To Burma’s military leaders who have been trying to suppress Kachin State’s independence movement for five decades, she is a woman who hardly exists, a mere speck of dust on their political chessboard. To soldiers in the Kachin Independence Army, she is just one of forty thousand frightened people who have recently fled from their villages to escape fresh fighting. To her husband, a pastor, she is the wife whom he has seen only twice in the past four months, as he, like most other Kachin men in the war zone, has remained behind to protect his crops. To the thirty women and children with whom she sleeps each night on the wooden floor of their common room at Jan Mai Refugee Camp, Htulum Sumlut is a godsend, a light in their darkness.
Before Baptist missionaries arrived in northern Myanmar (Burma) in the late 1800s, the primitive Kachin people had no written language, and they worshipped a spirit whom they called the “unknown god.” The concept of atonement, however, was deeply ingrained in their culture. The Kachin consequently proved to be very receptive to the good news of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice by which they could be reconciled to their Creator.
Today, 99-percent of all Kachin people consider themselves to be Christians, and the Baptists are the largest group among them, claiming 370,000 members. Sadly, however, not all possess the faith of their fathers. Over the decades, authentic faith has slowly been supplanted by a nominal, cultural Christianity. The leader of Kachin’s 370,000 Baptists told me he was unsure what percentage of his flock was truly born again. As I sat on a wooden floor interviewing Htulam Sumlat and some of the women who live with her, however, I suspected that God is using their current hardship for His redemptive purposes, to bring the Kachin back to Him.
Htulum leads morning and evening devotions for the women and children in their “dorm,” seeking to disciple true believers and lead nominal Christians to the Lord. And because Jan Mai Refugee Camp is an outreach of Jan Mai Baptist Church and located on the church’s conference grounds, other born-again Baptists are seizing the opportunity to reach out to the 435 IDPs (Internally Displaced People) who currently live there. Fruit is being borne.
Several of the women whom I interviewed told me that prior to coming to the refugee camp, they were focused only upon their families’ survival, as most live in primitive villages where they labor as subsistence farmers. At the camp, however, they’ve had lots of time to forge friendships, dialogue, and consider what is truly significant, as genuine believers lovingly serve them and share the gospel. Some told me that although they were lifelong Baptists, since coming to the refugee camp their lives have been changed by the love of God. Hopefully, when it is safe for the refugees to return to their village homes, many will return possessing new life in Christ, thankful that God has “caused all things to work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).