In that community lived four Burmese pastors. If you were driving by, you might think these pastors were gardeners, or janitors. They were outside raking leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in the winter, planting flowers in the spring. Digging ditches, anything really. If help was needed — they were there. They inspired (obnoxious) neighbors (me) to throw open their windows and shout out friendly greetings.
In a community of red and yellow, black and white, my Southeast Asian features looked like theirs. Once in a while, my Malaysian accent would even creep up on me when they were around. They spoke to me like a daughter.
One of the perks of community living was our weekly shopping trip together. One Friday, while we were waiting for the others, I asked one of the Burmese pastors about life in Myanmar. Pastor Bo Tha was the oldest, and the tallest, of the four. Dark and thin, he was a quiet man with kind eyes.
He showed me a picture of his family. I counted the children in his photo. With his wife (a.k.a. the Burmese Superwoman), they had three biological children and adopted five more. In addition, his family regularly cared for at least four to five orphans from his tribe whose parents were killed because of the persecution against Christians in Myanmar.
I asked him what was his monthly income (apparently, I was obnoxious when I asked questions as well). He thought for a moment and answered, "Ten dollars." I probably responded with some outrageous exclamation.
Their tribes lived in the mountains, so they mainly traveled on foot. On Sunday mornings, they climbed many hills, some for many hours, in order to gather for worship. Even now, I think of my Burmese brothers and sisters when I sit in my warm car, my children strapped to their carseats, while my husband drives us to church. All the while, we are in no danger of being decimated by fire or gunshots — at least not for our faith.
When I saw them for the last time, the four pastors invited me to their home. They apologized for not being able to attend our wedding. I did not hide my disappointment. I pleaded for them to stay. They needed to go to New York City, they explained, to preach to the Burmese there.
One of them took out a red envelope. I started weeping and shaking my head. They insisted, the way only a father can insist upon his daughter. He placed it firmly in my hand, "For you and Hans, from the four of us."
I was attending divinity school at the time, but my Burmese pastors taught me more about God than some of the professors who held scores of degrees, published books, and read the Bible in several languages. I remember watching them when they sang hymns to the Lord. Somehow, their faces shone. They saw beyond what meets my eyes. They knew their Lord, and walked with him.
John Owen, in Overcoming Sin andTemptation, explains,
The difference between believers and unbelievers as to knowledge is not so much in the matter of their knowledge as in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers, some of them, may know more and be able to say more of God, his perfections, and his will, than many believers; but they know nothing as they ought, nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly, nothing with a holy, heavenly light. The excellency of a believer is, not that he has a large apprehension of things, but that what he does apprehend, which perhaps may be very little, he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light; and this is that which gives us communion with God, and not prying thoughts or curious-raised notions (chapter 12).
I found the red envelope today.
In it, I found all that they placed in my hand, many years ago. It holds their happiness, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, the hope they had for the people of Myanmar, the love they had for the orphans, and their allegiance to their God.
Their $40 feeds us still.