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Responding to God’s Word: Fulfilling Left-Out Agendas in Ministry Together

by Sau Nam Mading of Myanmar, a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary working toward her Master of Arts (Theological Studies). This is the first sermon in a four-sermon series titled “”The Four Ws: Who Are We? Work, Wonder, Worship, Welcome,” addressing the subject of “Work.” Begins with introduction by Rev. John Williams.

Scripture reference: James 1:21-24.

 

by Sau Nam Mading of Myanmar, a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary working toward her Master of Arts (Theological Studies). This is the first sermon in a four-sermon series titled “”The Four Ws: Who Are We? Work, Wonder, Worship, Welcome,” addressing the subject of “Work.” Begins with introduction by Rev. John Williams.

Scripture reference: James 1:21-24.

 

Introduction

First of all, I would like to thank God for getting the chance to share the word of God with you and the ministry committee for the invitation to preach.  I also thank you for your constant concern and support since prior to my arrival in Kansas. This morning I will share how Kachin people are connected with you and the American Baptist Church.  I will share about the formation of the Kachin Baptist Convention, our ministry and struggles, and how your constant support is very important for Kachin people and God’s ministry.

 

About the Kachins

There are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar.  I am Kachin.  Within the Kachin people there are six different dialect groups. The Rawang,  Loavoh (Maru), Lachind (Lashi), A Zi (Zaiwa), Lisu, and Jinghpaw belong to the Kachin ethnic group.  We use Jinghpaw as our common language. Our country is diverse and divided along family, political, social, and religious lines. The majority of people in Myanmar are Burmese Buddhists.  Kachin and other Christians are the minority.

Kachin forefathers tell their younger generations that the Kachin people moved down slowly from the Tibetan plateau to Western China and then to northern Myanmar around the tenth century AD.  They stopped in some fertile Chinese border land for many centuries and then moved to Northern and Eastern Myanmar and Northeast India.  At that time their religion was Nat (spirit) worshiping (basically animist) but they believed in the Creator God instinctively. They named that God “Hpan Ningsang, Chye Ningchyang” (Creator and Omniscient God).

 

The Forming of the Kachin Baptist Convention (K.B.C.

The first missionary who met Kachin people was the American missionary Eugenio Kincard.  He arrived in Mogawng in 1837.  He was so touched when he met Kachin people.  He wrote to the mission society in America asking them to send missionaries to Kachin land.  The first American missionaries to work among Kachin people were Albert J. Lyon and his wife, who arrived to Bhamo, Kachin land forty years later on May 5th, 1877.  One month after his arrival, he died from malaria. Then, two years later, William H. Roberts came to Bhomo.  He accomplished a great mission work among the Kachin people together with Karen missionaries.  Because of their effort, seven Kachin people—the first fruits—were converted and baptized at Bamwa village on March 19, 1882.  Even though the Kachin people were animists and worshiped many gods, they knew instinctively that there was one powerful Supreme Being.  To this god they gave the names “Hpan Ningsang, Chye Ningchyang” (Creator/Omniscient God). The missionaries could relate the trinity God with this supreme, the all-powerful Kachin god on whom they used to call when they were in great danger.

The Roberts, William and his wife, opened the first primary school in Bhamo for the Kachin people.  On December 22, 1890, Dr. Ola Hanson and wife came to Bhamo.  He tried to create Kachin literature with the Roman alphabet and successfully completed this goal in 1895, just 5 years after his arrival.  Then Dr. Hanson compiled a Kachin-English dictionary and translated the hymnal and the Holy Bible into Kachin.  In March 1927, at the Golden Jubilee celebration of the arrival of the 1st missionary to the Kachin people, Dr. Ola Hanson handed over the completed Kachin Bible translation to the Kachin Church leaders.  Because of Dr. Hanson’s hard work and determination, the Kachins became a people who have their own literature and Bible. 

There were other missionaries who came to Kachin land and worked with our people—twenty-four American missionaries and over twenty Karen Baptist missionaries.  They served in Kachin land with all their heart and strength. The results of their work were profound. In addition to having the Bible in a written form, the mission school was developed, a boarding house opened, and hospitals and health care centers were started, along with other development programs.  In early 1910, Kachin church leaders, with the guidance of these missionaries, formed a committee called “Ningthean Hpung,” which was later known as the Kachin Baptist Convention, to lead the Kachin Christians.  The work of the missionaries was transformational to the Kachin people.

The Kachin became Christians during the British colonial period.  Before they became Christians, Kachin people were uncivilized and on the edge of dying out because of animist practices such as drug addiction and sexually transmitted diseases (syphilis).   Because of the American Baptist missionaries, we received and accepted the gospel.  The gospel transformed our society. We learned that we were children of God and, as a result, moved toward increased wholeness and well-being!  We experienced God’s mercy through the commitment of the missionaries. We are eternally thankful to them. 

However, in 1963–64, fifteen years after independence, all the mission activities had to stop, and all foreign missionaries had to return to their homeland because of the socialist government. Then Kachin Christian leaders had to stand on their own. 

 

Kachin Baptist Convention’s mission works and their struggles. 

The Centennial Jubilee of the first missionary arrival was celebrated in 1977.  Incredibly, during the centennial celebration, 6213 Kachin people were converted and baptized. After the centennial celebration, the K.B.C. led the 3/300 mission with 300 young, dedicated, volunteer missionaries serving for 3 years in the valley of the Kachin land.  After that revival mission movement, 99% of Kachin people became Christians.  There are 17 Baptist Associations and 412 local churches affiliated with K.B.C.  There is an affiliation with the Myanmar Baptist Convention and Myanmar Council of Churches.  By taking the heritage of the American Baptist missionaries, the K.B.C. is leading the churches with a holistic missional focus.  There are twenty departments and committees in the K.B.C. The Kachin Theological College and Seminary, where I am a teacher, is under the supervision of K.B.C.  The college was started in 1932 by American Baptist missionaries as a Bible school.  There are nine programs including graduate, undergraduate, liberal arts, module courses, development, and language programs.  Over a thousand students are attending and over one hundred students are graduating annually. All are not preparing for pastoral ministry, but they study for their spiritual growth and are preparing to become community leaders.  

K.B.C. is very involved in social-political justice work as injustice is overwhelming in our country and our daily life.  Church leaders lead demonstrations and put pressure on the government. K.B.C. leaders stand as mediators between the government and the Kachin Independent Army/Organization.  K.B.C. is handling many other ministries successfully such as evangelism, early childhood education, educational ministry, youth ministry, and eliminating opium plantations and the drug business.  

However, K.B.C. leaders do not handle women’s issues and women’s ministry well.  Kachin church leaders see women as unclean and less important than men. By reading the Bible literally, our church leaders teach women to obey and submit to males in the family and the church in all circumstances, exclusively.  Male dominated Kachin culture reinforces a traditional male-oriented biblical view.  Sadly, over half the population of Kachin women think they are more sinful and less valuable than men.  They also think sexism is God’s will as a result of the teaching of church leaders and pastors. Women ministers are not recognized equally to males although they have the same education and experience.  Sexism is taught, reinforced, and practiced/modeled from the pulpit. Women’s ordination is not allowed, and women ministers are not invited to preach on special occasions. Women ministers are suffering because they know sexism is not God’s will, but they cannot fix it under male control.  

 

My ministry of equality 

I grew up in a home with 2 ministers—my father and my mother.  My mother was never ordained, but she was a professor at the same school where I now teach, and former women’s department head of K.B.C.  My father was ordained and a leader in the Kachin Baptist Convention, serving as a secretary of 3/300 mission. He would often say, “I am the number one person in this house.”  I have seen the women’s ministry issue firsthand in my home as my father stands with Kachin church leaders in strong and vocal opposition to women’s ordination. My mother is a strong, but silent, supporter of women’s ministry and women’s ordination.  While my father and I have often had disagreements about the issue, my mother is my encourager. She stands behind me, as she sees that I am able to say what she is unable to as the wife of a prominent church leader. Growing up in this environment and my theological education have shaped my ministry and what I see as my calling profoundly.

As an educator, I could not stand this lifelong oppression of Kachin women from the church and have taken action.  In 2011 I wrote an article about “Ecofeminism” for the school’s annual magazine. As our school’s censorship board is from the K.B.C., my article was censored.  They also censored another article I wrote, “Introducing Feminist Theology.” Our leaders are afraid to expose ideas of equality to the audience. They want to hold onto the ideal of male superiority. 

Not being discouraged, in 2016 I, with the help of my students, displayed an exhibition on “Feminist Theology” at the 12th K.B.C. Women’s mass meeting.  Over 6,000 women were in attendance and saw our exhibit.  I also got a chance to write an article titled “K.B.C. Needs Women Ordained Pastors” in response to our leaders’ denials on this topic in the mass meeting newsletter.  After releasing my straightforward article, several debates have started throughout our convention because it was so new, and they have never thought about it.  I faced resistance even from my male colleagues from K.T.C.S. 

One reason, among many, given by our church leaders for their denial of women’s ordination and equality is “timing.”  They say that it is not the right time to discuss it because of continuous political instability and uncertainty. This means that K.B.C. is focusing on social and political justice, IDPs, drug rehabilitation, church growth, and environmental issues.  In their minds, these issues are more important than women’s ordination and equality. This is why our leaders ask us to wait until the right time. 

This message reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963 in response to white moderate church leaders who constantly advised the black people to wait until a “more convenient season.”  Almost all of the facts from the letter relate to our situation.  King told them that they had waited for more than three hundred and forty years to get God-given rights.  Then he said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed, and ‘wait’ means ‘never’.”  He told the white moderate leaders that if they experienced the same experiences of “nobodyness” and met difficulty when their children asked why they were not allowed to go to public amusement parks, they would understand why the black people find it difficult to wait. 

When will be the right time to discuss ordination of women and equality as we face continued political conflict and unrest?  There are no signs that these problems will be addressed in the near future. When will our leaders preach and teach about gender equality and mutual submission? We have been Christians almost 150 years now. Two years ago, I asked the secretary of the K.B.C. about women’s leadership and ministry. He told me that ordination was not a problem for him, but it was a problem for the congregation.  This is irresponsible.  Our K.B.C. leaders know what injustice and justice is, what marginalization and freedom is, as the Kachin people have much experience resisting British colonialism and the Burmese regime government’s neo-colonialism throughout our history.  They also know God is a just God and wants us to treat each other equally and fairly. Our leaders know that Jesus came for the marginalized people and to set the oppressed free from bondage (Luke 4:18–19). However, they do not want to discuss women’s issues and the issue of equality openly and officially. They do not want to discuss how to wipe the tears of Kachin women who have been suffering sexism for many years politically, culturally, and religiously.  They have no time to consider giving back and confirming the God-given right, privilege, and self-esteem to their fellow Kachin women. Sexism in the church is unacceptable and intolerable. Thus, my mission is to end it from my K.B.C. by educating both men and women.  

 

Let’s look at some Bible texts together as I conclude

In the letter of James chapter 1:22, it says, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (NRSV)  James says we should express our faith in our actions, and teaches how we should live consistently with the word. According to the chosen text, our church leaders are just hearers of the word but not followers of the word of God.  Our church leaders might say that they are doing evangelism, church growth activities, and pursuing political justice for all Kachin people without ceasing. This saying reminds me of the rich young man’s response to Jesus from the Gospels (Matthew 19:16–22, Mark 10:17–22, Luke 18:18–23).  After Jesus told him to follow the commandments, the rich young man replied that he had observed all the commandments since he was young. Then Jesus told him again that he lacked one thing—to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor and follow Him.  

I think Jesus would likely to say to my leaders, “You did a great job, but you lacked one thing: to value women and treat them as equals.” Dr. King said the white moderate church leaders understood his goal of ending segregation but lacked supporting it fully with all their hearts. The rich young man followed all the laws but lacked sharing his possessions with the poor, totally.  

So, the questions are: “What am I lacking to do in ministry?”  “What is our church still lacking to do for ministry?”  “What are our major and minor focuses for mission?”  “What are the church’s major and minor agendas for mission?”  “Are our major focuses more important than our minor ones and more important than others’ focuses?”  As I want my convention to see women’s issues and women’s ministry equally important to their major focuses, God wants us to see all ministries as equally important. We all have different callings and missions, but we have the same goal—to glorify God and to establish God’s will on earth.  By cooperation, mutual appreciation, and supporting our individual callings and church’s ministries, there will be no more left-out agendas that God wants us to do. In his way, God’s will will be done on earth.

 

Conclusion

 Finally, I would like to thank again the First Baptist Church, Lawrence for your constant support to my family.  You are not only supporting me and my family, but you are also supporting Kachin people and their ministry—especially their lacking part.  In another word, you are joining in almost 150 years of work of the American Baptist mission. You are continuing to strengthen the maturity of your great-great-great-grand-spiritual-children.  Let’s express our faith in God’s ministry by cooperation and fulfilling each one’s missing ministry.

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