Some of Burma's Evangelistic Problems

A survey of mission problems, methods, and relationships.

By PO SHWE, Evangelist and Pastor, Myaungmya Mission Station, Burma

In Burma we have two principal language and religious groups. The first is the group consisting of the Burmese, who are almost entirely Buddhists by religion, and who num­ber approximately fifteen million. The other group consists of the Karens, who are very much less in number.

Preaching the gospel to the Buddhists of Burma presents an almost staggering task to the Seventh-day Adventist mission workers. Buddhism is like a great wall, unsympathetic, cold and indifferent, standing before the Christian messenger. The Burmese think of their religion as a large war tractor, overriding all obstacles and able to ignore the claims of all other religions. The Buddhist believes that he can obtain ultimate salvation by practicing good works of various kinds. He has no real consciousness of sin and, therefore, no realiza­tion of the need of a Saviour. When the Buddhist is approached with the gospel story, he laughs at the thought of anyone's being so foolish as to die that he might live. He says, "I can save myself by good works. Why should anyone die for me ?"

In spite of seeming insurmountable Buddhist indifference, God has given to Seventh-day Adventists a means of reaching Buddhist hearts that other people do not use. There is, first of all, our medical missionary work. What work we have done in this respect has been a pronounced success, but vastly more needs to be done. The Buddhists, like the people of all other lands, understand the language of love and kindly service. Our few medical mission­aries have been encouraged by the results of their kindly contacts. We recognize, of course, that other Christian denominations conduct medical missionary work, but there is some­thing about the way our medical work is done, and the spirit manifested by our workers, that appeals to Buddhist hearts to a greater extent than is the case with other medical workers. We are convinced that if we had more hos­pitals, and many more dispensaries, we would find the seemingly insurmountable wall of Buddhism being worn down by our mission approach.

The other means which God has placed in our hands, and which is not used by other organizations, is our health reform message. The Buddhist is forbidden by his religious law to take life. Many times we find Buddhists who are vegetarians and nonsmokers. Our health reform message, therefore, makes a very impressive appeal to their hearts. God surely intended that our medical work and the teaching of the health reform principles of our message should be used in a mighty way in melting the stony hearts of the people of Burma.

It is also the case that in the genuine, ancient books of the Buddhist religion, reference is made to the true God who is the Creator. Occa­sionally gems of truth from these ancient books in the language in which they were originally written, can be found and used as a basis for presenting God's message of truth for these last days. It is a very slow process, but gradu­ally their darkened minds begin to grasp the fact that they are lost unless some power out­side of themselves will save them. The oppor­tunity then becomes ours of presenting that power in the form of Jesus, the Saviour of the world. Slowly the belief that the human soul must go through endless cycles of existence and purgatory in order to get to naikben, or the Buddhist heaven, disappears as a fog before the rising sun, as the fact of salvation through Christ dawns upon them.

Much wisdom and tact and, it would seem, a double portion of the power of God are needed by those who work to win souls from Buddhism to the message of God for these closing hours of earth's history. There is not much in past accomplishments to encourage us, but we be­lieve with all our hearts that when Jesus com­missioned His disciples to go and "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost : teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you," He intended that from among the Buddhist millions of Burma, there would be those who would observe the commandments of God and be baptized into the family of God.

Work for the Karens of Burma

Let us turn now to a consideration of the other principal religious group found in Burma, the Karens. Some of the Karens are Buddhists, a large portion of them have become Christians, and some of them are animists. There are two kinds of Karens, the Pwo-Karen and the Sgaw-Karen. The Christian converts have been almost entirely from among the Sgaw-Karens, while the Pwo-Karens lean more toward Buddhism.

In our work among the Karens, and espe­cially among the Sgaw-Karens, there is much more to encourage us. Even among the Pwo­Karens there is becoming evident a dissatis­faction toward the Burmese priests of Bud­dhism. It is generally felt that many of the Buddhist priests are not serving their religion very much, but are endeavoring to acquire landed property and to accumulate money, look­ing forward to the time when they can retire and lead easy lives. There are few who re­nounce the world entirely, as they are supposed to do when they become priests. The Pwo­Karen Buddhists become discouraged as they observe the mercenary nature of their priestly leaders, and the extent to which immoral prac­tices are indulged in by those who profess to be their religious leaders.

The original Karens worshiped God. They called Him, "Our Father God who lives in the most high above." In some parts of Burma, such as the Tenasserim circle, there are many Karens who believe in the true seventh-day Sabbath. They have their ancient Scriptures written on palm leaves, which they read to the people on Sabbaths. These Scriptures tell of creation, about our first parents, the institution of the Sabbath, etc.

It is a general practice to have ladders which have seven steps, leading up to the houses in Burma. There is a sacredness attributed to the number seven, and this can be used to great advantage in presenting the story of creation and the true Sabbath. In other parts of Burma, where there are large communities of Karens, although they do not possess these ancient Scriptures, yet they have stories generally known and believed which are very much akin to the Bible record. These we use as instru­ments in introducing the whole truth of God to Karens.

When they become interested, we bring them to the Bible, mentioned in the Karen story as the "silver and golden book" which, according to tradition, was lost and someday would be brought back "by our youngest brother." That youngest brother is said to be the white people. The traditional prophecy was to the effect that when the white brother brings the book, it is surely our book and we must read and study it, and from it we shall get knowledge of all kinds ; if we fail to observe the teachings of this silver and golden book, we shall be like the blind.

The Karens become intensely interested in the second coming of Christ and the signs of His coming, since they have been taught to look for the coming of the Karen king. There' are wonderful possibilities for an intensive work to be done among the Karen people of Burma. They are not only responsive to Christianity in general, but have shown them­selves to be particularly responsive to the truths of the advent message. We need a larger army of workers to take the message to them, and we sorely need more equipment, such as lantern slides and charts, to use in teaching the message to the people.

The people of Burma, and especially the Buddhists, have been so unresponsive to the Christian approach that it becomes necessary to study diligently to find every possible point on which we can secure their interest. How thankful we are, therefore, for our medical missionary work, our health message, and also for the old traditions and stories prevalent in Burma which we can use to assist us in finding a way into their hearts. We solicit the earnest prayers of the readers of the Ministry, as well as God's people everywhere, that we who labor in Burma may have all the wisdom and power that we need to preach the gospel of the coming kingdom so effectively to these mil­lions who live in our country, that from among them there will be a large multitude ready to meet Jesus when He comes.


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By PO SHWE, Evangelist and Pastor, Myaungmya Mission Station, Burma

March 1942

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