Our Central pilgrims spent yesterday around the ancient city of Mandalay where the two final kings of Myanmar lived prior to British rule. Our travel experience was varied: bus, plane, small ferry across a tributary of the Ayeyarwady River, horse cart and finally, the oldest kind—walking, perhaps the best way to try to take it all in.
Two sites we visited stand out in my mind: 1) one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the nation, where 1000 monks line up to receive their midday portion of food, and 2) the place where Judson was first imprisoned. At the monastery, we witnessed the significance of donors making daily provision to feed all these students and teachers. [As one who spends a great deal of my time thinking about fundraising, I was amazed at this sheer logistical feat!] Tons upon tons of rice are required to sustain these lives who are then freed from labor or begging in order to study. As always, I offered thanks for those who make our work at Central possible. No student is required to pay the full cost of his or her education because of the faithfulness of our donors.
The first site we could easily locate by bus; the second required that we tramp across a field to a grove of trees where a portion of a memorial stone marked the site of the prison—no structure is remaining. We paused to sing “Blest Be the Tie,” that venerable hymn celebrating Christian relationships across continents, across centuries. The Judson legacy endures, which we will see embodied in the Myanmar Institute of Theology, our host for the latter part of our journey.
At every stop children accost foreigners to hawk their wares—postcards, small necklaces, hats, temple bells, small statues, bracelets, etc. They are persistent, to say the least. They want to know where we are from, although we surmised that they know how to spot an American pretty quickly—perhaps it is because some of us carry too much weight or have a genial openness in our demeanor. They are hoping and praying for a sale and will use most any tactic to close the deal. For example, they regularly tell all the women that they are “beautiful” (which all like to hear) and inquire of our names so that they might call us by name on the return trip if we managed to elude them earlier. We were only left to guess how much their family’s livelihood depended upon their successful hectoring of visitors.
In our time of group reflection last evening, we engaged Romans 8:24-30, that great text about hope and prayer. As Christians we hope for the redemption of creation, which includes our redemption. As persons who enjoy the first fruits of the Spirit, we groan inwardly for the realization of God’s ultimate purpose for the whole creation—which includes all who hope and pray for salvation. How is the Spirit drawing the varied seekers toward transcendent belief? We wrestled with authentic hope and the prayer of the Spirit who expresses those things that are too deep for words—a great deal of what we are experiencing falls into that category.
This morning we were awakened by the muzzein, the Islamic call to prayer at the next door mosque. Competing religious claims compel us to examine more closely what we believe and how faith and culture inevitably come wrapped together. We hope to be respectful as we learn the lives of others; we pray to be faithful to God’s self-revealing which none fully comprehend. We lean into the affirmation that the “Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought…” (Romans 8:26).