Myanmar (MNN/MAF) — Myanmar: a country whose name is meant to embrace all 135 of its ethnic groups officially recognized by the government. The major races are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Mon, Bamar, Rakhine, and Shan.
It’s also among the poorest nations in the world. In rural communities, healthcare and education are all but non-existent. Hunger and poverty are extreme. The geography works against development. “Around the edges of the country are a lot of mountains and isolated people who do not have capabilities of travel,” explains Ron Wismer with Mission Aviation Fellowship.
Five years ago, having MAF serve in Myanmar was nothing more than a dream. Wismer notes that scenario might be changing a bit. “Some of the influences from outside–through sanctions, through political pressure–has now opened up that Myanmar is beginning to develop democratic thinking and planning to have elections next year. The military junta who’s been in charge has now opened up somewhat, and as a result, we’re now able to come in.”
Today, MAF Myanmar is registered in the country and developing the necessary permissions to commence a flight operation. An advance team went in to help the government at their behest. “We have already begun feasibility studies on airstrip construction, so one way we’re getting in there is to help the civil aviation develop some of their airstrips.” Now, says Wismer, they’re working on getting a family ready for service in the country. Once the airstrips are done, “We have to think about how we’re going to be able to fly in the country because there’s not a whole lot of money available to be able to do that.”
The MAF presence will support a vibrant local church, too: flight will speed anything that local church needs to do. Some of the isolated communities are already excited about the thought of what MAF can offer them. “Praise God for this good news,” said villagers at Lailenpi. “We hope and pray that the Lord will continue to guide MAF until all the remaining steps are met with success and joy.”
When Archbishop Justin Welby visited MAF UK , he shared a story from his visit to Myanmar, explaining the remoteness:
One of the Bishops in Myanmar who we met during our visit said, “My furthest parish is 6-8 days walk through hills,” and he was right up on the northwest frontier of Myanmar. Chatting later to the Archbishop, Steven, he said, “When I was Bishop there, it was then 3 or 4 days.” I was slightly puzzled and said, “Does he walk very slowly?” He said, “No, the fighting there has meant that all the roads, all the paths, through the forest are mined. So the only way he could walk was in single file with one person 40 or 50 meters ahead. They were all putting their feet in exactly the foot-marks of the people in front, and that means you walk very slowly. Now think of the difference it would make there to be able to travel by air: you cut six days to a couple of hours! It would just transform the life of the Church.
When word leaked out about MAF’s plans for Myanmar, Wismer says it wasn’t just the church that got excited. “A gentleman–working in a hospital in the Chin state area–by the name of Dr. Sassa, says, ‘If MAF starts to fly, it’ll solve all our of our difficulties!’ He’s a little bit over the top, I think, but it will certainly solve a lot of their problems of getting medicines in,” says Wismer, noting, “He has to go to India, on a 10-day journey, just to get the medicines that he needs.”
MAF is uniquely positioned, qualified, and prepared to respond in Myanmar. Few organizations in the world have the experience and technical expertise to get up and running quickly, thus providing needed help within a very short start-up period. However, there are some other, significant challenges. Some are financial. Wismer says others are spiritual. “Continue to pray for the church. When I was there, one thing I noted was the local church tends to have a view of themselves as being inferior to the Burmese Buddhist groups. Pray for them to be bold: ‘Greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world.’”