Mrs. Kortering is the wife of Rev. Jason Kortering, a minister-on-loan from the Protestant Reformed Churches in America to Singapore.
Tuesday, January 9.
Conference carried on as before. I told Tracy that I would really like to meet with the women during the noon break after lunch was finished. Afternoon session didn’t start until 2 p.m. So she rounded them all up and we met in the ladies’ house. They all sat on the floor, but they brought in some chairs for Fiona, Leh Wah, and me. I made some opening remarks, expressing our thanks that the Lord had brought us there safely and that we had the opportunity of meeting all of them, and our desire to get to know them better. I was surprised at how quickly they responded and opened up. They had questions about how we conduct a Ladies’ Fellowship in Singapore, so I explained that to them, and told them about some of the difficulties the women in Singapore encounter, being first-generation Christians. They are very concerned for the village people and have a great desire to witness to them, to share the gospel and help in whatever way they can. One question they came up with was, when they have their fellowship, the women preach—is this right or wrong? This goes so painstakingly slow with interpretation, but you have to ask more questions to get a complete picture of what is going on. There has been some objection to “women preaching” by some of the people. What it boils down to is defining their terms. The women were not preaching. There was no call to worship. They were simply meeting together and one was explaining a portion of Scripture and what it meant to her. Other things they brought up were family problems. For example, a mother had a 16 year old son who is rebellious against religion. Their method of discipline when he was naughty was to have him sit on the table. He couldn’t look to the right or to the left, but could only look at the Bible in his lap and memorize the verse they assigned to him. These people said they don’t spank very much. More often they bend the index finger, strike the child on the head with the knuckle, or talk with him. A girl asked about a teenaged brother who gives in to peer pressure and listens more to friends than parents. One mother is a widow and has four children. Because it is so difficult to get money in Myanmar, she sometimes has to go into India to buy and sell in order to provide for them. How frequently and for how long? Four times a year, anywhere from two weeks to a month at a time. And she leaves her four children alone, the oldest being 17 and the youngest eight. Time is up—promise to get back with them the next day.
Fiona, Leh Wah, and I left then and went shopping at Bogyoke Aung San Market. The two girls would be leaving on Thursday so they had to do a bit of sightseeing too. The market place is all small shops, has a lot of character, and is a good place for souvenirs. We had a fun afternoon and met Dad and Elder Siew at the hotel for dinner. That night we chose to have the one western set meal the hotel offered, but it wasn’t all that great. We decided the cooks were better at preparing their own cuisine.
Wednesday, January 10.
Conference continues. We were invited to the house of Moses’ neighbor, who lives on the other side, for our noon meal. His 18 year old son passed away in November, 1994, when the group from Singapore was in Myanmar, and they asked Elder Siew, who was also along at that time, to give the funeral message. The wife is a Christian. Their oldest daughter, also a Christian, is very intelligent and is studying in the US to be a doctor. She’s there on a US scholarship. They attend the Baptist Church. He opened with prayer before the meal, but he said he and his youngest daughter were not “born again” and he asked that we pray for them. They were very hospitable. He even came to the airport to see us off. He’s a good friend of Moses and will do anything to help. They are trying to fix up their house a little—making rooms with doors instead of using fabric to separate the rooms—and they will also attach the outhouse to the house and run a pipe to a drain field or something like that. No furniture in the house—just a couple of small tables, and they borrowed the chairs from church.
We continued meeting with the ladies after lunch. Fung Dun had to be the interpreter this time because Tracy was busy with someone else. They explained to me how they try to provide for others. Rice is their only meal. They allow a small cup measure for each person. So if six people are eating, they will measure out six of those portions. Then they will reach in with their hand and take a handful out and put it in a container. “That,” they say, “is for the Lord.” They accumulate that rice, and then all the ladies put their rice together and give it away. Before coming to the Reformed church, they were members of larger churches, so they could give away more rice. Now they belong to a small church, and they feel bad that they don’t have as much to give. I explained about the widow’s mite, and said that in God’s sight they were giving generously of what they had. I tried my best to encourage them, and they expressed appreciation for my meeting with them.
The three of us met with the English teacher in the afternoon. He took us to visit his cousin’s wife. His cousin is an orthopedic doctor, and their two sons are also doctors. One is in the US specializing in internal medicine, and the younger one is putting in his year of government-required medical service before he goes on to specialize. The whole family are Christians. She was a school teacher for over 20 years and is now retired. She speaks excellent English, so we thought she must have studied abroad, but she was never out of Myanmar. She is busy now with translating English works into Burmese. Burmese is written with all little circles and curlicues. She is working on a Bible Story Book at present, starting with the New Testament, and having it printed in sections. When she completes it, she hopes it can be printed in one volume. She gave each of us one of the sections which is finished, so I’ll take it along when we come. She said, “The Lord has been so good to me all my life, I just want to give the rest of my life in serving Him.” She offered that if we have anything that we need translated into Burmese, she would be very happy to do it for us free of charge. She goes into the villages every Saturday and Sunday to witness to the poor people. She goes empty-handed because she doesn’t want them to listen to her because she brings something for them. When it was time to leave, she got her youngest son, who is single and lives at home, to drive us around, show us Chinatown, and take us back to the hotel. It was so nice to get in the car and have a tape of familiar Christian hymns on.
Thursday, January 11.
We said good-bye to the girls before leaving for the conference. Now that the girls were on their way, I stayed all day at the conference. Elder Siew was gone most of the day. He wanted to do some shopping and he also had to take care of the finances of the conference. Fung Dun, Tracy, Dad, and I walked out to the main road to a little restaurant for lunch.
The five of us all contributed some extra money and gave it to them so they could prepare a special evening meal for all the people there. We didn’t see what the people ate, but I hope it was the same they gave us. It was absolutely delicious and was prepared very nicely. The chief cook for the conference was Hla Hla, and she’s an expert! After the dinner we went back to the hotel. Each evening all the people at the conference had some kind of service, but since it was all in Burmese or Chin, without interpretation, it wasn’t necessary for us to stay, nor did they expect us to.
Friday, January 12.
We said good-bye to Elder Siew before leaving for the conference. The conference continued as before.
At noon I met with the widow lady alone and then with the orphanage lady (and my interpreter, of course). I must tell you about the orphanage lady yet. This is a couple up in the Falam province. They have four children of their own and have taken in 10 orphans. It’s not so often that we hear of orphans nowadays, but in Myanmar it is very common, due in part to the fact that they cannot afford medical attention when they are sick. The church really feels a burden for these children, because sometimes there are Christian orphans, and if there is not a place for them, they will be provided for in the Buddhist orphanage and indoctrinated in Buddhism. This mother told me how she instructs her children that God has blessed them with parents and now they have a calling to be kind to these orphans and help them. Their children gladly receive these orphans in their home and treat them as brothers and sisters. They all live in one small rented house—or I could better call it a room.
It’s really something to see the poverty of these people. You can’t remain untouched. They do not have running water. They have no washing machines, no refrigerators, no telephones. They sleep right on the floor without any mattress or rug. They must use an outhouse, which is a little shack on stilts with an eastern toilet (flat on the floor) with a pipe that goes down into the ground. They have a bucket of water with a dipping pan in the outhouse, which one can use for flushing. In each neighborhood there is a well, and one can go there to buy water by the bucketful. Baths are taken outside by pouring water over oneself with a pan. All the laundry is done by hand and hung over a line to dry. (I asked at the hotel if they had a washing machine for their laundry and she told me, “No, we don’t. We do it all by hand.” Can you imagine washing sheets and towels every day by hand?)
I haven’t figured out how the people get along during the rainy season. The road is higher up than where the houses are, so I guess that is tolerable. The houses are all built on stilts. We were told that during the rainy season there is a lake with fish swimming in it around the house. Natural question is, how do they get about during that time? Everyone wears flip-flops, and they simply take them off and let the mud ooze through their toes and they slip and slide.
These people are poor physically, but they are spiritually rich. We have such an abundance, and it just seems as if our lives have so much clutter (materialism, entertainment, etc.) that draws us away from things spiritual. Their life centers in the church. Their thoughts are not on what they can get but on what they have—salvation in Jesus Christ. I don’t think we could even exist on their level, but I’m sure we could get along with a whole lot less than we have.
After the other three left, we were told that the noon meal would be prepared for us. Dad and I were glad. We wanted to have the opportunity to eat as they eat. But … no way. We didn’t get to eat with them, and they continued to fuss for us, preparing very nice special dishes and bringing it over to where the conference was, so that we could sit on chairs by the desk. We didn’t have to eat alone. Fung Dun, Moses, and Tracy always ate with us, and once the executive board had lunch with us.
Saturday, January 13.
Dad finished up his instruction on the Covenant by “stretch time” and coffee at 10:15. They had some chairs and benches set up along the walls for us and for some of the men during the entire conference, and the rest of the people sat on straw mats on the floor. The mats were about five feet square, and I wouldn’t dare guess how many people could sit on them. It surprised us that some of the people did not even get up during this time, but just remained sitting on the floor waiting until we got started again. (That means sitting on the floor for three to three and a half hours with legs crossed some way or other!!) With about 45 minutes left for the morning session, Dad took the time to tell them about himself—the family he was born into, how his parents desired for him to be a minister, and how the Lord led him in his youth. He told them about our marriage and family, the churches we were in, about our working now in Singapore, and the great blessing it is to be able to tell others about the gospel. He shared also several Scripture verses which have always meant a lot to him. After that, there were a few questions.
Another beautiful noon meal was served, and then in the afternoon Dad had the introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism. Back to the hotel again, where we had just a simple meal of fried rice since we had such a big dinner at noon.
Sunday, January 14.
Sunday again and Dad preached at Grace Church. All through the conference, and again on Sunday, we were just struck by how heartily the people sing. No question about it that it really means a lot to them and they have great joy in singing. They do have a little book made up in English as well. In it they have hymns that they also have in their language, so we can sing together: “Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land,” “Bringing in the Sheaves,” “How Great Thou Art,” etc. In the afternoon, Tracy and I worked on translating some of the testimonies that the people had written. It went faster for her if she could just say it, so I did all the writing.
Hla Hla and her helpers prepared a special dinner for Sunday night. I had watched them for awhile, so I knew what we were getting and what to avoid. One dish was liver and fish eggs. Dad took about three bites of that dish before deciding he couldn’t handle any more of it. He fed the rest to the cat who was frequently around. They also prepared some beef with mushrooms which was delicious! Another thing that they prepare so nicely is their mixed vegetables. They serve it on a platter, and it’s so colorful and pretty.
Dad and I would be so tired in the evening after a busy day, that after the others had gone back to Singapore, we would fall asleep early at night, and consequently wake up very early. Our minds would then be working a mile a minute, thinking about the people and all our experiences. Dad must at that time have written, in his mind, quite a few of the reports of his work.
… to be continued