Unfinished dreams

written by Ellyn Schellenberg

“When I first became national director of OM in Myanmar, and I looked at OM’s vision to see communities of Jesus followers where there were none, my first thought was: ‘Okay, who do we train here in Myanmar?’” Khai shared in 2018 during an interview. Over the next several years, he led the team to shift from primarily relying on foreign volunteers and working in the capital city to raising up, and partnering with, dozens of local Jesus followers with a passion for those who do not yet know about Jesus – many of who already lived in remote places.

“Foreigners come and go, and their language is limited,” Khai explained. “But if the foreigners can come and train us and stand behind us, we can send our own people out into hard places in our own country – to our own people.” He recognised the long-term limitations of foreigners being able to do ministry in Myanmar, let alone moving to rural settings where many people had not yet heard about Jesus. “[Khai] had a very clear vision for where he wanted to take the ministry. He was determined in working towards that vision,” an OM colleague said. “He shifted the team's focus to where the church didn’t exist.”

This vision to equip and train more local people was one God gave Khai even before he stepped into a leadership role. It may have taken a long time to become a reality, but as Khai led his team and partnered with many around the globe who shared his passion for raising up Jesus followers in Myanmar, God continued to be at work in the hearts of people. “In early 2019, Khai mobilized over 20 same culture people [from around Myanmar] and invited them for training [to do effective ministry among those who have never seen Jesus’ love demonstrated towards them],” shared Palin*, an OM trainer who partnered with Khai’s team. “We worked on a two-year training curriculum, and starting in January 2019, we had three one-week seminars and then one in January 2020, which happened to be the last one offered before the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” There was also a strategy for follow-up with a lot of prayer and practical support provided.

Disrupted by COVID

With the spread of the coronavirus around the globe, the lives of millions changed. This was also true for Khai, his team and partners. Then in February 2021, a military coup took place in Myanmar and shook the country further. The health care system in particular was on the verge of collapse, as many doctors and health workers went on strike, were forced into hiding or were arrested by the military. "There have been 240 documented cases of attacks on health care facilities and health care professionals," said Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar. "You can't attack Covid-19 and attack doctors and nurses and clinics at the same time. That is exactly what is making a bad situation exponentially worse in Myanmar."**

In early July, Khai contracted COVID-19 and was cared for at home by his wife, a trained nurse, and brother. For a time, it looked like he would recover, but on July 8, his breathing worsened and he was admitted to an understaffed hospital. Because of her training, Khai's wife could administer oxygen to him. Four days later though, unable to find more oxygen in the hospital or elsewhere nearby, Khai passed away. He left behind his wife, three young children and a growing ministry among people who have never heard about God’s love.

Valuing people

“Khai valued the ministry his team did, but he valued the people even more,” said Khai’s brother, GoChin. “He was a servant leader and had a big heart and cared deeply for others – especially for the marginalised, the forgotten.” Khai led his team and other partners to commonly overlooked places: communities of impoverished people, people living with HIV, AIDS or leprosy, people who experienced seasonal flooding and lost everything and people living in such remote parts of Myanmar that they had no access to a church. Khai used his ability to network and his passion for the lost to partner with other Jesus followers to take the hope and love of Christ further.

Growing up in a large Christian family in Myanmar, Khai was familiar with poverty. “There was a time when our family didn’t have enough shoes for everyone,” GoChin described of their childhood. “We couldn’t go out and find work because we didn’t have slippers or shoes.” So Khai, at 18 years of age, travelled to Thailand for work – only to wind up being a victim of human trafficking. Rather than being able to send money home to his family, he was told that he owed more money than he could make to pay for his travels and accommodation. After a concerned call from family, Khai fled Thailand and returned home once again.

He attended Bible college, first in Yangon and then in India, and began serving in missions in Sri Lanka in 2004. He was there when the devastating tsunami destroyed the coastal line. Through all of these experiences, Khai’s heart for the overlooked and marginalised continued to grow.

In 2018, after he and his team provided relief in a flooded area, Khai recalled his heart breaking for an elderly man who had developed pneumonia because of the constant water. "He could not breathe properly and looked very tired and sick. So I told him we came to help him because we loved him – and he cried. Everyone [in the community] was so happy that we brought them medicine and food. But we also brought them the love of Jesus that day.”

Plans just started

Through the biblically-based missional training that Khai and others have provided over the past few years for believers in Myanmar, twelve new gatherings of Jesus followers have formed and continue to grow in parts of the country that previously had no churches. These pockets of hope have been formed in communities that seem to have been forgotten by others. But God has not forgotten them. “Because Khai cared for those who were serving in these communities and sought to bring them together to reach the least reached, progress has happened these past two years,” Palin shared.

Another OM colleague described Khai as “never putting himself in the spotlight and wasn't trying to tell everyone what great plans he had. But he had a very clear vision for where he thought God wanted to take the ministry.”

The OM team and their partners mourn the sudden loss of Khai and yet, they remain hopeful of what God will continue to do in Myanmar. GoChin said: “I think people are touched when during their time of difficulty, they find someone to talk to. Khai did not only practically help people by giving food or medicine; he took time to listen and to talk to them.” Kindness and a warm heart are just as important to give – and something that everyone is in need of.

*name changed

**https://edition.cnn.com/2021/07/21/asia/myanmar-covid-oxygen-intl-hnk/index.html

Myanmar: OM teams have been involved in reaching out practically to flood victims in South Asian countries that experienced unusually bad flooding the last few months. In many villages our teams are distributing basic food items as well as other necessary items like umbrellas, soap, and kitchen items. The flood waters have started to go down, but have left homes damaged or destroyed, fields empty and families unsure of how to move forward with the loss of income from the harvest and seed that was lost.

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