Pigeons and Fishpaste

Fermented, rotten fish gets pounded to form fishpaste, a key ingredient in Burmese food.

Since our arrival in Yangon, our family has been blessed to attend two churches. One is a Chin church in the denomination which Sinte grew up in. Unfortunately, this church usually takes us around 2+ hours to get to and return (because of traffic), so we don’t go there every Sunday. We also found another church closer to our home called the Upper Room, which has both Burmese and English spoken during the worship.

The Upper Room has blessed our family tremendously, but it also sticks out in my mind as our worship time there has some peculiarities. First, is the symbolic presence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible often mentions the presence of our Triune God symbolized as a dove. In this church, it finds it’s cousin with many pigeons flying around inside the building. A few weeks back, when I preached at the Upper Room, there was a point in my sermon which I felt needed some emphasis. Just at that moment, two pigeons circled around me and landed right in front of the congregation.  I’m still not sure if those pigeons were of providence or rather an annoyance. Still, it was a pretty surreal experience.

Burmese woman preparing food in the market.

Yet, there is something else at the Upper Room that always brings me back to earth and reminds me that  Myanmar (Burma) is becoming my home. It’s a Southeast Asian invention called fish-paste. I believe of all the food created in this country, this one was devised to be my kryptonite. Next to the Upper Room church is a large open-air market and every morning during worship a strong waft of smell hovers into the room. If you were new to Myanmar, you might grow concerned. Perhaps, you might think a gas main had busted or some other dastardly issue. But no, that offensive smell comes from fishpaste being fried on the other side of the church’s wall. The combination of heat to fishpaste is very deadly and quite possibly could be classified as a low-class weapon of mass destruction. Though the smell may do some permanent damage to my sense of smell, by God’s grace it hardly distracts me in my worship. It only reminds me that I am in a country not of my own, to proclaim the great name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A couple of weeks ago was the last day for our family to worship at this church building, as it is now moving to a new location. We’re looking forward to more worship times ahead with this wonderful body of believers, but in truth, I will miss this building with pigeons flying and a smell I could do without any day of the week. But church isn’t about a location, our experiences or even how we feel there. It’s about a group of believers coming together and honoring God, worshipping the Almighty Creator. It becomes all the more special for a church to be one that reaches out to bring those who don’t know God, to begin to have a relationship with Him. We’re thankful to be serving and worshipping in some great churches in Yangon who share that same vision to bring about building God’s Kingdom here in Myanmar.