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English Teaching Trip to Yangon, Myanmar II

June 9th, 2011
By Helen Rimmer

Each year four teams of teachers from New Zealand volunteer to teach English in the Evangelical Theological College in Yangon, Myanmar. I joined three others from Auckland and Warkworth to become the third team which began teaching on April 18th, 2011. One lady, in her seventies, was a first time teacher this year, after completing an ESOL Teachers course in Australia. It is a joy for us to return to the college and meet former students, three of whom have now become members of staff after their studies in India and the Philippines.

My class consisted of eight men and four women, aged from 22 to 41 years, and two of them had a small daughter each. They were all commencing a three year graduate course to achieve Masters' Degrees in Theology, Ministry or Pastoral Studies, and they were invited to attend the Summer School to improve their English before their courses begin in June. Almost all of them had come from outside Yangon, and they were living in the dormitories across the busy street from the College. Some had travelled 600 kms from the northern cities of Putao and Kalaymyo.

Since it was Easter Week, we studied 'From Sadness into Joy' using Luke chapters 22 - 24. We appreciated the maps, models of Jerusalem and enlightening commentaries which are included in the NIV Study Bibles. The students practised reading aloud with good clear voices and we worked on writing answers to insightful questions. School was held on Good Friday as this is not a holiday in Yangon.

My class studied what the world was like at the time when Jesus lived in Galilee. We read about the World of Jesus, the World of the Disciples, the World of the New Testament, the World of Theology and the World of the Reformation. The exercises were in comprehension, in extending vocabulary, and in using grammar as a tool for understanding. We also completed a Dictionary of Theological Terms workbook.

Another inspiring set of lessons was studying the lives of great Christian men and women, St Augustine, St Francis, Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Gladys Aylward to name a few. My students learnt much about the struggles these great people had in their lives and they wrote comparisons about the two they had been given to study. All this work was done individually.

During our weekends we were pleased to spend time with former students and staff and enjoy fellowship with them. We travelled by taxi to the Irrawaddy Delta area to visit the children in Rebecca and CK's Children's home. The house stood in a flooded area because the monsoon rains have begun rather early this year.

All the young ones were waving out the windows to meet us as they recognised us from last year. They sang Christian songs for us and we taught them 'Jesus Loves Me'. They enjoyed some plain crackers which were shared amongst the 19 children. Only one young teacher seemed to be caring for them until the parents arrived for the weekend.

The children are happy in this house because it is just opposite their primary school. The eight older children have to travel 2 miles on very badly formed tracks to their school, so they will be appreciating their new bicycles. We need to pray for their safety on such poor roads amidst all sorts of vehicles. The family were delighted with the money to pay for the bicycles and some umbrellas. They also appreciated our help with the rent, which is only $100 US a month, but this sum has to be donated by Christian friends overseas.

Another weekend we celebrated Mothers' Day with the villagers in Peter Thein's Church in Shwepyitha. Most of the children are from very poor Buddhist families who are happy to have their children loved and taught good ways. In fact it is better to marry a Christian wife, because she is no trouble! We enjoyed wonderful songs presented by each of the groups of young people and children for their mothers, and by the mothers as well. We spoke to them about the privileges and joys of being mothers and our words were interpreted. Each mother was given a lovely dish, which I thought must be for our lunch, but it was a gift for us from the youth. We enjoyed Burmese lunch with the pastor's family.

Another weekend our team flew to Mandalay and on to Heho where we took a taxi over a badly formed highway to Kalaw. This is a village in the hill country which has probably changed little in the past 300 years. Many Indian families and some from Nepal, who worked for the British, are still living in this delightful rural setting. The houses are small and flimsy and the people work on small patches of land growing vegetables and raising chickens and pigs.

We met our two friends from Lashio who made the 16 hour journey by bus to meet up with us and have a weekend of relaxation. We all went on a trek into the hills above the town and we appreciated life in the Burmese countryside. Again we had torrential amounts of rain, but fortunately this kept us cool.

Our friends Nelly and Kyaw Kyaw were delighted with the 20kg suitcase full of Bible commentaries of New Testament books, Bible dictionaries and concordances. They transported these books by motorcycle to Heho and then by plane to Mandalay, before the six hour bus journey to their home. These have now been catalogued and placed in the library of the Bible School in Lashio. The cost of books is beyond the means of these schools and much of their material is photocopied. Our efforts to gather up useful books have richly blessed these dear folk.

In conclusion, I want to describe a trip to a Myanmar movie in torrential rain on a Friday afternoon. The members of my class have rarely seen a movie, so we booked our $1 seats downtown. The movie was a delightful story of two young men who transformed their characters by adding dark glasses and a hair wig, so they could date four young Myanmar ladies simultaneously. The scenes were set in Yangon near the Royal Gardens, (and our hotel), and at a magnificent beach on the western coast. It was a humorous film and the tricks of the young men were eventually revealed on CCTV. The students loved seeing a Myanmar film production and seeing young people acting so well in their stylish, but modest fashions and hairdos. We teachers thoroughly enjoyed seeing places we had visited and we understood the film even without subtitles.

I feel privileged to have had such a wonderful opportunity to meet Christian students in another culture and to assist them in their development in English. I pray that each one will be well equipped to minister in a church where they are called to teach and preach and I pray that they will be blessed with success in their labours.

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