Myanmar, a small country in Southeast Asia, has faced significant hardships in recent years. Headlines tell stories of Myanmar’s military imprisoning democratic leaders, bombing villages, confiscating private resources, and keeping the most vulnerable from receiving lifesaving aid.
Yet these headlines mask the glory of God’s providence at work in the country. Genesis describes God’s providence in this way: what was meant for evil, God meant for good, to bring it about that many people should find life (see Genesis 50:20). One evidence of God’s goodness in Myanmar is the way he is using WordPartners to spread faithful preaching across the country.
From 2016 to 2019, WordPartners’ work in Myanmar (formerly called Burma) was growing. Around thirty-five pastors and leaders were in training, and things were going well. They even planned to expand into two groups. In a country where an overwhelming majority of citizens are Buddhist, the expansion of training to preach God’s Word was worth celebrating! Among other faithful ministries, perhaps the Lord would use WordPartners to influence the country through expositional preaching.
However, God’s ways are not ours. His plan for the spread of his Word in Myanmar included a journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
COVID hit Myanmar hard. In one region, more than 125 faithful pastors died in less than a year between 2020 and 2021. As the pandemic intensified, WordPartners was forced to pause onsite trainings. Mounting deaths and canceled trainings threatened to halt the future momentum of training in Myanmar. Yet, the Lord’s hand had not erred. He was only beginning to show how he would preserve the preaching of his Word in the midst of a devastating pandemic.
In one region, more than 125 faithful pastors died in less than a year.
WordPartners turned to Zoom calls to provide ongoing training from 2021 to 2022. Pastors studied through the books of Ephesians and 2 Timothy. Both letters brought comfort for struggling churches and their beleaguered pastors.
As COVID cases declined, plans for an onsite workshop through Genesis were in the works. Trainer John E.* had hopes of returning to Yangon, a central hub for training with pastors.
However, the devastation of the pandemic was made worse by a military coup that began on February 1, 2021. John and other trainers now had to navigate heightened restrictions and increased security concerns surrounding the coup.
In July 2022, the bitterness of death hung in the air when former democratic activists were executed by the military government. Now only weeks before John planned to travel back to Myanmar, the government also stopped granting visas for travelers entering the country.
John’s return to Myanmar was canceled. WordPartners’ work in Myanmar faced a pivotal time. Could the training continue, or was the Lord closing a door?
Then came the turning point. In a video call with in-country partners who were supposed to help him conduct the next training, John broke the news that he couldn’t get into the country. He said he thought they should postpone the workshop. Then one of the pastors named Peter* spoke up: “Pastor John, may I make a suggestion? Would you trust our team to lead this training?” Seeing the partnership come to a new place of maturity, John answered with an emphatic Yes.
God had prepared these local pastors to take the lead. This was a huge win for WordPartners’ training in Myanmar! John immediately began to prepare the core team for the Genesis workshop. The locally led training went so well that plans were made to multiply into two groups.
God’s smiling providence was showing through the darkness. As John reflected later, “We were depending on our meager plans against the backdrop of such devastating circumstances. But through our weakness, the Lord was revealing his powerful hand.” The Lord’s plan resulted in more people trained to preach Scripture faithfully and proclaim it boldly. But his goodness still had more blessings to bestow.
“We were depending on our meager plans against the backdrop of such devastating circumstances. But through our weakness, the Lord was revealing his powerful hand.”
The military government continued to flex its political muscle in ways that hurt the local church. In the months leading up to a workshop, Barnabas*, a faithful pastor in Mandalay for 20 years, contacted John with devastating news. The military had seized his land and church facilities, including a worship center, nursery school, and disability center. Initially, the military only occupied the buildings. Just before the workshop, however, Barnabas learned that the military would demolish the buildings and take the land.
Myanmar’s government asserted its earthly authority, and the church appeared powerless. However, God was using WordPartners to comfort and unify his church. In these bewildering, desperate moments, Barnabas knew he needed to be in a room with other WordPartners studying God’s life-giving Word. Despite tragic losses, Barnabas found comfort in a brotherhood formed around the faithful exposition of God’s Word. He continues to faithfully preach God’s Word to a dispersed church. He has also found strength in the Lord to further training throughout the country. He is only one of a growing number of pastors who are spreading WordPartners training across the country.
During this time of political division throughout Myanmar, the Lord is also using WordPartners to help unify his church. Leaders from multiple denominations across the country are finding a unifying passion for expositional preaching through the training workshops. They are discovering the richness of God’s Word for their churches and country. Some of the pastors live in the north, caught in perpetual warfare. Others are in the peaceful south. Some are Reformed; others are Assemblies of God. But wherever they are, whoever they are, the Lord is unifying pastors and churches around the faithful preaching of his Word.
God is showing that the real power belongs to him. The advance of his Word will not be stopped by pandemics or governments. John praises the glory of God’s powerful providence: “The military has the guns and the money, but we have the Word of God.”
“The military has the guns and the money,
but we have the Word of God.”
As more churches adopt expositional preaching, there is a growing opportunity to preach the gospel to formerly Buddhist families. The oppressive Buddhist-supported military is causing the oppressed populace to seek answers to life’s big questions elsewhere. Through the military takeover, the Lord is providentially opening many hearts to the gospel.
God orchestrated a pandemic and political turmoil that would propel pastors who were being transformed by the training into the place of leading others through it. He sovereignly brought about a coup that is turning many hearts from Buddhism. In the midst of outwardly devastating circumstances, he is using the preaching of his Word to bring hope through his church. As former Buddhists seek out new answers to old questions, more churches than ever are being equipped through WordPartners training to answer those questions from Scripture.
We know the days are evil, but whatever evil happens in our days, we can be sure the Lord intends it for glorious good.
Many people in Myanmar are suffering on a daily basis, but the Lord has not forgotten them. Through the exposition of his Word, the hope of the gospel is spreading to hurting people. Through his sovereign providence, he has allowed WordPartners to play a small part in spreading the hope of his Word. We can give thanks to God as we see some of the good he has intended amidst evil.
*Names shortened or changed for security reasons.