Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Clean Sheets for the New Year

I follow this tradition and I know several others who do.

We strip our beds on New Year's Eve and then put on clean sheets to wake up in on New Year's morning.

I suppose it is symbolic of a new start, a fresh beginning. New year is traditionally the time to reflect on what has gone well and what needs to change. It's a bit out of sync in some ways as nothing new seems to start in January.

For Christians, the liturgical new year is the first Sunday in advent, at the end of November or the beginning of December. That year begins with anticipating the birth of Christ and works its way through His life and on to the life of the Church.

Most academic and church program years begin in September in my area, August in other parts of the U.S.

Still, we tend to see this night as an emotional and spiritual turning point. We make resolutions, set goals or simply reflect on our lives. At my house, one thing we will do is open our gratitude jar and read about the good things that have happened to us. We'll play games, listen to music and toast the New Year at midnight. Hopefully, we'll remember to take a moment to thank God for his blessings and seek his guidance.

And, we'll change our sheets. Because that's what we do.

How about you? What are your traditions?

Blessings for 2014.......and

!!Happy New Year!! 

Monday, December 30, 2013


Inclusiveness is a positive thing, right? I have always thought so. At CYC we have practiced "intentional inclusivity" for decades, though I am not sure we call it that anymore. Basically, we make sure that every member of our community is part of all our programs and activities in a way that is good for them.

Recently, I heard of a different take on inclusion.

In preparing to go to  Burma, we were advised to call the country "Myanmar" in public because that is what the government wants it to be called.

When we got there, we discovered that that's really not very crucial ... the government isn't concerned overmuch with what tourists call the country, They have chosen to call it Myanmar. They say it is more "inclusive" because "Burma" refers only to the majority ethnic group, the Burmese, while "Myanmar" covers everybody.

We thought that was good, because inclusion is a good thing.

So we believed (and do believe as regards how inclusion is viewed here)

However we were later  told that the government in Myanmar wasn't being positive about inclusion. There attitude is more one of control. Also, they chose "Myanmar" from one of the darkest periods of the history of that nation. They are using the name and the idea of inclusion to assert authority, not to foster equality.

Oh. Well, that's a different story isn't it? The Burmese people in refugee camps outside the country prefer "Burma," even though that's a name that British put on them. Burma is the name I learned and the one used by the people who love the country so that is what I will continue to use.

All this did make me reflect on inclusion, though, and attitudes surrounding it. It may be good to consider why we want to be inclusive and how we want to be inclusive. Certainly it is good to examine how others are using words and what they mean by them.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Song for Sunday: Silver & Gold

I was recently the guest of people who had almost nothing. Typically, they eat meat once per week , giving that up when their is a need to use funds to minister in Christ's name to  those around them. However, they fed my companions and I meat twice a day. They went out of their way to pay for cabs, tourist attractions and restauruant meals. They bought us oranges to have as we listened to speakers. They were generous.

I also chatted with a missionary friend who is thrilled that she and her boss are breaking their organization out of "scarcity thinking" to a new reliance on God's abundance.

Oh, yeah, and I like Rudolph....

So here's today's "Song for Sunday": Silver & Gold as sung by Burl Ives in the 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer."

Merry 4th Day of Christmas!!

Christmas tree in Burma. Plenty of silver and gold. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Secular vs. Religious

Here in the U.S., it seems to me that many people divide the various aspects of Christmas into "secular" and "religious" categories. Christmas trees, Santa, Frosty the Snowman and dinner with the family are secular. Everyone can participate, you don't have to be a church goer or acknowledge Jesus to enjoy them, etc. I know people who celebrate the secular aspects of Christmas and ignore the rest.

Nativity scenes, carol services and midnight mass are religious, mostly only for those who are Christians.

Oh, there's overlap. Some towns still have nativity scenes on the common, some churches have visits from Santa. But, still. the differentiation exists.

In Burma, it seemed different. Everything associated with Christmas, was distinctly Christian. Christian churches and homes did things related to Christmas, other places didn't. Our Buddhist guest house had no Christmas references at all -- why would they? Nor did shops, public centers, etc. Christians have never been in the majority in Burma. Nor have secularists. 89% of the people are Buddhists.

Restaurants and hotels that specifically catered to westerners did have Christmas displays. Why? Well, because westerners are Christians, so the thinking goes. Because of those displays, our host was concerned about the burgeoning commercialization of Christmas that seems to be accompanying the influx of foreign visitors. We've had that problem for a while and it's a topic for another time.

Because everything related to Christmas is, by definition, Christian in Burma, kids sing "I'm a Happy Christmas Tree, hohoho, hehehe" in the church service. It's an expression of faith, because non-Christians don't celebrate Christmas.

I wonder if maybe we, as a church, should remember this. Perhaps, among ourselves, we should reclaim the understanding that Christmas simply is Christian and whatever our traditions are they stem from Christ's birth. Dinner with the family is a celebration of our Lord. So are sharing presents, Christmas cards and pictures with the Jolly Old Elf. When we truly frame it that way, we can freely enjoy all the facets of the holiday while keeping Christ at the center.

Just something I have been mulling over........


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Song for Sunday: There's a Song in the Air!

"There's a tumult of joy o'er the wonderful birth
for the virgin's sweet boy is the Lord of the earth."

This past week I had a dream. The details are fuzzy butI dreamed I was going to visit a "Temple" and at first I thought it was a Jewish temple and I was going to worship there as a guest. I went in and found a service in process. The building was shaped like a cross and I was in an arm of it and couldn't see the officiant. Eventually, I came to realize that I was in a liturgical Christian service, focused on the Christmas story. The building faced East which for some reason was important. 

At the end of the service there was talk of joy. I came to the realization that Christmas is about joy, the joy of birth. I also was reminded that joy is a choice, a matter of attitude. We can relax and allow it to be part of us. 

And so, this song about the joy of birth -- The Birth-- becomes today's Song for Sunday.

   There's a Song in the Air

        There's a song in the air! 
 There's a star in the sky! 
 There's a mother's deep prayer 
 and a baby's low cry! 
 And the star rains its fire 
 while the beautiful sing, 
 for the manger of Bethlehem 
 cradles a King! 

 There's a tumult of joy 
 o'er the wonderful birth, 
 for the virgin's sweet boy 
 is the Lord of the earth. 
 Ay! the star rains its fire 
 while the beautiful sing, 
 for the manger of Bethlehem 
 cradles a King! 

 In the light of that star 
 lie the ages impearled; 
 and that song from afar 
 has swept over the world. 
 Every hearth is aflame, 
 and the beautiful sing 
 in the homes of the nations 
 that Jesus is King! 

 We rejoice in the light, 
 and we echo the song 
 that comes down through the night 
 from the heavenly throng. 
 Ay! we shout to the lovely 
 evangel they bring, 
 and we greet in his cradle 
 our Savior and King! 

                                     ~Josiah G. Holland
                                    (In the Public Domain)

What Christmas songs bring you joy?
How do you bring joy into your experience of Christmas?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Girls & Women

A friend of mine was concerned about the girls of Burma and wanted to learn how they were faring. Here is what I have seen or found out.



Girls are welcome in Burma's schools. I saw many in the traditional green and white uniforms with bright yellow hair ribbons. Girls can go through the mandatory primary school years and move on to middle school and high school and then join a university at 16 or 17. However, the education situation in the villages isn't all that good for anybody and about 2/3 -3/4 of all children in areas of ethnic conflict drop out of school before fifth grade. More on that in a future post.


The seminary we visited started as a women's Bible school and still has more female than male students and many go onto the Myanmar Institute of Theology to earn an M.Div. I am not aware of the student bodies of other schools, but my sense was that women were involved. 


Throughout our stay, we saw women in a variety of roles -- immigration workers, airport guards, gas station attendants, waitresses, cashiers, tourist
Exhibition guide who was
intrigued by Jordan
guides, travel agents, store owners, Bhuddist nuns, seamstresses, photographers, nurses, university lecturers and pastors. Women serve in the government and have the ability to interact with government. In fact, the person from the P.K. Baptist Conference who speaks to government officials when injustices arise is a woman and she is both respected and effective.  Generally, we saw girls and women moving around without fear. A government publication noted that women are safe in Myanmar and indeed we never felt threatened on the streets.


Unfortunately, it is not all good news. We also saw women begging, often with small children in their laps. I have read that when families can’t afford school fees for all of their children that girls are more likely to lose out on education than boys. That’s true in many parts of the world.


The most troubling news regards sexual exploitation. The pamphlet entitled “Do’s and Don’ts for Tourists” is published by the government and urges visitors to practice safe sex. It shows a cartoon sex worker and a potential client wondering if she has HIV. It notes that prostitution is illegal in Myanmar.


While we were there, our host noted that recently the P.K. Baptist Conference had rescued 17 girls of one village from human trafficking. Their families had been tricked into believing they would be given good, safe jobs. The woman who works on justice issues spoke to government officials and they were able to locate the girls and return them to their families. Many girls are not so fortunate – thousands from the villages are sold into sextourism. That, fortunately, has not yet taken hold in Myanmar. Most of the girls are taken to neighboring Thailand. Some go voluntarily, believing that it sex work is the best option for supporting their families. Sadly, they will be exploited and most likely end up with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They are far more likely than not to die young.


Still, it is hopeful that Myanmar’s government seems to be taking steps to nip sextourism in the bud. Also, they do seem to try to protect village girls when they are made aware of situations.


Many girls and women in Burma are doing well. Others are in a precarious or even dangerous position. So prayer list for girls and women in Myanmar:
That education will be consistently available
That sextourism will be kept out of Burma
That girls will be safe from safe from human trafficking
That justice will prevail
Thank you!!



Besides my own observations and conversations, I gathered information from the following sources:

Can Burma Avoid the Curse of Sex Tourism?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Song for Sunday: For Unto Us A Child Is Born

I heard a song based on Isaiah 9:6 at Brayton Memorial Church, a Pwo Kayin church in Yangon. It wasn't the Handel version, it was quieter, more lyrical and the words were slightly different. (It was sung in English, so I understood the words.) It was beautiful. The line "He's the friend of the rich, the poor, the sinners"stuck with me.

This isn't the songI heard at church I couldn't find that one But I like this one, too. It was wtitten by Sam Chaplin for a nativity play. The focus is on Jesus as the Prince of Peace. The pastor preached on that this morning -- a second pastor summarized the sermon in English at the end of it, so I know. Peace on both international and interpersonal levels is so needed, so often lacking. May God bring change.

Anyway, I hope this adds to your Christmas.

God bless!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Craft Time: Burma Crafts Part 2

We went to a large market today. There were many craft stalls and Jordan was able to take pictures of local crafts and crafters.

Cane items


Oil-painted Greeting Cards

Seamstress at Work on Traditional Clothing

 Wooden toy

Musical Instruments

Hand-Carved Sling shots

               Wall Hanging

Decorated Boxes


                                           Decorated Fabric


And from the hotel where we ate lunch, something not Burmese, but fun to see and very detailed:

What crafts have you seen lately?

Photos by J. Parry

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Food for 10,000

First off, Jordan suffered no ill effects from eating raw vegetables last night. :)

Our host is the President of the Pwo Karen Baptist Seminary. His seminary hosted 10,000 people for the Judson BiCentenary finding them beds, setting up temporary latrines and keeping things orderly and moving. The seminary students (16-20 year olds) plus youth from the villages perforned "Stewardship." In teams, they set-up, cleaned and served food.

The seminary also  cooked for all those guests plus 500 extra. Before the program started, we had a tour of the big outdoor kitchen they were using:


The wood for the fires was from some buildings that had recently been torn down.

Twice each day the peope  were served "meat ball" (curried meat with a serving of rice) in styrofoam lunchboxes which the youth laid out on several rows of long tables at three or four stations around campus. They could pick up breakfast between 9:30 and 11:30 and dinner between 4:00 and 6:00.

So how was the food? Well, I don't know how that food was because our group didn't eat it. Before the sessions started our host sat down with us and explained that he was afraid the food might not be good for foreigners' stomachs and he wanted to provide us with separate food that would be very clean. So all through the celebrations we ate meals like this one. 

And they were good. 

It was a real blessing, too, as otherwise we would have had to spend time and money at safe restautants. We are very grateful!!

What food advenures have you had?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Taking Risks

There are always risks in travel and more in traveling to developing nations.

We have found a few risks.

I have not, as people insisted I would, needed to watch my son every second. When he got bored at the celebrations (there were some long sessions - giving out awards, extended sermons, etc., all in Burmese) he went to other places in the compound. He could visit stalls, look at the exhibition, or use the computer in the seminary president's office. It is a very safe place, full of Baptists. The worst that happened was that he got his picture taken about 10 million times by people not used to seeing a white child. Outside the compound I have been more vigilant, although at our guest house he can go down to the lobby on his own.

Food, of course, requires care. Jordan took a calculated risk tonight and ate a club sandwich with raw vegetables. At a fine hotel that caters to westerners, though, so most likely not a problem. I'll let you know tomorrow when I post more about food.

Driving is an adventure. There aren't always seatbelts and it's a "blow & go" system. Lean on the horn and pass. Pedestrians have to get out of the way. We have a local driver; we are not crazy enough to get behind the wheel ourselves. Still, it's nowhere near as safe as driving at home.

Then, there is the fire risk. The electrical systems, including the one at our guest house, appear dodgy. There is only one way in and out and that is gated and locked at night. It's worrying.

This trip, though, is thoroughly worth the risks. We have met amazing people and seen wonderful sights. We have been blessed and hope that we have been a blessing. We are learning so much, too! We will have many things to report about ministries, needs, prayer requests, etc when we come back.

As I said, it's worth the risk and we trust that if God called us here he will bring us safely home.

We are all a bit ill, sharing a virus, but it doesn't seem to be a horrible one. Just a tough cold.

We do ask your prayers for our health and safety.

And God bless your day!!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Song for Sunday: Carry the Light

Yesterday at the Judson Celebrations in Myanmar the choir of Christ Church in Ahlone sang this song written by a Southern Baptist Missionary Carla Gonyo especially for the bicentennial anniversary. We were very touched by it.

Here are a few quotes and a link so you can listen to it sung...

"When Judson left America he said, 'This is my delight.
The will of the Father I do with all my might.
I will go to a nation who has never heard before.
I will sacrifice all that I am, no matter what's in store
I'll carry the light...."

"He suffered many hardships, his wife and children died.
But in prison the Word was a pillow for his head.
God's soveriegnty afforded that by you it might be read.."

The great, great, great grandauther
of the man who rescued the Burmese
Bible from the prison trash heap.

"Judson was to you what another was to him.
Handed down, carried on and now it's yours to send.
Jesus is that light, the only way to get to Heaven.."

"Carry the light to Ka'chin, to the Wah, Shan and Chin
Carry the light to Danu, to Rakhine, Kayah, Lahu
Carry the light to Pa-O, to Palong, Karen and Mon
Carrry the light..."

Reconciliation between ethnic groups is a major theme of this conference, thus the listing of the groups in the song.

Here's a link so you can hear it in full:

Carry the Light

                          Carla Gonyo, author of 
                         "Carry the Light" 

Blessings on your Sunday!!

Thursday Craft Time (late): Burma Crafts, Pt. 1

I am late for Thursday craft time.

Don't have much time for blogging, so just a few photos of crafts in Burma. More next week:

Shaped bushes



Umbrellas (you hold it over your head with your arms)

Flower arrangements.

Have a great day!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inherited Honor

Here at the Judson Celebrations, American Baptists are honored.  Why? Because 200 years ago it was two Americans who brought the gospel to Burma. Really, I haven't done anything to deserve this personally, it's all because of the ancestors.

200 years ago, Adoniram and Ann Hasseltine Judson arrived in Burma sick, discouraged and feeling terribly alone. By the grace of God, they survived and learned to teach and preach in Burma. Now, the Burmese consider them theirspiritual parents. It goes the other way, too. Roy Medley, General Secretary of ABC/USA, spoke . He described the Baptist church as "our first children in the faith, now grown and matured and working shoulder to shoulder with us to build God's kingdom." He also called on them to work for peace and justice.

One of the government speakers also asked them to work for peace and unity. He told them he was excited to see the ethnic groups gathered together for celebration.

Historically, there has been much unrest between the ethnic groups in Burma. Some of them, anyway. The government representive tasked the visitors to work for peace a united Mysnmar. Later, we enjoyed dances and songs from various ethnic groups (plus Japan) and others will perform on the other nights. Because this was the opening ceremony many people dressed in their traditional village clothing. (Jordan and I purchased and wore Karen outfits.) Much of this reminds me of the Intercultural Conference I attended last summer. A different set of ethnic groups but the same goal: unite in Christ while preserving and honoring the various cultures.

Have a blessed day!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Views of Worship

In the last few days, we have observed much worship.

The Buddhists we encountered were deeply reverential as they acted out their faith at the pagodas and sometimes in the streets. They used many forms of worship -- meditating on their knees, washing statues, presenting food and flowers as offerings and giving gifts of food and money to the monks. They insist on appropriate decorum and modest dress in the pagodas. You must remove your shoes and socks as a sign of respect, to help keep the place clean and damage free and because traditonally Buddhists are not to be taught wearing shoes. Honoring Buddha seems the center of what they do.

(The pagodas were breathtaking. The architecture, art work, and history are all very impressive.  See Jordan's photo blog for more on that.)

In the midst of Buddhists at Shwe Dagon, I was surprised to see two Muslims in front of a shrine that faced East, praying in their traditional fashion. It was interesting to think that they were praying to one god, while kneeling in front of another. It's the heart that counts I guess. The Buddhists did not seem to notice this happening so perhaps it is a frequent occurence. Devout Muslims will pray at the appointed times regardless of the setting. They are constant.

Tonight 10,000 Christians gathered for a concert blended with worship. There was excitement and joy. People were glad to be together to sing about Christ and to honor the Judsons. My participation was limited by Jordan's brief bout with traveler's stomach. Also, a few songs were in English but most of the  program was in Burmese or maybe Karen. Their were Christmas songs like "Feliz Navidad" and "Mary's Boy Child" included and much of the music was rock style. Our companion, Mei Oo, would summarize the preaching. "He's telling us to think and follow God's plan for our life." " He's talking about Jesus as the Shepherd." But, with all that, it was amazing to be a part of it.  Real worship is exciting.

Let us learn to approach Christ in awe and reverence. Let us learn to be constant in faith and prayer. May the excitement be palpable even when it is just two or three gathered in Jesus' name.

God bless your day!

Monday, December 2, 2013


Flexibility is key when your traveling, especially when your traveling to cultures and places very different from your own.

We are adjusting -- to heat and crowds, old buildings, cold showers that are a nozzle in the wall of the bathroom, heavy traffic and a lack of seatbelts. All kinds of things.

We are adjusting, too, to a last minute change in the composition of our group because of a sudden illness that kept two from flying with us from LA. It'll change what we are going to do,  but God will make a way for us to be useful, I am sure.

We were met at the airport by the head of the seminary and his colleagues who drove us to the guest house and took care of our bags. They have dinner planned for us tonight at the school and also told us that they will give us a tour of the city tomorrow. This was totally unexpected and we are very grateful. Not all the things we have to adapt too are difficult.

Our flight was loooooong but even Jordan handled it fine and we had no problems with luggage, customs, security and all that. We made all our connections despite a delay out of LA. We arrived here late, but all was well.

We are getting our feet under as and recovering from jet lag. We look forward to adventure!

What are you adapting to?