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December 9, 2013
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.