This year, instead of traveling to Myanmar, as I have for the last five years, I have the privilege of seeing you at church and in worship. After much deliberation and for personal reasons, I decided to forgo my annual mission trip, and, after an active and satisfying Advent/Christmas season, it has been a very good decision.
The trip has been shortened, and five partners will be working in Myanmar this year: Emily Fisher, Jeannette Taylor, Jennifer Fisher, Ba Win and Judith Win. I miss them already, but feel assured that they will continue the sustaining work that we have established. I will miss the faces of the children of Metta Geha Children’s Home. I will miss the monks and children of Sanda Rama Monastic School in Yangon. And, of course, I will miss the joy of teaching and coaching the college students of Gitameit Music Institute.
I’m sure that many of you have read the horrifying stories of the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The Rohingya are a stateless people from Rakhine State, Myanmar. There were an estimated 1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar before the 2016–17 crisis. On December 6, 2017, the United Nations reported that an estimated 625,000 refugees from Rakhine had crossed the border into Bangladesh since August 25, 2017. The Rohingya population is denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law. Despite being able to trace Rohingya history to the 8th century, Myanmar law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the eight “national indigenous races.” They are also restricted from freedom of movement, state education and civil service jobs. For those left behind, the abuses are unspeakable, continuing at a rapid pace, in a cruel and destructive goal of ethnic cleansing.
These questions have plagued Metta Partners this year. Disappointment in democratically elected leadership and Aung San Suu Kyi herself; certainty that authentic democracy is a myth and that military dictatorship is firmly in place; knowledge that people continue to live in dire poverty without access to food or clean water; fear that journalists are no longer safe. Because of recent events in Myanmar and inspired by these challenging complexities, the Partners met in Sheffield, Massachusetts in early November to do some soul searching and to attempt to honestly and faithfully address these questions.
After healthy discussion, articulated doubts and debate, we arrived at a unanimous, “yes.” “Yes” to the overarching work we do. “Yes” to the care and nurture of vulnerable children. “Yes” to education. “Yes” to nutrition and potable water. Food. Learning. Hope. This is our Metta Partners in Myanmar tagline. And it remains our mission.
The January trip to Myanmar will include visits to the Metta Geha Children’s Home in the Chin State and to the Sanda Rama Monastic School in Yangon. Please be assured that the traveling partners will be safe; there is no travel within the Rakhine State. The partners work in other parts of the country where people are marginalized and living in situations where basic needs are not met. We offer education, food support and salaries for young working people, who otherwise would have none. We have set up solar projects and water filtration projects in areas where electricity or clean water is scarce. We do this in conjunction with village leaders and school leaders in a (hopefully) culturally sensitive way.
If you have any interest in the work we do, please see www.mettapartners.org for more information. We will post, over the next few weeks, an update on the work completed during January 2018. As always, I am grateful to the members and friends of First Congregational Church, Winchester. The Outreach Ministry has been faithful in its support of the children of Myanmar, and we are so grateful. And individual congregants have continued to support us. Every dollar raised goes directly to our commitments: Food. Learning. Hope. Thank you. And see you in worship!
In gratitude and in faith,