Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hangin' with the Chin, Pt. 1: Mysterious Ways

It was sometime in the second half of the 18th century that English poet and hymnist William Cowper suggested that "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform." Over the ensuing centuries it has been used many, many times to explain many, many different situations that seem to defy explanation. Many of us have been faced with such a situation, and some of us have found Cowper's advice to offer a satisfying explanation ... it worked for me when I first met the Chin.

It was late spring in 2008, and I had just returned home from Christian mission in Thailand. It's hard to imagine a greater contrast - leaving behind Midland, Texas - one of the more affluent and comfortable communities in America - and working in the 'red light' districts of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and the refugee camps lining the Thai/Burmese border, But there I was, living and working, giving and receiving, learning and growing. I came back changed and charged, and ready to share my testimony with others, now that my mission had come to an end.

Or had it?

That's one of the things about overseas mission ... and to critics of such ventures, it's not a good thing. They cite the time and the money, the efforts and the resources spent in communities on the far side of the world, that would have been better spent right here in our home community. For that, all I can say is that a true missional church works both at home and abroad. Our Thailand mission turned out to provide a perfect example of doing both - though I did not realize that until much later.

It was a several weeks after our return to West Texas, that one of our mission team members was chatting-up an Asian man who managed the sushi bar in the local supermarket. She learned that he was originally from Burma (Myanmar), and was now making his home in Midland. And he wasn't alone ... there were almost 60 Chin-Burmese refugees living and working in Midland at that time.

The Chin are one of several diverse, non-Burmese ethnic groups living around the nation of Burma/Myanmar - and their situation at home is unsettled, at best. We were amazed to find Burmese refugees in our West Texas community - thinking that most would be clustered in the major American cities that are traditional ports-of-entry for immigrants. For their part, the Chin were amazed to find a group of Americans who knew of their circumstances back home, the government-sanctioned persecution that had driven them from their homelands to refugee camps, and - for a lucky few - a chance at refugee status, and a chance to begin a new life in some place like America.

The Chin are located in western Burma, along the border with India. And though we had not met any Chin during our work in the refugee camps along the Thai/Burma border, we DID work with refugees from the Karen, the Shan and other ethnic groups in the eastern part of that troubled nation - who shared their own stories of burned-out villages, land-mine strewn trails, impressment into labor gangs, the beatings, the rapes, the killings and so much more.

Their being Christian - the result of 19th-century missions by the Baptists - didn't help matters either, but provided one more point of contention with the Buddhist-majority government of Burma.

A persecuted people and a persecuted church, having fled their mountain/jungle homes in Asia for the desert flats of West Texas ... only to find a group ready, willing and able to help them find their way around that home, to share all that America had to offer, while helping them share their story, and contribute their part to the community.

So, when all was said and done, my overseas mission continued long after I returned home, and it continues to this day. Who would have thought it would work out this way? It's a mystery to me ... but then, I truly believe that God DOES work in mysterious ways.