For a Discovery Channel adventurer like myself, it was an Everest moment. We were the first foreigners to ever visit Zatual, a remote and primitive village strung high along a mountain ridge in Chin State, Myanmar. Zatual’s inhabitants are all members of a small tribal group called the Zangiat, who speak their own distinctive language.
To reach the 52 village families who were waiting for us, our jeep and motorcycle convoy slowly negotiated miles of deeply-rutted, bone-crunching forest trails as we ascended over 3,000 feet above the valley. When we finally arrived at the village entrance, the Zatual villagers were lined up to greet and adorn us with tribal sashes. After a prayer by one of the village’s three pastors, a ribbon was cut, and we walked where no American or British feet had walked before, shaking dozens of grateful hands.
Through our indigenous partners, Heaven’s Family had already been serving the Zatual villagers for more than a year, and we had come to inspect the projects we’d funded. Since Zatual was established in 1939, villagers have had to hike about four miles round-trip to fetch their drinking water. But as we followed the single dirt road from one end of the village to the other, we rejoiced to see ten working faucets that now deliver fresh water from far away. Days of labor by the villagers, some fairly sophisticated hydro-engineering, three reservoirs, and funding from Heaven’s Family for concrete and PVC pipe have made year-round running water a reality.
The blessing didn’t stop there, however. Through our Village Development Fund, Zatual also has its own mini electrical grid. A hydro-electric generator and hundreds of yards of electrical wire—funded in part by a grant and in part by a loan—feed electricity to the fluorescent lights that now hang in every simple house. All the villagers pay a small electric bill that collectively is paying off the village loan. In a nation where 80% of the population has no access to electricity, the people of Zatual are counting their blessings.
Zatual’s families are also benefitting from a collective rice co-op, made possible through a Heaven’s Family loan, the profits of which are being used to pay the salary of the village’s first qualified school teacher. Children are learning.
Part way through our tour highlighting Zatual’s modernization, we paused to introduce to the crowd that trailed us one more modern marvel. You can’t imagine the excitement that was stirred among them as they witnessed, for the first time in their lives, a frisbee in flight. Some of them quickly mastered the art of a fairly-accurate fling, and we left our flying saucer with them (along with a brand new soccer ball).
Before we started our arduous journey down from the mountains, I gathered everyone at Zatual to listen to some soul-searching open-air preaching. Christianity first arrived in their mountain region a little over one hundred years ago, before which time their ancestors were worshipping rocks and trees. Since then, there has been plenty of time for nominalism to settle in, and so I challenged them to consider the authenticity of their professed faith. Thanks to gifts to the Village Development Fund that have brought water and electricity to Zatual, the villagers are reminded daily that genuine faith always works through love (Gal 5:6).