promise from the government. Ko Ko Lay is providing meals for 10,000 people a day, and has people sleeping in his house and under tarps around it and on the school grounds, while he sleeps on pads on the floor of his office.

We are greeted with smiles, and by people telling us of friends and relatives who live in the States; finding connections across the miles.

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by Evelyn Hanneman

The 200th Judson anniversary celebration is over. They report that 30,000 people registered for the event and another 14,000 people just showed up. Various churches and seminaries as well as individual homes provided food and offered lodging so all could attend. Breakfast was served by 5:30am so people could catch the early buses to the celebration site. The cooks stirred vegetables in huge woks over open fires almost 24 hours a day to keep the supply of food coming.

Percy Walley, BPFNA Friendship Tour member, said, "Even more than the services at the festival center, I was impressed with the service provided by the Pwo Kayin Theological Seminary (where our friend Ko Ko Lay is president) in feeding 20,000 people a day and housing several thousand."

The non-Christians were impressed that there was no fighting, drinking, or problems despite the number of people and the crowding, unlike the Buddhist festivals. The taxi drivers had a major increase in business, and the shops and hotels in the area experience an increase as well.

The exuberance of the singing was inspiring. The joy of being together was evident in the faces and the hand clasps and the picture taking.

Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, wondered if anyone had ever seen so many Baptists together.

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by Evelyn Hanneman

Wednesday was filled with the unexpected. The drive from Yangon to Moulmein offered interesting insight into life in Myanmar.

The sighting of a huge Buddha statue that was under construction led to the decision to stop by to see it up close. We learned that the 94-year old Abbott of a nearby monastery had decided to build it 8 years before. The foundation has been laid and the face is complete but there is much work to be done.

The watchman shared a fascinating story. The king of Thailand has been ill and in and out of the hospital. One night he had a dream in which an Abbott from Myanmar came and gave him some medicine that made him better. The next day he awoke feeling better and was able to leave the hospital. The king sent an emissary to Myanmar to find this Abbott. There had been stories in the local papers about how this Abbott who is building this statue was the Abbott of the King's dream. The King sent many gifts as thanks.

While at the site, we noticed that the rubber trees right next to it were being tapped, and asked if we could take pictures.

The watchman led us into the rubber plantation, right to where several men and one woman were harvesting the rubber and preparing it to transport and sell. We spent a wonderful hour with them, learning about the process, with Percy even taking a stint at turning the crank.

We learned that the woman and her husband owned this plantation, and that he was the nephew of the Abbott. Seems that they probably donated the land for the statue.

From then on, we were experts at recognizing the rubber trees along the road, noticing whether they were old enough to be tapped, were being tapped or were an old growth that was being replaced with new trees.

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