You know you are in a Buddhist country when you are woken up by the sound of a wooden temple block or ‘fish’ being struck at 4am, each strike alternating with the crowing of a cock. The other obvious signs are many monks going about their business in their saffron coloured robes, and the numerous golden stupas and temples everywhere.
Such was my first experience of Myanmar (Burma), a country still seemingly caught in the past and slowly catching up. It’s a place where most women and men prefer to dress in the traditional Longyi or wrap around skirt. Even though tourist numbers have increased over the past year, you can enjoy the main attractions without having to fight for elbow room.
During November, my husband and I spent 12 days on holiday there, visiting the capital Yangon and travelling up north to Inle Lake, Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay and Bagan. We had booked our trip through Pasture Green Travels and Tours, a travel agency set up by the Church of the Province of Myanmar (CPM). This was a new initiative for the Church and we wanted to use the services of one of ABM’s partners as we felt this would help to contribute towards building their capacity.
A highlight of our trip was an invitation to the Consecration and Enthronement Services of the sixth Bishop of Mandalay, the Right Reverend David Nyi Nyi Naing, on 18th November at Christ Cathedral in Mandalay. It was a chance to meet and put names to faces, and to experience the wonderful hospitality of the Burmese people.
The previous evening, we had met and dined with the Archbishop of Myanmar, the Most Revd Stephen Than Myint Oo, the then Bishop Elect David, and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Mandalay. Also present were clergy and others from five of the six dioceses of CPM, the General Secretary of the Myanmar Council of Churches, representatives from the Dioceses of Singapore, Winchester (UK), West Malaysia and the Church of the Province of South East Asia, and Bishop Peter Tasker from the Diocese of Sydney.
Archbishop Stephen gave a short speech at the dinner, saying that we were “all people of God and of Myanmar” and that we should “join hands together” on this special occasion.
During the evening and later at the cathedral, each of the visitors spoke about partnership and the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with the Church in Myanmar. So it is with ABM, our partnership with CPM beginning in 1992 and continuing to grow through our project work. In the wake of the country slowly opening up with the easing of restrictions, it is hopeful that there will be more freedom to promote the work of the Church there. Funding for our projects in Myanmar is much needed in a country with one of the least developed economies in the world.
It was an interesting experience to be a part of the two cathedral services, each running over two hours long, and mostly in the local language. Most ladies had their heads covered with veils and shoes were not worn – my first barefoot Holy Communion!
During the enthronement service, Bishop David spoke about abiding to the many vows he had made before God and about the challenges faced in “a world changing very fast physically.”
He had strong words of encouragement for his clergy and others, saying “We, the members of Mandalay Diocese, should perform our duty. We should try to become self reliant in all fields of spirituality, administratively and financially. Now we should ourselves rely on God’s power. The burden is very, very heavy. If we work together with Christ, we will surely be successful.”
In conclusion, Bishop David encouraged all to “lift up our eyes to the Lord and work together for our Mandalay Diocese.”
The holiday in Myanmar was certainly one to remember, not only as a personal journey for my part-Burmese husband, but also where I gained an insight into one of the countries which ABM supports. It had truly been an honour and privilege to be present at the celebrations for the new bishop, and to meet with ABM’s partners and fellow Anglicans within their own cultural environment.