By Phillip Larking
My reaction caught me by surprise. I wasn’t ready for this kind of an emotional impact. I like to be prepared for these kinds of things, and usually I can see them coming. But after my contact with several Burmese Christians I found myself deeply moved, stunned even, a deep sadness emerging over days and weeks in response to what I experienced.
Discouraged, passive, struggling were all words church leaders used to speak of their church communities. My visit to Northern Thailand, to visit Ruth and Stu Corlett and the work of Partners Relief & Development (www.partnersworld.org.nz) was only two weeks long, but I was enormously grateful to be able to connect with Burmese Christians in a number of contexts.
One church leader spoke of disunity and the depressed state of the people – this village community of Burmese refugees had very little and felt like they were on the bottom of the heap. One young leader, in another part of Thailand, was eager to know if I could cross the border and visit his church community.
“They are greatly discouraged,” he said. He was terribly concerned for the emotional and spiritual well being of his family’s church in Burma.
A Bible school teacher lamented the passive nature of the church communities in the refugee camp where he lived, with leaders simply sustaining the people in their troubles, with seemingly no hope for change.
I knew about the physical hardships, I expected to meet people of great need, but I was struck by the great spiritual need of the Burmese Christian community, so weary after so many years of oppression. My Christian faith and church leadership convictions are strengthened in the belief that the Church is the hope of the world. In New Zealand we talk boldly of spiritual victory through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Experiencing such spiritual discouragement has left me deeply moved and longing for a reasonable and faithful response.
I believe a short phrase of Scripture must capture our attention – its application must engage our imagination and the need it leads us to must touch our hearts. Paul’s challenge that, “God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked” (1 Corinthians 12:24, NASV) pushes us to places of concern such as the Burmese Christian community.
How is this short phrase to be fulfilled in the face of this need? When your physical body breaks down, take a broken leg for example, there is a significant flow of resources required for healing – time, expertise, technical support, finances, focused attention and tender love and care.
The needs of the wider body of Christ, like those so obvious in these Burmese churches, require the same flow of resources. God help us to love and lead for those in need.• Phillip Larking is Senior Pastor at North Porirua Baptist Church.