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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

min ga la ba

We step out of the airport safe, and a transit van is about to ferry us to our hotel. At first sight, Yangon seems indifferent. There are no colours, no smells, and no noises. It is not entirely peaceful, but rather disquieting, and at first I could not place my finger on why, or what was this sense of indifference about. They say you know the people through their culture and their passion, but there was hardly much culture nor passion about. Passion overflows through beaming smiles and gay colours that no artist-photographer could refuse. I hardly took very many photographs, nor had I the urge to. The distinctive traits of the Burmese - the applied patches of tanaka cosmetic on their faces, and their sarongs and long skirts - were all that I could say were truly not indifferent. Afterwards, in days to come, we saw much more that cleared a bit of this uneasy quiet about me.

We found out why, in our own ways, later, why the suppressed laughter and semi-smiles. Freedom is not a given in every place of this world, and if we faced oppression after a long many decades, faith wanes in more ways than one. One feels stagnant without growth, and then we all decline soon after. Hence the brain drain, net building dilapidation, and the heavy sense that nothing is possible even if you try. There are many secrets hushed save behind closed doors, even then it is oppressed faith that comes about half-aloud, not like the way we are supposed to be, shouting to mountains and demons alike. We do take freedom for granted if we have it, and our Singaporean oppression is nothing.

I had a vision of the city as if being a hard core of igneous rock being buried by much time and sedimentary layers. Some mountains are formed this way - through patient erosion of the soil, the final release of pressure from the removal of the sediments causes the pressure within the core igneous rock to suddenly expand. That was the Yangon I saw. Decades of pressure into seeming indifference, but erosion will occur, and that will cause the majesty of a solid mountain to arise and revive the silent land.

The Christians in Yangon that we met were educated and intellectual. They became good friends soon after we met, as they served us and escorted us while smiling and opening their hearts and homes. Their faith was small, but they still did serve the community, and their work was impactful. After they met us, on the last day of our stay there, they decided that they shall also do the same as we did, to send a mission team out of their city. Their pastor said they were sleeping Christians, not daring to do much. She was convicted, and spoke to the church that they shall go into the interior of northern Myanmar away from the capital, to serve the people there too, instead of just giving money, which they easily had as city folk. For years they never did much save for a slum nearby, and now they were inspired for greater things despite the pressures they faced. Here in Singapore, we give so little save to feel better for ourselves, and do even less.

When we first prayed for the ministry in the slum, I cried. They were not slum-dwellers by choice, but were forced to move out of their forest homes, into legalised slum dwellings on rent, which were made of bamboo walls and zinc roofs for some, thatched roofs and canvas shades for others. The forests were due for development it seemed. The slum land was not arable land. The people, mostly Indian, were really homeless in actuality. "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." I felt their forced homelessness, and I wept before I went to see them. There is only one goverment hospital in a very huge area of organised dwellings. The inner streets were unpaved, and were wet with potholes, a pain during the rainy season. The Yangon folks had come to this slum some years ago, set up a place of worship for the believers there, and also a free clinic, where volunteer doctors would come to minister through medical care twice a week. They set up a school for kids, preschool and above. Many kids are street bound otherwise. There is a loneliness and resignation on many faces. Life was survival, and sickness abounded.

But those who met God had a different countenance, and we witnessed the change in some when they decided to put their defenses away to seek a God who loved them. Worry changed to peace, and fear into courage. Spiritual causes are noble, but life is the one thing worth rejoicing for.

Besides praying for them and ministering to them the word of God, we also did things for the many kids that spent their time in that home. We played games, we sang many songs with them, showed them a movie, and they beamed. I led the team in conducting an art class, and they were happy too. We gave the church workers crayons and paper to work with the kids on their own after we left, now that they knew what they could do, as well as writing materials to each child. The kids are very well-disciplined, and the church workers who lead the children's school are very admirable in their leadership. They love all the kids despite their dirty hair, torn clothes and distended bellies, no one treated more fairly than the other.

The feeling of indifference eased on me, and love descended. I miss Myanmar already.