November 27th–December 1st, 2013
On Sunday morning, December 1st, an official delegation of American Baptist leaders arrived in Yangon after a brief overnight stay in Bangkok. The group included ABC/USA General Secretary Roy Medley, President Ruth Clark, President-elect Don Ng and his wife Joy, International Ministries Executive Director Reid Trulson, Area Director for Southeast Asia and Japan Stan Murray, Missionaries Steve and Nancy James, Director Reginald Mills and Judson Press Associate Executive Director, Publishing, Laura Alden. Gail and I were privileged to join Yam Kho Pau, General Secretary of the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC), and Saw Ler Htoo, General Secretary of Karen Baptist Convention/USA, in greeting them at the airport when they arrived.
From the airport, the group went directly to the Franc Auditorium on the Karen Compound in Ahlone, Yangon, to participate in the final morning session of the Karen Baptist Convention (KBC) Jubilee. The hall was full when we arrived, with people sitting on the floor behind the last row of chairs and standing along the walls or in the entryway. Since four members of the delegation were scheduled to bring greetings, the plan was for them to be escorted to seats on the platform and for the rest of us to be seated in the congregation. However, presumably because of the full house, all of us were led to the platform where extra chairs were set up for us.
We arrived near the end of the first part of the session, which was dedicated to expressing appreciation to Convention leaders who had completed their terms of service. The Centennial Celebration Worship Service followed immediately. (Note that, though MBC will be celebrating the bicentennial of the arrival of the Judsons in Rangoon, the KBC has been celebrating the centennial anniversary of its founding as an organization. Baptist Associations existed among the Karens before 1913, but their Convention was founded in that year.) Early in the service, Stan Murray was invited to introduce members of the American Baptist delegation. Soon thereafter, he, Reid Trulson, and Laura Alden gave messages of greeting, translated by former MBC General Secretary Mar Gay Gyi. Later, Ruth Clark expressed greetings and Roy Medley gave a message of exhortation, both translated by Dr. Eh Wah, a former principal of the Myanmar Institute of Theology.
The service included a great deal of excellent music, including instrumental pieces by a string orchestra and a band; a song in Karen by a massed choir of seminarians; the singing in English of “Victory in Jesus” by an extended family and of “What Shall I Give Thee, Master?” by a soprano soloist and a rousing rendition of “And the Glory of the Lord” from Handel’s Messiah by a large choir and full orchestra. It was all incredibly moving.
KBC leaders were extremely accommodating in providing for English-speaking guests. As we settled into our seats, each of us was provided with a receiver and earphones through which we could hear the Karen messages and announcements translated simultaneously into English. The bulletin for the service was printed in both Karen and English. All of the hymns, and even the responsive reading, were printed in both languages.
Following the service, the group was taken to another new building in the compound for lunch, as guests of KBC’s General Secretary Greeta Din. I commented to Greeta that she is the mother of a very large family and that she has done an excellent job of taking care of all her children! She has indeed been most gracious to all of us.
Nancy and Steve James were particularly excited to be at this event—and to have a meal in this particular location. Looking out of one of the windows later, they showed us the homes where they had grown up as children, when both of their sets of parents were American Baptist missionaries here.
On our way back to our apartment at the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Insein, another part of Yangon, we again stopped by the Pwo Kayin Theological Seminary (PKTS). And once again we greeted Otto Ernvik, a Swedish missionary to the Pwo Karens who works mostly in Thailand. (Note that “Kayin” is the Burmese spelling of “Karen.”) I had met Otto at PKTS earlier this year, and in the course of our conversation mentioned that I had participated in a mass baptism service at Mae Rah Moe Refugee Camp on January 2, 2010. Otto replied that he had participated in the same event. When I got back to our apartment that day, I looked through the folders of photos in my laptop and found one that I thought showed Otto standing right next to me at the water’s edge (see photo on right), and I e-mailed it to him. Today, he confirmed that he was indeed the person standing between me and our mutual friend Eiji Osato (then a missionary from Japan to the Karens in Thailand, now on the staff of Gardena Valley Baptist Church in California). Each of us had baptized 11 candidates that day in 2010, as did 38 other pastors.
Meeting Otto again was, I believe, more than just an “it’s a small world” phenomenon. It’s an illustration of how connected we are when we are involved in the Lord’s work. Serving with Gail at the Myanmar Institute of Theology and the Pwo Kayin Theological Seminary, participating in the Karen Baptist Convention’s centennial celebration and even catching up with Otto have helped make me prouder than ever to be part of American Baptist family, which is part of the much larger family of God.
Wishing you a "sweet December" from Myanmar,
Paul and Gail Aita,
Special Assistants for Myanmar,
ABC International Ministries