I am seeing more and more signs of Spirit-led living and Spirit-led leadership in those around me—not because they’re increasing, but because I’m looking for them more.
What’s making the biggest impression on me so far here in Burma is how many students, pastors, and leaders seem to be simply swept along in a spirit of sacrificial service. Every day, they are unobtrusively making choices for the well-being of others, sometimes at considerable cost to themselves and their families.
Half the time, they don’t even acknowledge how much they are giving up. To many, being separated from their family for months and years at a time is normal. Working seven days a week is simply “necessary” because of the needs of the people under their care. Sharing their very meager amounts of food or other resources with someone who is visiting from out of town or has less than they do is simply the right thing to do. Burma has a culture of hospitality, to be sure, but even more, their relationship with God drives many of them to remarkable levels of generosity.
For example, one faculty member at at a seminary in Myanmar, Dr. Z.L, continues to teach Old Testament, even though he is supposed to be retired. Younger faculty members do not yet have their PhDs, and his retirement would leave a huge hole at the seminary (like the one I’m temporarily filling in the New Testament department). He is also the senior pastor of a small church that reaches out to many poor and illiterate Kachin Christians (one of the 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar). His wife keeps asking him when he is going to rest. His reply? “Rest is for the next life, I guess. There is far too much that needs to be done to rest here.”
Another faculty member of another seminary in Yangon, “H. Thwaing” (pseudonym), decided to return from America to serve his people, even though he had the opportunity to stay, which would have been far more financially beneficial for him. After five years of studying for an advanced degree, he was offered a job as the senior pastor of church in New York for Burmese immigrants. Though the offer was attractive for many reasons, he chose to return to Myanmar to stand with those who are suffering and help in any way he could.
For different, but equally self-sacrificial, reasons, Dr. Cung Lian Hup returned from America to serve as academic dean of a seminary. He had been living with his whole family in the U.S. while earning a Ph.D. in missiology. Staying there, raising his children in American schools and enjoying an American way of life would have been a great opportunity for all of them. Nevertheless, he chose to return to Myanmar. He wanted his children to know their motherland and their own ethnic roots. Even more, he wanted to honor the commitments he had made—to the seminary who sent him to America, to those who financially supported him and his family, and to the American consular who had granted him a visa—that he would return home to teach. Then, when he had an opportunity to stay for four more years in America, he came back anyway, reasoning that his return would free up scholarship money for some other aspiring faculty member.
When “La Pen’s” pastor first began urging her to consider going to seminary, she refused. In the first place, she wasn’t sure what she believed about God, and secondly, she felt completely inadequate to get a Master of Divinity degree. Unless God gave her some kind of sign, she argued, she wasn’t going.
However, it wasn’t long before she got the sign she didn’t want!
One night, she was dreaming that she was in church and the pastor was preaching. Suddenly, he pointed his finger at her, and said, “Serve your people!” When she woke up, she knew that she had not had a nightmare. She had received a calling. She enrolled in seminary, and while there, she felt led to create a center for impoverished and needy children from her ethnic group. Now there are 50 kids, eight or ten of which are orphans, whom she alone cares for every day, when she’s not lecturing part time in feminist theology part time at the seminary.
Space doesn’t allow me to tell every story I have heard so far. Each is different, and each is the same. In one way or another, these Christian men and women love God, are committed to Christ, and are following the Spirit’s leading to serve their people. Often at great personal cost. The Holy Spirit calls them, prompts them, opens doors for them, provides resources in surprising ways, and leads them forward one step at a time to serve Christ in their context.
I know many pastors and lay leaders who are similarly being led by the Spirit in the United States, Europe, and Africa, too. Now that I’ve had the privilege of working with Christians on four continents I’m seeing a common denominator, regardless of the cultural, educational, and socio-economic differences. The Spirit seems to be leading the most inspired and inspiring among us to live out their faith by sacrificially serving others.