13 December 2017

Asialink or the unreached people of Asia

Checking into the “Lucky Dragon”, I knew it was not going to be one of the leading hotels of the world, but after twelve hours of anarchy on Burma’s roads, I was just glad of a mattress.

The journey had been chaotic. The road from Rangoon to Mandalay was busy all the way with pigs scuttling between the traffic and the oxen ambling wearily to who knows where. Bikes were everywhere, weaving two and three abreast between the trucks that were stacked up with huge bundles of bamboo and the belching buses piled high with sacks of rice, all racing and jockeying for position on the narrow roads, the passengers clinging precariously from all sides.

The shouts and the whistles, the cooking smells and the incessant, sapping heat. It was a frenzied attack on the senses. Set against it all was the most magnificent backdrop of colours, every hue and shade with the flat, watery rice paddies, the magnificent teak forests and the lush banana plantations.

We weren’t the first missionaries to make this journey – not by a long shot. The Judsons had been in these parts many times in the 19th century, as had Felix Carey, William’s son and contemporary of the Judsons. Felix had made the arduous trip by boat all the way from Calcutta to this little spot where we stood on the Irrawaddy. He had brought his wife with him only for a storm to sweep in, capsize the boat and claim her life. He also lost the printing press he had been bringing as a gift for the king.

Things are more straightforward today. We drove over the impressive concrete bridge that spans the river and headed west for another couple of hours. Every now and again we stopped. Off to the right, about another 24 hours, were some of the workers we wanted to visit. We wouldn’t make it that far on this trip.

Other roads led to different ministry centres, simple efforts that are producing fruit in some very tough places. People are being saved, churches are being planted, God is being praised – and that is what it is all about. No one, however, is under any illusions: this is a complex environment in which to share Jesus Christ.

At one village we stopped and visited a young worker and his wife. Bamboo homes were dotted high up on a hillside. Fear is everywhere in a community like this, the sort of terrifying fear that makes dogs cower.

We dragged ourselves up the dusty slope and passed a shack of a place on our right. Witchcraft had taken hold of the lady who lived there. Not long ago, she had taken her own life but not before beheading four of the villagers, including two Christian children.

Other homes were equally dark, the spirits holding sway night and day. Even as the people sleep and dream, the demons speak, demanding and commanding, and by day the villagers can only obey the night voices.

Taking a metre of thick bamboo, they slice a long strip off the middle section and fill it with four cuts of pork, sometimes beef. They carry it dutifully to the centre of their rice fields and lay it there – an offering to the four gods that guard the corners of their fields, an invitation to the deities of rice and rivers, of the trees perhaps, to gorge themselves, to come and feast together.

It’s a hopeful invitation for these gods to bless, not curse, the harvests. The demons dine, and fear once more reigns.

The Burmese evangelists understand all this like few can. One is himself a converted witch. He was radically changed, gripped now by another Spirit. He knows well that there is an exit Door from such a complex world of supernatural activity. Thirteen families are now Christian. Some are converted Buddhist, others were animists and together the husbands, wives and hoards of children now meet for prayer and study. They worship too. Loudly. So loudly in fact that other curious villagers stop by this little bamboo church. The message is getting out: there is freedom in Christ.

This is a message that does not sit well with the Burmese government. They end to politicise it and any talk of being “free” here worries them. Still, freedom in Christ is exactly what these animists have discovered. It’s changing their world. We prayed together and then headed back down the hill and drove for another couple of hours, once more dodging the potholes and the piglets. Crossing the river again, it was dark when we reached our stop for the night. The electricity faded two or three times, but I was glad to fall into the welcoming arms of the “Lucky Dragon” and process all I had seen.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

For more information email gordon@asialink.org.uk