BURMA: Running With The Gospel – It’s Opportunity Time!
Forty-nine people groups, for whom Jesus died and rose again, and yet they are without a Gospel witness – that’s the motivation behind World Impact Ministries’ outreach to Burma. After six decades of a brutal military dictatorship, the country officially known as Myanmar (population 56 million), is slowly becoming open to the Gospel.
The majority, 89 percent, are Buddhists, 4 percent are Christians, 4 percent are Muslims, 1 percent are animist and the remaining 2 percent belong to other local religious groups. The largest people group, the Bamar people, are almost all Buddhists, with only 0.07% believers in Christ.
Almost all of the influence of Christianity has been among the indigenous people in the hill areas, especially the Karen people. Before the Gospel reached them in the 19th and 20th century, they followed various types of shamanistic rituals. While it is wonderful to see what the Lord has done among the Karen, the large and dominant people groups remain unreached; they are born, live and die without ever hearing the Gospel.
Jesus died for the world.
Jesus’ finished work means that the world—including Burma—has been reconciled to God.
The great commission is all the world.
Our mission is clear: We must open the spiritual eyes of the Burmese people so that they can see what God in Christ has done for them. This was Jesus’ words to Saul of Tarsus— Open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those are sanctified by faith in Me, (Acts 26:18).
Look at this:
- People need help to have their spiritual eyes opened.
- Believers are called to open the eyes of those who have yet not received the Gospel.
- Once people’s spiritual eyes have been opened, they will turn to God.
I have no doubt what the result will be once the Burmese people’s eyes are opened to see who God really is—they will change their thinking, and turn to Christ. How can I be so sure? Because that’s the nature of the Gospel—it is the power of God.
୭ FIRST TIME EVER ON A SOCCER FIELD ୭
The opportunity has never been greater than now. We will be in the largest city, Yangon (5.5 million population), and for the first time a soccer field will be turned into a venue for the Gospel.
This first Gospel Campaign in Burma is also a step towards reaching this entire Buddhist nation. Christian leaders from other parts of Burma will travel to Yangon to participate in the Gospel Revolution Seminar for pastors, and this will be an opportunity to explore more avenues how we can cover Burma with the Gospel.
୭ HISTORY STEEPED IN RELIGION, WARS AND TURMOIL ୭
Burma traces its history for more than 1200 years to the establishment of the first Burmese kingdom, Pagan. Buddhism was introduced to the Burmese people during this time. Until today, the Ananda temple serves as a monument to the great civilization of this early time. The cave-type temple is still visited by tourists from around the world, especially during religious festivals when up to a thousand monks chant day and night for 72 hours.
With the arrival of the British colonizers in the 1800s, a series of wars followed, which resulted in Burman territories along with that of the neighboring minority groups becoming a part of British India. The Burmese people have a strong sense of identity and Burmese nationalism emerged in the early part of the 20th century. After the country was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II, the British influence waned and Burma gained independence in 1948.
From 1962 until 2011 the Burmese people enjoyed only limited freedom, with the dictates of the military junta pervading every area of society. With the installation of a civilian government there has been an easing of restrictions. After the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years as a political prisoner, the country’s human rights record has improved and this has led to new opportunities.
୭ ADONIRAM JUDSON—19TH CENTURY MISSIONARY HERO ୭
It’s impossible to describe the history of Burma from a Gospel perspective without mentioning Adoniram Judson, often referred to as the father of North American missions.
Judson was told by his Baptist denomination that the Burmese people were impermeable to Christian evangelism, but he didn’t give up. After arriving in the country, he spent three years studying the Burmese language for 12 hours a day. Four years passed before Judson dared to hold a public service. He had 15 men in attendance at that first meeting and two months later he baptized his first Burmese convert. The Buddhist traditions and world view made it difficult to reach the Burmese, who were reluctant to believe in one living and all-powerful God. Judson and his team further faced political restrictions and laws that carried the sentence of death if a Burmese person changed region.
By 1823, ten years after his arrival, membership of the little church had grown to 18 people. While many would have been discouraged, Judson remained undaunted it has task, confident that in the end the Gospel would win. Together with his wife Ann, he became fluent in both the written and spoken Burmese language.
Judson finished the first draft of his translation of the entire text of the New Testament in Burmese and began to translate the whole Bible.
୭ THE GOSPEL, NOT ANTI-BUDDHISM ୭
Judson’s preaching was a combination of conviction of the truth of Christ, a firm belief in the Bible, and a determination to make Christianity relevant to the Burmese mind. His purpose was, “to preach the Gospel, not anti-Buddhism.”
I visited Mandalay, the second largest city of Burma, in 2000, when we held a small seminar for pastors and leaders. There was no advertising, everything was kept secret. We gave about 100 American dollars to the local police chief so that we would be able to conduct the meetings in peace. During this time I stayed in a very simple guesthouse located just across from a prison where Adoniram Judson served time. I often looked out the window from a little room at the prison and gave thanks to God for the commitment of those early pioneers. They made huge sacrifices, and the seed they sowed is still bearing fruit today.
୭ GENUINE MIRACLES CONVINCE BUDDHISTS ୭
I’m grateful that today we have a clearer understanding of the Gospel preached with signs and wonders. Many of those early pioneers that were so dedicated and committed to the cause had unfortunately been trained in a theology that discounted the possibility of miracles, healings and wonders.
I have no illusions. Without the Gospel being confirmed by Jesus Christ Himself doing wonders among the people, we would have little or no results. Like Paul, I make it my aim to preach the Gospel in word and deed through mighty signs and wonders by the Spirit of God (Romans 15:18 – 19).
Our first full-scale campaign among Buddhists was 16 years ago in Thailand. Some cautioned that Buddhist would not receive the Gospel like we had seen among Muslims and Hindus. Well, the “experts” were wrong. Those Buddhists in Thailand were as excited about Jesus doing miracles as any audience that I preached to anywhere in the world.
Thousands responded to salvation.
୭ DALAI LAMA UPSET ABOUT “FOREIGN PREACHER” ୭
A few years ago we were in Ulanbatoor, Mongolia, another Buddhist country. Again, we were told in no uncertain terms to not expect any miracles among the Buddhists. Even the Pentecostal pastors cautioned us to lower our expectations. Yet again we found that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever—anywhere. God confirmed His Gospel powerfully among the Buddhist in Mongolia. The wonders of God were reported on secular television and newspapers.
The exact same week of our Gospel Campaign, the Dalai Lama was also conducting a conference. The news media reported that older people were attending the Dalai Lama sessions, while the young people were responding to the message of Christ. During his press conference the Dalai Lama was visibly upset that so many people listening to a “foreign preacher.” Well, such is the Gospel with signs and wonders—it breaks through barriers.
୭ A YOUNG NATION OF OPPORTUNITY ୭
Burma is a nation of youth; 25.3 percent are below 14 years old, the median age is 26 years, and life expectancy is 64 years. During the years of military dictatorship literacy was emphasized and 90 percent of the population are literate, which is another opportunity for the Gospel.
The Greek word “Kairos” means the opportune time and now is that opportune time for Burma. This historical Gospel outreach will only be possible through the love and prayers and financial gifts of God’s people, who believe that it is of supreme importance that we take the Gospel to every person, regardless of their religion.
- Country: Burma (“Myanmar” in 1989).
- Capital city: Naypyidaw.
- Largest city: Yangon. (Previously “Rangoon”).
- Population: About 56 million.
- Number of unreached people groups: 49.
- Percentage of unreached people: 84%.
- Largest people group: Burmese, 31 million.
- 2nd largest people group: Tai Man Shan, 4.6 million.
- Government: Military government was established in 1962. Since 2011 Burma is officially parliamentary republic.
Bamar people 99.9% Buddhists
- Biggest political party: National League for Democracy (NLD). The leader, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, has led the party for 3 decades.
- Rakhine people 99.9% Buddhist
3rd largest people group: Rakhine, 2.8 million.
- The military had total power for 60 years .
- About 4% of the population are Muslims.
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