Mrs. Kortering is the wife of Rev. Jason Kortering, a minister-on-loan from the Protestant Reformed Churches in America to Singapore.
Monday, January 15.
Dad’s 60th birthday, and how special it was to spend it in Myanmar! We had an outing that day with about 30 people. We visited the Zoo. Dad and I felt as if we probably would have fit in better had we been in a cage along with the animals, judging from the way people were looking at us. We were told that many people in Myanmar have never seen a Westerner before. We saw the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is the largest in the world and has been covered many times with gold. Enshrined in the pagoda are eight hairs of Buddha. (What a lot of idolatry! It makes one sick to see all these people bowing down and praying to their gods.) We then went to the seaport and rode around Yangon, through the downtown. Our guides pointed out various buildings, like the American Embassy, etc.
After all that activity, we went back to Grace Church for a birthday party. Moses’ son also had a birthday that day, his 17th, so it was a double birthday party. Moses said a few words in Burmese, and then they asked Dad to make some remarks. He shared some parting thoughts, testimony, and words of appreciation, and he assured them of our prayers. We sang Happy Birthday and had birthday cake. Then there was one request: “Can Pastor and Mrs. Kortering sing a song for us? We hear Mrs. Kortering singing alto and it sounds so nice.” So we sang “How Great Thou Art,” and Paul, son of Moses, accompanied us on the guitar. While singing the chorus after the last verse, we had our first electrical blackout. All the lights went out, but we continued on, “How great thou art, How great thou art.”
Then it was time to say good-bye to all those who were at the conference. By that time a real bond of friendship had been established, so the hugs and handshakes were quite meaningful. This was done by candlelight, and by the time we were getting in the car to go back, the lights came on again. We reached the hotel around eight. We hadn’t eaten a thing since breakfast, but we really didn’t feel all that hungry either. So, some more fried rice. The people there are used to two meals a day, so they didn’t plan to take anything. And we have to be careful not to give them the impression of buying all the time. They were very happy, though, to share in the bag of candy I brought along.
Tuesday, January 16.
Our first quiet day at the hotel. We stayed there all day. The hotel has a nice green area complete with tables with sun umbrellas and chairs, so it was very pleasant sitting outdoors. We both did a lot of writing that day, which is helping me greatly in writing this account of our stay there. Dad made notes for his report. Tracy called on the phone and asked if she, Hla Hla, and Moses could come to the hotel to visit us for just a little while. Much to our surprise, Tracy gave me a shawl which was handmade by her mother. Up in the Chin state, they have special shawls which are made for certain occasions. This was one of those. The background is black with a very colorful design woven on it. By the way, Tracy was calling me “Mother” soon after we got there. She feels as if she has gained five sisters. She wanted to know about all of you, so I told her I would tell you that they have a new sister by the name of Tracy from Myanmar who is 26 years old, in addition to their Singapore sister, AiChoo. Hla Hla gave me a little package also and wanted me to open it (usual custom is like Singapore — don’t open gifts till later). In the package were jade stones laid out in size for a necklace, bracelet, and earrings. Her son-in-law, who lives in Kale Province, is a stone cutter, and these were cut by him. It all looks very pretty, but I suppose it could be quite costly to have them made up because it would require a setting for each stone. We’ll have to take them to a jeweller and have them evaluated first before deciding what to do with them.
Grace Church wishes to do an outreach by providing a home for elderly people, and Hla Hla will be the one to manage it. Arrangements are already in place for a house which will be provided by a widow lady who will be one of the residents. They have to do a little renovating on it. They like to have some non-Christians so they can witness to them. She says, “It may be that the Lord will save them, so they do not have to fear when they die.” This home will accommodate ten people.
Wednesday, January 17.
Dad had agreed to speak for the chapel services at the Far Eastern Fundamental Bible College. We had to be there at 8:30 and we arrived just on time. He had a speech on demons, that he had made in Singapore. He thought he could use it nicely here, and it went very well. All the classes at Far Eastern are taught in English. They do this because they want all their students to learn English, as there are more books available in English for their Bible study. Remember my talking about Rev. Titus, who is studying in Singapore in order to be a professor in this school? He is so Reformed and gets all excited about learning from Dad. Just can’t get it fast enough. It’s his uncle that is at the head of FEFBC. Titus attends Far Eastern Bible College in Singapore and is basically repeating all the instruction he has had before in order to get his degree. He is grateful to have learned Hebrew and Greek. We also met Titus’ wife (no English) and little daughter and her mother. While Titus is in Singapore, his wife is staying at the hostel at FEFBC. He has a year and a half here yet. When he went back to Myanmar over Christmas, he talked with the professors about covenant theology. He said they were quite open to listen, which was encouraging to him.
After that we went to the Kindergarten at Galilee. The Kindergarten is an outreach of the church for the children in the neighborhood. It is run by two women of the church. All these children are from homes within walking distance of the church. Forty-eight of them! There was one who was 2 ½, and the rest are between 3 and 5. If anything melts your heart, it’s that!!
The charge for Kindergarten is one kyat per day. That’s one US cent. They told us that some of the parents cannot afford it, and then they let them come free. While Fung Dun was in Singapore, he got some discontinued school uniforms from a Kindergarten, so most of the children wore identical little green outfits. The Kindergarten is held in the same building as the Galilee Church which I described at the beginning. We cross a little board-bridge from the road to the steps. The building is small, made of bare wood, with a bare wooden floor. Because it’s built on stilts, you can see light come up between the floor boards.
We got there just at lunch time. The room is so small that the children in it seemed like a human carpet. The kids take their own lunch — rice and perhaps something with it. They share the water, using only a few cups for all of them. Some of the kids ate using their fingers, and others had spoons. Teachers had to go around helping them a little. After lunch they could go outside for just a few minutes. During that time, one of the teachers swept the rice from the floor, pushed it to an opening, and down it went to the ground.
We asked them if the children could sing a couple of songs for us when they came in. They sang two choruses in English. I caught some the words — one must have been about the Trinity because I heard “three in one, three in one,” and the other was “Jesus Loves You and Me.” Then it was nap time. One of the teachers opened a wooden box in the corner and started handing out pillows, and all the kids lay down on the floor. They were all so sweet and precious. What really struck me was that they were all so well-behaved and orderly.
Absolutely nothing in there — no chairs, no tables. I don’t know if they ever get to write and color. On the chalkboard they had the ABC’s and numbers, so I guess they are trying to teach them that, but neither of the teachers really speaks English either. We communicated with them through Fung Dun.
We went outside with the teachers to take a picture, and other neighbor children started gathering around. They probably recognized me as the lady with the candy, but by that time I didn’t have another piece left. I felt bad about that. I gave the teachers what I had left of Granola Bars, etc., to share with the school children.
The Kindergarten is an outreach of the church. The teachers get to speak with the parents of the children and can share the gospel with them. Several of the children are members of the church but the majority are not. One Buddhist family (father, mother, and children) have been converted and have joined the church.
Steven was driving us around that day, and Fung Dun and Moses were with us. After that, Steven took us to the university which he attends and introduced these Western people to his teachers. He was skipping school that day to show us around, but when a friend told him they would be having an English test at 3 p.m., he promptly drove us back to the hotel so he could take the test.
Thursday, January 18.
Our last day. We took it slow in the morning and left the hotel around 11 a.m. to do a little souvenir shopping and looking around. We bought some tangerines for our lunch. (One has to learn how to find decent restaurants in Yangon. We saw plenty we didn’t care to go into.) We went back to the hotel and packed things up. Had roasted chicken for dinner—definitely not our best meal.
Friday, January 19.
The send-off group was Moses, Fung Dun, Moses’ neighbor, Rev. Bawi (pronounced Boy), Rev. James, Tracy, and the driver, Lian Te. Saying good-bye was not easy. They hope and pray we will be able to come again sometime, and so do we. We really came to love them as dear saints in the Lord. Flight home was good, and Pastor Lau was at Changi Airport to pick us up and take us home.
Now just a few more interesting tidbits.
We found the people to be very warm-hearted and friendly. Even though the people we met are so very poor, they do not complain. They are genuinely happy people, which shows that happiness does not come in material possessions. They express a real joy in the Lord. They’re very eager to learn and understand. They sing so enthusiastically. And they show such love and concern for each other! It was just a real joy to be with them for those couple of weeks. One of the ladies told me through an interpreter that she felt so bad that she could not speak English. Believe me, I felt bad that I could not speak Burmese or Chin. Right now a person could not enter Myanmar as a missionary, but we realize how important it would be, if a person were to work there, to know the language. These people are content to have their very basic needs supplied. They don’t ask for money to improve their living conditions. Right now the Singapore churches are going to have to work through this and decide how much we can help. The cost of the conference was paid by the ERCS — travel for the delegates, food, and Dad’s travel. We paid for my trip. And the others who went from Singapore paid their own too.
The money each church needs is just enough for their pastor to live, and the rest is for outreach. Many of their families are large—one pastor has 11 children, others have 4, 6, 7. There is an Indian family in Grace Church. The mother gave birth on Saturday night to their 10th child. Many Indian children are pretty, and those little kids were quite lovable. The father was in church with the family on Sunday morning, and theysang a song together, with the father playing the guitar. We observed that the church people have plenty of time (some are unemployed—someone told us unemployment is 150%) so they do a lot of thinking and planning for outreach, but they don’t have the money to carry it out. In Singapore the people have plenty of money, but they are so busy working that they don’t have time. Up in the northern part (Kale and Falam) there are some farmers, so things are a bit easier up there and there is more possibility of their being self-supporting in a few years’ time.
Yangon is a large city, bigger than Singapore, with a population of around three million. The city itself is quite nice, although it would be quite a culture shock for one coming from the US. We were surprised to see digital countdowns beneath their traffic lights. We had never seen that before, so here in this undeveloped country it seemed like something quite modern. When the light changes green or red, the digital timer counts down from 30 seconds, so it’s possible to tell just how long before the light changes again. People in Myanmar drive on the same side of the road as we do in the US, but the funny thing is that they get a lot of their used vehicles from countries which drive on the other side, so the steering wheels are on the right side of the car. If they are going to pass on the left, they have to pull out so far before they can see if another vehicle is coming.
Main roads are paved and quite wide. There might be a center dividing line but no lane marks. Lines wouldn’t mean anything anyway. People pass on the right and on the left, and simply blow their horns all the time to signal they are passing. In the villages, the people walk down the roads, so drivers also blow their horns to get them to move over.
There are some modern buildings in the city. Shops are set up on the sidewalks. In town we saw suit jackets folded and set in piles right on the sidewalk, and lots of fabric was just lying in heaps. There are many little coffee shops. Stools are tiny (about 8 to 10 inches high) and the tables a little higher. It looks like toy furniture.
A very familiar sight in Myanmar is all the Buddhist monks walking around. They have shaved heads and they wear saffron-colored … I can’t really call them robes—I think they are just long pieces of fabric wrapped a certain way around their bodies, with one shoulder exposed. Most Buddhist boys will spend one or two of their school years in a monastery, so you see young children dressed this way too, with their heads shaved. Some may decide to stay on after that, but otherwise they return back to their homes. Aside from that, one doesn’t see a lot of Buddhist religious activity, as there is in Singapore with the burning of joss sticks and hell money, etc.
Weather was absolutely beautiful—like the best of California. No rain, sunny, clear blue sky. Cool at night, and even though it was hot during the day it wasn’t humid like Singapore. Wow! did we ever notice the humidity when we came back home! People in Myanmar wear jackets, sweaters, and scarves in the morning when it is a bit cooler, but to us it was very refreshing and we didn’t put our sweaters on once. Mosquitoes are abundant in the evening—another reason why it was good we could get back to our hotel early. One time Kip Vel gave me a mint-green crocheted shawl when she returned from Myanmar. With Singapore heat, I knew I would never wear it here, so I had it on the coffee table for awhile. Now I know what I am supposed to do with it. The women fold up these pretty shawls and set them on top of their heads, or wind them around their heads with some of the fringes hanging down, to keep the sun from their heads.
We met the friend of Fung Dun who so generously loaned us the truck all week. In visiting with him (English-speaking, by the way), we learned that he earns 1,250 kyats per month. He has a family of four children and, because they have quite a few guests in their house, they need two large bags of rice per month. One bag (probably 50-75 pounds) costs 1,250 kyats. There is no way that people can survive there without making deals or working the black market. He told us that the prime minister has a salary of 3,000 kyats per month. It’s only the government officials and their families that are rich because of all the kickbacks. Officially you can buy only two gallons of petrol per week, reasonably priced, so you are forced to buy what you need on the black market at a higher price—190 kyats per gallon. You have to know how to look for these places. You park along the road, and they bring the petrol to the car in a large metal pitcher and pour it in using a funnel. If an official would catch you doing this, he would fine you, but then you just pay him a bribe and you’re on your way. There are “under the table” deals all the time.
The young people are trying to arrange for a youth conference in April of ’97 up in Kale Province. From all the churches, they hope to have about 100 in attendance. They would very much welcome visitors at their conference from the Singapore churches or the PRC.
For clothing, men and women wear longyis (pronounce lon/gie). This is made from two yards of fabric sewn together with one seam to make a circle. Women’s longyis may have several darts sewn in back to lie smooth, and a band sewn on top, especially if made from a silky fabric. Women step inside, pull the extra fabric to the left, hold it tight against their body, and then pull the extra fabric to the right and tuck it in. Men stand in the center of theirs and pull the extra fabric from both sides to the center, forming a pleat, and they have some special way of flipping it over and making a knot. You see people all over, anywhere and everywhere, adjusting their longyis. They pull them apart and re-do them. Some fabrics are a bit dressier than others and they are worn with shirts, blouses, T-shirts, and sweaters. Everyone looks very decently dressed. I saw shorts only one time. Children are seen with dresses and different kinds of clothing. The churches in Singapore have already had a clothing drive for Myanmar. We saw men occasionally with trousers, and the women might have other clothing, but it’s more rare. For bathing, the women just wear their longyi higher up underneath their arms. Bathing is a very familiar sight in the villages.
Much work is done manually in Myanmar—construction, road work, unloading ships, etc. The government can require a person to work for a month without pay on a road project or whatever. We saw streams of people carrying baskets of cement to a construction sight, and we saw the same thing at the seaport with loading and unloading. I forgot to tell you earlier, but one time while Dad was lecturing, he paused for Fung Dun to interpret and, when nothing was said, Dad looked over at him. Fung Dun had a frustrated, worried look on his face, and he motioned for his brother Moses to go outside. The front door was open and there was a government truck outside with some officials looking in the direction of the church. For a moment he was scared, but he felt everything would be all right because, prior to the conference, they had gotten the OK from the local councilmen. On Tuesday noon we had had a picture-taking session out in the middle of the road, and it could possibly be that someone reported something going on. Everything turned out all right. Moses explained, and the government officials were satisfied, I guess, because they drove off and we didn’t hear a thing from them.
That Tuesday noon there were many group pictures taken, and then everyone had to have his picture taken with Dad on one side and me on the other — their little keepsake. Some of them showed us their pictures. I don’t know what our smiles looked like toward the end. I’m sure there were over 50 pictures taken.
Tracy, the niece of Moses, and living with their family at present, works full-time for the church, doing some translating and secretarial work. She receives a little pocket money for it. When she was 10 years old her aunt and uncle took her along to the US and promised her mother that they would return her to Myanmar at age 18. (Her father died when she was three years old.) She lived in Atlanta, Georgia, where her uncle was a Baptist minister. Now the aunt and uncle are living in Guam. By the time Tracy came back, she had completed school through grade 10. She was in Myanmar for a year and then went to India for six years and taught English. Now she has been back in Myanmar for a year, but she desires to go for more training to a Bible school or Christian college in Singapore or the US, to acquire a degree so she would be able to teach in a Bible school in Myanmar, work in translations, teach other women, and witness in the villages. Her heart is really set on helping people in her own country. It’s hard to slow such enthusiastic people down a bit and tell them they must be patient and wait for the Lord’s leading in all of this. She’s a very nice girl.
I guess this brings me to the end of my story. It was a wonderful experience for us, and we’re glad we were able to share it together. I took notes during all the lectures because that kept me busy during the translating parts. Dad did very well and he enjoyed it immensely. This was real mission work! We did so much talking about everything while we were there, and there’s so much to discuss now as to method, money, etc., etc. It’s all very interesting and a real blessing to be involved in this work.
Much love to all,
Dad and Mom