After about 26 hours of travel, and a few layovers, our team arrived at our teaching location. “Our church is down the street from the sleeping Buddha,” one of our hosts remarked. We walked down to see the Irrawaddy River, passing the giant reclining Buddha statue that was about 30-40 feet in height and three times that in length. This was not the only shrine. The neighborhood was dotted with Buddhist temples—but among them stood a three-story, green and white Baptist church.
When we arrived for the evening worship service, there was a blue light illuminating the glass block cross on the side of the building. Rock music was pouring out of the chapel on the second floor as the worship band was warming up. Motorcycles began to fill the parking lot (everyone drives motorcycles here). This was a new evening contemporary service that drew a surprising number of young adults and teens. We took joy in seeing this group of young believers sing praises to God.
The next morning we began our first class. The pastors we are teaching come from all over SE Asia, from the borders of India, Thailand, and China. Some of the pastors even minister in refuge camps which shelter many people who have been displaced from the long-standing conflict between the government and some of the ethnic minorities. Many have been pastoring for over ten years. These are seasoned ministers who simply don’t have access to theological education—a sad but common occurrence outside the West.
Our first lesson was how to move from studying to preaching a biblical text (the pastors will go through a preaching practicum later on this week). Jeremiah 29 was the example text. We asked the pastors to read it and break it up as if they were going to preach it. They began reading silently but by the middle of the chapter they started reading out loud in unison. What at first seemed like an irrelevant Old Testament text about two kings—a text that many pastors would certainly not choose as a preaching text—became an interesting passage for Christians about trusting God, heeding his clear commands, and believing his good promises.
We moved on into our main classes: the Gospel of John and Galatians. “What does it mean when the text says ‘this present evil age’?” one asked, referencing Galatians 1:4.
“I want YOU to answer that question!” Dr. Travis Myers said, to which the students responded with laughter. Travis told him that they would answer the question as they studied the text together this week.
The first day went as smoothly as one could hope for. We ended the day with an enormous dinner at a family restaurant. We sat out on the veranda and watched our table fill up with food. Rice came wrapped in banana leaves. Little saucers of chili sauces and salsa-like mixes were placed on the side. Various meat and veggie dishes kept coming out from the kitchen—including cow tongue, stomach, and intestine (I don’t have to tell you that it was the first time many of us had ever eaten such things).
As the night grew dim we talked and laughed and thanked God for blessing the first day. These students are ready and eager to learn more about Jesus and his word. I pray that they (and their churches) will benefit from this time of teaching. I pray that they would ask good questions of the text, and see things that they never saw before. And I pray that God would be glorified through their continued faithfulness to Jesus and his word.
Joseph McCulley, Travis Myers, and Mark Kernan