AFTER a year of learning Burmese in the capital city of Yangon, I am currently living in Myitkyina, Kachin State where one of the longest civil war is going on.
Myanmar has been for quite a long time under a military regime. It held its first democratic national elections last November 8, 2015 after 50 years of military rule. As the country opens up to the world, getting into the country as a missionary is still very tricky and complicated.
Tourists are generally welcomed in most parts of the country but there are still restricted areas because of conflicts with local ethnic groups especially in the north and border states. I used to leave the country every 70 days to renew my business visa. The longest I could get is a one-year business visa. It can be quite a hassle to get out and back again. The country is divided into states and divisions. States are mostly under the minority ethnic groups while divisions are under the Burmese majority.
I am a Columban missionary priest. My father is a local boy from Gusa, Cagayan de Oro City and an alumni of Pilgrim Christian College but later lived and settled in Iligan City. My mother is from Iligan City. I am now living and working here in Myanmar (former Burma). “Mingalaba” This is how Burmese the majority of the people of Myanmar greet each other. Myanmar is a huge country with over a hundred more other ethnic groups. Buddhism is the majority religion but a good percentage of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and other faiths call Myanmar home.
What am I doing here in Myanmar? That is the same question I asked myself. I once had a conversation with a Burmese seminarian. I shared with him that I came here to Myanmar on business visa but I do not have a real business. The only work I take part in is in the building of the Kingdom of God. If the immigration officer asked me what my business is and I begin with that I would probably confuse him or get myself thrown out of the country.
Yes, we are all called to be workers not bosses in the building of the Kingdom of God not tomorrow or the life after then but in the here and now. I spent my first Easter in Myanmar meeting wonderful people and being adopted into a family. I was introduced to what the Kingdom of God is all about.
As a student of theology, many times I have read authors and experts talk about it but here in Myanmar I have seen and tasted what it is. The makings of the Kingdom of God is the family - a home where we all look after one another. No one is left behind. But there is no perfect family as Pope Francis once commented. He said what is important is forgiveness.
Further, he said in a speech in Cuba: “That is why the Christian community calls families “domestic churches”. It is in the warmth of the home that faith fills every corner, lights up every space, and builds community. At those moments, people learn to discover God’s love present and at work.” The family then plays a great role in the formation of Christians not fanatics but faithful Christians for again Pope Francis reminds us that the only fanaticism pleasing to God is charity. Charity begins at home.
So I return to my question: What am I doing in Myanmar? I help in God’s work of building His Kingdom by getting to know and being with the people of Myanmar, learning the languages of the people. I reach out to the different faiths particularly the Buddhists who are the majority and also the Muslims, Hindus and Christians. In some ways I enter the homes of every individual I meet and encounter them there. Now I am also working with young students as the university students’ chaplain.
Now I invite you to pray for us your missionaries that we may be able to stay faithful to our call. But most especially I also invite you to help in building the Kingdom of God through your prayers and generous contribution.
We are all called to be missionary disciples of Christ.