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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.

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What’s in the Kangaroo Boxes?

The question of ‘What’s in the kangaroo boxes?’ has been a question we’ve been asked and been asking ourselves quite a bit these past couple months.

This past March, South Pacific School Aid, an organization in Adelaide, Australia came through for us yet again by donating and sending us two pallets of books (over 5,000+). We plan to distribute these books to schools, Bible schools, churches and seminaries throughout Myanmar (Burma).

A treasure for schools, seminaries and bible schools here in Myanmar.

Getting these books through customs is not a fun experience. To be asked over and over again by the company’s agent to send them the same paperwork which we already sent them multiple times and being asked silly questions like: ‘Are we going to be selling half used stationary?’ is baffling. But we’re in Myanmar, so we have to play along.

When we finally got ahold of the books we had only just a couple hours to scour through them at the warehouse and pull out what we felt would be good to distribute to Yangon. Going through the books brought tears to our eyes knowing how precious they are here. We can’t wait to put them into good homes and use them for further ministry. We can’t stop talking about how wonderful these books are!

The truck arrives to send off books to the bus station

These little Suzuki trucks can’t hold much weight, but they did the trick.

After our hasty search through the books, Sinte arranged for two trucks to pick up 28 boxes, where she accompanied them to the bus station. The shipping company we used to get the books through customs was amazed at Sinte’s bargaining skills. The price she reached for the trucks to deliver the books to the bus station was rock bottom. To show their approval of Sinte’s negotiating abilities, the agents quickly got the phone numbers of the drivers so that they could use them in the future.

 

 

Once the books got to the bus station, Sinte yet again wheeled and dealed (in a good way) with the companies to ship the books up to the north. Got to say, I love having a local wife who will get the best deal she can get! Sinte returned home, and she and I (along with Enoch’s help) went through many of the theology books that we hope to give out in Yangon.

Sorting theological books for bible schools in Yangon.

 

Enoch joins his mom and dad late at night to help with the sorting.

We just got word the boxes we sent arrived in northern Myanmar this morning, and Sinte is now heading up tomorrow to sort and distribute them. She’ll also begin to look at properties for the Kalay International Education center (KIEC) that we hope to get started in the next couple of years. This is where we need your help with a lot of prayer. We’re hoping this summer to find the property our family and ministry will serve from. We haven’t found the property yet, and we want to be in the exact place the Lord wants us. So please pray for Sinte and Enoch as they head up tomorrow to sort and give out books while also going out and looking for a possible new home and mission site for our family. We greatly covet your prayers!

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Report from Rakchat (May 2018)

On 23 April, my son, Saw Shalom (who just graduated high school) and I left for a trip to Happy Home.

 

Crossing river on a ferry with my son, Saw Shalom.

 

We arrived at Happy Home after our bus, truck, boat and motorcycle ride. On 24 April, we had a meeting with the Happy Home leadership committee and discussed our plans for the upcoming year.

First, we talked on the preparations for the rice planting this year. Last year was our largest harvest yet, which was able to sustain the children for six months and also feed all of workers (i.e, farm workers and Board master family). Still, like any farm we can’t lean on our success from the previous year.

 

Harvesting rice in November 2017.

 

Harvested rice from November 2017.

 

Harvested rice from November 2017.

 

The things needing to be done at the farm were the maintenance of our tractors, ensure the temporary workers were hired, and to make sure we reinforce and clean out the irrigation ditch which was one of our biggest problems at the farm over the years.

 

Tractor purchased by Farthest Corners in 2016.

 

The biggest challenge in everyone’s heart right now in the Happy Home area, is that there has been some renewed fighting between the Burma and Karen Army about a day’s walk from Happy Home. About 2,000 Karen villagers are now in hiding with five of Happy Home children’s families in hiding. We discussed about these Happy Home children and how we could help the families in this area.

 

We also talked about the repairs for the Happy Home buildings. A couple of years ago we put new roofs on the home, which has been a great help. Most of the buildings have bamboo siding and after a few years these walls fall into disrepair. The committee shared how they’ve started collecting and cutting the bamboo into sections to fix these walls for the new school year.

 

Happy Home is also planning their garden for this year. We’d like to plant more vegetables, fruit trees and corn. We’ve also finally convinced the home and leadership that the pigs and goats need to be locked up and the goats are now fenced off in an area outside the home’s grounds.

 

Mango tree at Happy Home garden.

 

Banana tree at Happy Home garden.

 

Five children graduated and left Happy Home this year. One issue that came up was that two of our boys who graduated wanted to do further study. However, their village and leaders asked the two boys to become soldiers instead. The two boys are now in army officer training. We’ll continue to stay in touch with them and after their army service is complete, if they’d like to study further, we’ll do our best to help.

Everyone on the committee feels that the situation at Happy Home is much better than past years. The new board master who came to lead the home last year, teaches bible and hymn singing throughout the week. The children appear to be behaving better and listen to the new board master and his wife. The children come from all religious backgrounds but are also participating in church activities a lot more.

After our meeting with the Happy Home committee, my son, one of our hired farm workers and myself, went to tour the farm and look at the expansion work of about 3+ acres that has been done this year.

There has been one small change this year as we are hiring only two farm workers. One permanent and one part time. With the improvements made on the irrigation ditch, we don’t feel another worker is needed.

 

Irrigation ditch repaired in 2017.

 

With the great harvest success we had last year, we’re continuing to look at how we can expand the farm. Every year as we extend our property we have to watch our water intake and how it flows into the land. The rice paddies constantly need to be kept filled with water. So we’re slowly expanding and watching how the land matches our water usage. Also, it is important to understand that rice paddies don’t start yielding large harvests until they reach maturity which is about 4-5 years. So whenever we expand, we don’t see the full results until 4-5 years later. This is because the ground needs to change and flatten out to take in water and there is also usually a lot of weeds during the first few years of production.

Happy Home Farm in April 2018.

 

Below is a three-year plan on how we might like to expand the farm:

 

 

This year after we harvest the rice in November, we would like to plant beans, garlic and onions around January 2019. We’d also like to look at planting fruit trees around the rice paddy edges like we have already done at Happy Home. The food produced would be used for the Happy Home children and if our harvest is large we can sell the crops too. But we’re concerned if we don’t have fencing around the farm, the buffalo and other livestock in the area will come in and eat our crops as they’ve done before. During the dry seasons, farmers let their water buffalo and cows to wander around. We need to discuss this problem with the Happy Home leaders and how we might fence the farm to keep livestock out. I plan to do this on my next visit in June, when we also start planting the rice fields.

I praise God to see the money invested over so many years at the farm now producing as we had always hoped. I want to thank everyone for your support.

I’d like to request prayer for two major things.

  1. For the health of our committee. One leader in particular who has helped Happy Home since its founding in 2006. His health has been poor the past couple of years.
  2. Another concern is the fighting around Happy Home area. While there is not a large fear as people think its contained to a certain area right now, we still have to be prepared. We also want to pray for those 2,000 Karen villagers who are still hiding in the jungle. As the rainy season approaches, these villagers really need to return to their homes and farms. Please pray for peace in Karen State and throughout Myanmar (Burma).

 

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Settling In

I recently came across a letter written in 1815 by Adoniram Judson. Judson is considered to be America’s first overseas missionary. In 1813, he arrived in Myanmar and served conspicuously for thirty-seven years until his death in 1850. In this letter, Judson wrote:

“If a missionary, during his first years, should attempt to keep such an account [Note: For today’s audience a blogpost.] he might find little to insert under most of the dates, but the number of pages read, new words acquired, and idle conversations with the natives—idle, indeed, in substance, but not in purpose, being indispensable to his thoroughly attaining the phraseology and pronunciation of the language.

I am sometimes a little dispirited when I reflect, that for two or three years past, I have been drilling at A, B, C, and grammar. But I consider again, that, the gift of tongues is not granted in these times; that someone must acquire this language by dint of application; must translate the Scriptures, and must preach the gospel to the people in their own tongue, or how can they be saved?”

As I make some beginning in my own Burmese studies I feel a lot like Judson. Yet, my cumbersome attempt to do Burmese study is essential for our family’s long-term success in the field. To reach those whose hearts have yet to hear the gospel, will be much easier to do if I can speak, read and write in a comprehensible way.

Practicing reading and writing Burmese.

While setting time out for study is the wisest course of action, pressures still come. Churches and friends who know our family well, seek our help and support in ministries. One church we attend, asked that I preach at least once a month and help with other ministries also. The temptation for our family is to jump headlong into areas of ministry we believe we could impact, yet we know that we need to be more like the tortoise than the hare. There is great work in front of us, and we must prepare ourselves for it. Please do pray for our family to maintain this spirit of patience. While our reports in the coming months (including this one) might seem mundane, please know what we do now is to prepare to do even greater things for building God’s Kingdom.

So what does a daily routine look for us? For Austin, it begins after breakfast with his morning dedicated to homeschooling Ewing (our oldest son). There are international schools in Yangon, but the cost, as well as the long-term plan of our family leaving Yangon in the next year or two, means we should start homeschooling our kids now.

 

 

During the afternoons and into the evening, Austin continues to do Burmese language study either in homework or through a Burman language tutor that comes to our home.

 

Sinte has taken charge of Eliana’s homeschooling, as well as for the caring for our youngest Enoch. In the afternoons, Sinte is working on her MA TESOL research, which we hope will become the curriculum for the new education center we plan to open in the coming years. Sinte also is hoping to help in our local church as well and participate in some of the women activities in the church.

So for Sinte and Austin our days are mainly filled being either teachers or students. As for our kids, they have adapted well, as they always seem to. We do think there is some relief for them being here in Yangon, as we now have a place we can call home for a year or so. Our constant moving the past few years has taken quite a toll on them.

 

Over Christmas, our family went to northern Myanmar to visit friends and family. This is also the location we hope to move to in another year or so. While there, Austin was able to preach at Sinte’s home church and our family spent some time with one of our ‘old’ seminary students. Austin was also able to do some work at a small orchard farm that we have been developing. We have over a 100+ lynchee, orange and lemon trees planted now. We hope to plant more lynchee, banana, zangtaw and coconut trees this year.

Austin with his friend who was one of his previous students.

 

Austin also had some extracurricular fun.  He went out into some rice fields with Sinte’s brothers, cousins and an uncle, to do some rat hunting during the night .

We are connected with a local church where we have friends and family. Local is debatable, as we have to travel twelve miles to get there, but because of traffic in Yangon, it takes about an hour and a half to get there every Sunday. Recently, we had members of the church come to our home to pray with and celebrate our daughter, Eliana’s, fifth birthday. A great time was held by all.

Our ministry work and additional tasks are happening as well. We’ve been fortunate to host some of the seminary students that Farthest Corners has supported. They came for a visit in December and then we had them over again for Eliana’s birthday as well.

Sinte was also blessed to recently attend the graduation of one of these students that Farthest Corners provided a scholarship to.

We’ve already had lots of people to our home for visits and we’re building great relationships among Christians and Buddhists alike. We are thankful to be sent out as witnesses for God’s Kingdom and we look forward to more great times ahead.

We also have one major prayer request. With our family now serving in Myanmar, Rakchat our long time friend and colleague is now heading our Thailand border projects. He recently was in and out of the hospital suffering from what we believe is typhoid and he became very weak. Last week, we received good news that he is now recovering at home and is able to walk some now. Please continue to pray for Rakchat’s recovery.

Thank you all so much for your love, prayers and support.

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Chapter 2 – Tent Camping/The Exodus

During October, our family on the way to visit First Presbyterian Church in Midland, TX had a mini vacation by tent camping in southwest America. The experience of a road trip as a family camping out and seeing God’s wonderful creation was a great adventure and we were so blessed to have this opportunity. 

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2017 Woodbridge Flute Choir Concert

 

The Woodbridge Flute Choir (WFC), directed by Debbie Gilbert and assisted by Lisa Sheldone, will present its annual Holiday Concert on Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 3:00PM at Greenwich Presbyterian Church in Nokesville, VA.

The concert will benefit Farthest Corners, a non-profit organization focused on educational and humanitarian mission in Burma. For more than eleven years the Nokesville-based foundation, under the leadership of Nokesville native Austin House and a team of Asian workers, has provided relief following typhoons and rice famine in Burma, operated a home and school for orphans and other children displaced by war and tribal conflict in Burma and provided educational and spiritual support in villages and refugee camps along the Thailand/Burma border. Admission to the concert is free but an offering will be taken to support the extensive work Farthest Corners is doing in Burma and Thailand.

Guest vocalists Judy Raze, Karen Savia, and 11-year-old Callie Smith from Greenwich Presbyterian Church will join the flute choir for three pieces. Judy and Karen will sing two beautiful contemporary Christian classics, Mary Did You Know? and Breath of Heaven arranged for flute choir by Phyllis Louke. Callie will sing Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from the popular children’s move “Frozen.”

The flute choir will also perform arrangements of three favorite Christmas carols O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Silent Night (both arranged by Ann Cameron Pearce), and Away in A Manger by Steve Sample plus a lovely arrangement of the choral piece There Is No Rose by Z. Randall Stroope, arranged by Phyllis Louke. They will also perform Alexandra Molnar-Suhajda’s original work for flute choir, Kyriale. Also included will be a jazzy arrangement of Rise Up Shepherd and Follow by Ann Cameron Pearce and two fun arrangements of the holiday classics Jingle Bells by Valerie Coleman and The Twelve Days of Christmas by Amy Rice-Young.

About the Woodbridge Flute Choir:

The Woodbridge Flute Choir, directed by Debbie Gilbert and assisted by Lisa Sheldone, has 25 members who play flute, piccolo, alto flute, bass flute and contrabass flute. Since its inception in 1996, the WFC has presented a regular concert series in Northern Virginia and has performed at charitable and gala events, Flute Society of Washington events, and flute choir festivals. The Choir has performed at the Kennedy Center and the White House, and most recently was invited to perform at the 2011, 2013 and 2015 National Flute Association Conventions. As part of its mission to educate its members and the Washington area flute community, the Choir has sponsored masterclasses and performed with internationally acclaimed flutists such as Per Oien, John Barcellona, Tadeu Coelho, Chris Potter, Alexa Still, Thomas Robertello, Aaron Goldman, and piccolo soloist Nan Raphael. In recognition of the need for new music written specifically for flute choir, the WFC has commissioned and presented world premieres of original works by Gretchen Morse, Nancy Wood, Lee Larsen, Mel Lauf, Jonathan Cohen, Alexandra Molnar-Suhajda, Russell Nadel, and Greg Lutz. The group has produced four commercial CDs – Butterfly, Woodbridge Suite, Passages and A Silver Christmas. All are available for download either on CD Baby, iTunes, or through amazon.com. For more information about the choir, its upcoming concerts and its recordings, please visit www.woodbridgeflutechoir.org.

Debbie Gilbert, the artistic director, resides in Broad Run, Virginia near Warrenton and holds a B.M.E. from Louisiana State University. She has taught private flute lessons to youth and adults for over 25 years. She is the principal flutist with the Piedmont Symphony Orchestra and a nine-time winner in the National Flute Association’s annual Professional Flute Choir Competition. Currently she serves as president of the board of directors of the Flute Society of Washington.

More information about the Woodbridge Flute Choir and its 2017-2018 season may be found at www.woodbridgeflutechoir.org.

This concert is generously sponsored by Heritage Financial.

This concert is also generously supported in part by funding from NOVEC, and

Prince William County

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Chapter 1-At the Airport

Here I’m sitting on a chair surrounded by our carry on luggage, nursing my baby while my husband with my two older kids go find lunch.

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A single person can change million lives

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