We travelled for six hours on winding roads that carried us higher and higher into the lofty mountains of Western Myanmar. Breathtaking vistas were revealed at every turn. Our excitement grew stronger every minute. This trip has been in the planning for over a year and the time has finally come.
For the last two hours our hosts’ cell phone rang every 15 minutes. The caller from the village always asked the same question, “How far are you?” The villagers’ excitement stems from the fact that Pat and I will be the first foreigners to stay in their village. The first foreigners most of them have ever met.
Pulling up to the village gate, we are met by the entire population of 234 people, dressed in their finest traditional clothes, carrying banners, gifts or a musical instrument. As soon as we get out of the van the music begins and the dancing starts.
After the festivities, we are guided to our lodging - the upstairs church quarters. In the room are two plastic chairs, a table and two wardrobes. Inside the wardrobes are woven floor mats, pillows and blankets to cushion our sleep on the universal bed - the floor. The table overflows with all the provisions we might need for our stay, including bottled water and special snacks. Our hearts overflow with their warm and loving welcome.
Village life is simple, with few cares beyond the basics of life. The biggest concern is for water during the dry season, and having enough food. In this farming community, the villagers generally grow and eat a starchy corn (maize) and small black beans, along with any vegetables they can grow during the rainy season. They prepared special food for us: rice was the main staple at every meal along with soup, a vegetable and either chicken or pork and of course tea or coffee. It was humbling to have the village families contribute from their food supply so we would have a bountiful table.
Our hosts are Anna and Khai Pi. We have worked with them for the past few years since we met Anna in Malaysia. She was our interpreter when we were living in Malaysia and working with the Burmese refugees. One of the investments they have made in the village is to begin a coffee plantation. Many of you donated last year to help purchase and plant the coffee trees. They expect the first harvest of coffee cherries (which contain the coffee beans) in 3 to 5 years.
It was a joy to walk through the village and see the newly built preschool building, provided in part by World Vision. Anna and Khai Pi have been conducting preschool for 20 children in their house. The village also has a government school Grades One to Seven. We toured the classes, talked and prayed with the Headmistress.
On Sunday we preached at both the morning and evening church services. Monday afternoon we held an eye clinic. It was during the eye clinic that we were informed we could no longer be in the village. There are still conflicts happening in the area and the local authority did not want to be responsible for our safety and demanded that we leave. We were able to see 30 people and gave out 15 pairs of reading glasses before hastily being relocated to a government approved guest house one hour away.
Although Pat and I, along with Anna, Khai Pi and all the villagers, were deeply disappointed that we could not remain in the village, we accomplished a lot in those 48 hours. Our hearts are longing to return when the Lord makes it possible.
Stay tuned for more updates as our schedule and internet access allows. Blessings - Gary