Since my husband Andrew and I joined an Anglican church a few years ago, one of my favorite things about Anglicanism has been the global community of believers that exists within this tradition. Our own church, St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL, has a substantial population of East African believers who were Anglican first in Kenya or Uganda before moving to the U.S. On our recent trip to Myanmar with Anglican Frontier Missions (AFM), we were able to experience our global Anglican Communion in a whole new way.
Earlier this summer, a team of four Beeson Divinity School students and Canon Keith Allen, the ACNA Canon to Myanmar, were able to spend two weeks in Myanmar offering theological training for clergy and visiting many more isolated churches in rural areas to offer them words of encouragement, prayer and greetings from their Anglican brothers and sisters in the United States.
During our visit, we met dozens of Anglican priests, deacons and catechists, as well as many of their congregations, and were able to worship with them and learn more about the needs of their churches and how God is at work among them. Poverty is widespread. Much of the region is still facing civil unrest and war with the government. Politics are unpredictable, and persecution is always a lingering possibility. But the Anglican church in Myanmar is pressing on and living as the hands and feet of Jesus in many ways.
Of the many churches we visited, just a few of the beautiful ministries we saw taking place included a preschool where most of the students come from Buddhist families, temporary housing and shelter for people displaced by in-country fighting, an orphanage that houses and cares for dozens of young boys, and an upcoming plan for catechists and clergy to visit smaller churches throughout the country to equip laypeople to serve the poor and share the gospel in their contexts. God is clearly at work among Anglicans in Myanmar, and it was a joy to see and be a part of his work, even for just a short time.
Christianity represents around 8% of Myanmar’s population, quite a bit for that region of the world, and Anglicanism is the third largest Christian denomination there, following the Baptist and Catholic churches. There are eight Anglican dioceses in the country, and during our trip we were privileged to work with one of these: the Myitkyina Diocese in the northern part of the country, near the border with China.
One of the greatest needs of the church in Myanmar right now is for increased access to solid theological training for clergy and catechists. Though Christians are certainly the minority in Myanmar, the church there is capable of reaching their Buddhist neighbors with the gospel but only if the clergy have a robust theology of the gospel that they are regularly instilling in their congregations. Our goal on this trip was to provide a small dose of the type of theological training we hope to one day see all throughout the church in Myanmar. To do so, we taught through the entire book of Acts over the course of four days as part of a diocesan clergy training retreat at Christ the King Cathedral church in Myitkyina.
Most Christians in Myanmar come from minority tribes and ethnic groups, while the majority tribe—the Burmese—identifies primarily with Buddhism. Unfortunately, because of these tribal divisions, many Christians in Myanmar see their faith as tied to their tribe and can be unwilling to share the gospel across tribal or religious lines. Our goal was to cast a vision for Spirit-empowered witness across cultural and tribal boundaries to the pastors and catechists of the Myitkyina diocese so that they, in turn, can cast this vision to their churches. Hopefully, by God’s grace, this could lead to a widespread movement of witness all throughout their diocese and ultimately the entire country. The movement of the gospel in the book of Acts is the perfect picture of what we pray to see happen in Myanmar.
Our trip was hopefully just one of many to come that will continue to deepen the ACNA and AFM’s relationships with the Anglican Province in Myanmar. We are excited about the prospect of more seminarians visiting and training clergy in Myanmar, working with other dioceses and to continue to love and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ there.