The Baptists in Myanmar are in high gear preparing to host thousands to celebrate the two hundred year impact of the arrival of the Judsons in 1813. Baptists here claim Judson as one of their own, which speaks highly of his cultural assimilation. Baptists in American claim him also, for he helps us understand that Baptists have always been both a sending and a going expression of the Body of Christ. We are shaped by his legacy, too. Mission is in our ecclesial DNA.
Yesterday we visited Judson Church, founded in 1932. It serves as the university chapel on the campus of Yangon University and is known for its ecumenicity and interfaith work. The venerable pastor spoke of his yearning for Baptists to further their dialogue with Buddhism, respectful and searching. When asked where he begins in this dialogical exercise, he said: “I always start with an affirmation of the living God,” which engages the theistic question. In many respects this reflects the spirit of Adoniram Judson as he embraced the many commendable aspects of Burmese culture.
After paying a courtesy call to the Myanmar Baptist Convention, where I was privileged to greet the leaders of men’s ministries for the MBC we spent a delightful afternoon with the leadership of two schools: Pwo Karen Theological School and Yangon Karen Bible College. I was deeply impressed by the clarity of each school’s mission. The first school prepares people primarily for pastoral leadership in village churches in the delta area of the country, the region of the Pwo Karen. The second school strives to equip persons with little academic preparation to minister among the poor. Of course, their leaders speak passionately about their vision for transformation of their land through Gospel witness and their radical faith in God’s provision to continue their mission.
Just a few short steps away from these schools is a major construction project, the Yangon Karen Home Mission Bicentenary Hall, to be completed in November in time for the annual gathering of Karen Baptists and then to host in December the many who will surge into Yangon for the major Judson celebration. Constructed to seat 3500, planners expect it will be overflowing. At the cost of 4.5 million, it will be an impressive structure. Garnering resources from churches to fund this ambitious project demonstrates great faith. “It is God’s building,” they said. “It will be finished.” We were impressed by their belief that they could do great things; we also wondered if American Baptists still believe that we can do great things.
The varied encounters here interrogate our priorities and call us to prayer. We are learning from our hosts and from fellow pilgrims, and our lives will not be the same.
Molly T. Marshall