On the banks of the Irrawaddy, a 24-year old woman looks out on the river she’s grown up on.
This is the river she worked on with her parents, carrying goods across the water by boat, after stopping her schooling at age seven with only basic reading and writing skills. Lydia* grew up a Burmese Buddhist in Myanmar (Burma), where Buddhism is the majority religion and Burmese is the majority ethnicity.
But because of where she was born – the slums on the river – Lydia and her whole community are heavily discriminated against in their city.
While in Myanmar in January, I had the absolute privilege of spending time with Lydia, listening to her heart, enjoying her tea and hospitality, laughing and praying together, and hearing her story of how she met and was changed by Jesus.
Three years ago, while traveling out of his state to encourage local pastors in the area, one of our Myanmar ministry leaders went to share the Gospel in a slum he had recently heard of. Pastor Paul*, a natural evangelist, went from hut to hut to ask if people needed prayer, and explaining the Gospel if they were willing to listen. The Holy Spirit drew him to Lydia and he simply shared the Gospel with her.
She had heard about Jesus before from a friend who had recently become interested in Christianity. But until she met Pastor Paul, Lydia never felt confident enough to ask questions. He listened well, he was kind, and he understood her fear of how her Buddhist family and community would treat her if she believed.
As Paul left, he challenged her to try praying to Jesus directly: telling Him what she wanted, asking Him her questions.
Three months later, they met again.
In that time, she had taken Paul up on his challenge – Lydia had seen Jesus work in her life and answer her prayers, and had decided to follow Him – becoming the first follower of Jesus in her community.
Three years later, Lydia has seen 16 adults in her community – both men and women – begin following Jesus, including her mother and grandmother.
With laughter and the biggest smile, she showed me her mother’s container that had held their Buddha statue. After she accepted Christ, Lydia’s mother threw the statue into the Irrawaddy and now the container holds a printed Burmese Christmas hymn. A simple but bold statement.
Pastor Paul, seeing leadership potential in Lydia, connected her with another local pastor, Maung*. This pastor and his wife began discipling Lydia. Now, with their help, she leads a Bible study for the 16 other believers.
When first praying to Jesus, one of Lydia’s prayer requests was for a sewing machine and tailoring classes. Through a relative, she was able to get the machine and the training, and she is now working as a seamstress out of her lean-to on the river. Together with other women – both Buddhist and Christian – she has plans to help women gain trade skills or start businesses.
Lydia is uniquely gifted to lead and encourage this community.
As I sat outside Lydia’s home, I met with several of the people who had come to faith through Lydia’s testimony. She is clearly a natural leader, with both women and men, Christians and Buddhists respecting her opinions and thoughts. I saw a combination of strength, humor, compassion, joy, responsibility, and wisdom in this 24-year old woman.
Tears filled her eyes, and mine, as she shared the challenges of this young church.
Many never learned to read and so cannot read the Bible for themselves. They work from dawn till dusk, seven days a week, making it difficult to meet regularly. Many are ostracized by their families for their new faith. It was a precious thing to hold hands and pray together over these needs, and to praise God for all He has done in this slum.
These are challenges that Lydia understands intimately, and so, along with Pastor Maung’s guidance and the Holy Spirit, we look forward to seeing this community grow.
This is why Harvest Bridge exists – to come alongside believers like Pastor Paul and Maung and Lydia, and join them in reaching their communities for Christ. Thank you for partnering with us in this!
Kate Therese, Director of Mobilization
*Names changed for safety