by Sandra Hasenauer
I spent the better part of the month of December 2014 in Myanmar (Burma), visiting with our Kachin Baptist sisters and brothers and witnessing both their incredible ministry and their incredible needs. Although Myanmar has improved over the last five years, with a government making moves towards greater democracy and an improving economy as they have opened their doors to business from other countries, there is still an ongoing struggle for justice and security. Education is still expensive, resulting in many families being unable to send their children to school at all, or children being unable to continue their education past eighth grade (each successive year costs more in tuition and tutoring expenses). Medical care is often bought at a price–the wealthier able to afford better care than the poor. There are still battles being fought between the military and some of the ethnic groups, including the Kachin. The Rohingya have been frequently in the news as victims of violence and trafficking. The path to the next elections in Myanmar is still unclear, filled with potential pitfalls. Our prayers are still needed greatly.
In the midst of all this, I was deeply struck by the vibrancy of the ministries we were able to visit. I spent several days in the northern Kachin State, which is predominantly Christian and, of the Christians, predominantly Baptist. My traveling companions and I were shown tremendous hospitality as we met and visited with the leadership of the Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministry. It was an incredible week.
We visited the Good Samaritan Clinic, a ministry launched in 1995 by the Kachin Baptist women, providing health care to those in the Kachin State regardless of their income. Currently, the clinic is in a small building and has about 10 beds (only about 6 of those private), space for meetings with the doctor, a dental office, and a small pharmacy that largely carries local herbal remedies. The KBC Women’s Ministry leaders, however, described for us their plans for the future: They are engaged in a fundraising campaign to build a six-story, 100 bed, fully modernized hospital for women and children. Please hold this fundraising campaign in your prayers, that the medical needs of women and girls may be more effectively addressed.
The Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministry also runs a Women’s Empowerment Clinic. Students between the ages of 12 and 45 are enrolled for a three-month course, during which they may concentrate on sewing or weaving classes, or a variety of other marketable skills such as cosmetology, embroidery, flower arranging, and so forth. There are between 25-30 students at any time; most live on site at the center, a few day students are from the local area. They also have Bible study and life skills training classes (such as money management). The prayer is that students would return home with their new skills and be able to find jobs to better support their families. As jobs are often few and far between, however, KBW plans on opening a factory to employ students, providing them with a steady income at the same time as the factory could help support the ministry. Please hold the Women’s Empowerment Clinic and plans for the factory in your prayers, that women will continue to be equipped and empowered both economically and spiritually.
A third sign of tremendous hope that we witnessed was the Kachin Baptist Theological College. This theological school, located on the outskirts of the Kachin State capital city of Myityina (pronounced “meeht-chee-na”), is also the midst of a new building project. The principal of the seminary was enthusiastic in his plans for the future as the new classrooms and worship space are completed. We were able to tour both the current building as well as the new construction–we found ourselves wanting to be able to attend classes in the new building too: they’re beautiful! As a later note: KBTC was the site of the Kachin Baptist youth conference in April–it is estimated that there were over 20,000 youth in attendance! Please hold the students, faculty, and staff of the Kachin Baptist Theological College in your prayers, that the new buildings may continue to serve God in the Kachin state for generations to come.
I found myself renewed in my own call to ministry through the deep commitment and faithful hope I witnessed in the Kachin Baptist Church and especially, for me, in the Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministries. This is the first of two posts I’ll be sharing about my experience in Myanmar: I write these blog posts in the prayer that you will also give God thanks for the presence and ministry of the KBC and KBW among their people, their role in bringing peace to a struggling country, and their faithful commitment to God.
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Rev. Sandra DeMott Hasenauer serves as associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries and is on the ABCUSA Burma Refugees Commission. This is her second trip to Myanmar (Burma), the first being in 1998. She has also visited the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, and enjoys the new life of her home church of Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, New York, as in the last several years it has welcomed over 150 new friends and members originally from Burma.