Together we give praise, honour and glory to our Heavenly Father, who in Christ Jesus is building and strengthening the church.
In the past two weeks, I have been honoured and blessed to have witnessed and shared first-hand in God’s wonderful work amidst faithful and humble people in both Mizoram (in northern India) and in neighbouring Myanmar. My visit was voluntary, somewhat “unofficial”, although I am well aware of my service as Secretary for the International Ministerial Congress. I was simply encouraged by a growing friendship, fellowship and further prompted by written invitations to the Golden Jubilee in Mizoram, as well as to the graduation of nine theology students in Myanmar. My intention was simply to bear an open heart of encouragement with the right hand of fellowship.
Arriving in Aizawl, Mizoram, northern India, on February 3, 2017, I was warmly welcomed at the airport by a delegation of Church of God (Seventh Day) leaders and youth. It was good to again see old friends. What was surprising was to see a large white cross at the airport with the words in red, “Thy Kingdom Come”. On enquiring, I learned that the population of Mizoram is estimated to be over 90 percent Christian – whereas the rest of India differs as being estimated at about two or three percent.
I immediately experienced the great love and faithfulness of God’s good and long-time work in this remote part of the world, meeting brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom had travelled significant distances and who warmly welcomed me with repeated affirmations of gladness and joy.
Further welcomed into the Golden Jubilee celebrations, over the next few days I met elders and leaders of various church ministries, as well as a vibrant, energetic youth group. I was delighted to further affirm a beautiful understanding among the youth of God’s grace extended to us through Christ.
After discussing the aims, goals and efforts to serve our growing church community throughout the IMC, I presented the conference with the church’s ten statements of “Who We Are In Christ”, as handcrafted by my wife Rebecca from selected fine cloth. It was then hung from their main podium. The message I shared on the second day of the Jubilee was titled “The Word of God” – as spoken, written, codified, personified in Christ, internalised, never returning empty and ultimately transformed into glory.
The church bell was tolled 50 times by 50 different people, each representing the past 50 years of church life. This was followed by the unveiling of a commemorative Golden Jubilee 50 year stone. Another highlight of the event was the baptism of a young woman.
The Jubilee celebrations reflected an encouraging and wide variety of roles and services, equally shared by men, women and youth. Worship was vibrant, joyous and wholehearted, reflecting enriching local cultural traditions with newer, contemporary forms of music. The love of God, and a willingness to listen to the practical living of the gospel of Jesus Christ was reflected by leaders, elders and members from near and far – and from what I experienced and could see, the organic and grass-roots efforts for reconciliation between two conferences that operate separately there, has, in my opinion, already begun.
Following the Jubilee, together with a group of elders, we visited two remote village churches – and again I was delighted to share in their enduring love and faith. Many expressed a great joy as we shared in fellowship. With prayers and affirmations, our brothers and sisters were gladdened to hear that they are loved by Christ and throughout our international church family, as reflected in the IMC’s heart and mission.
One gracious and gifted young man from Aizawl, stepping up into youth leadership and service, said that he had prayed for something like this catalyst visit since he was eight years old. For him, his answered prayer meant more than he could have anticipated.
In the fellowship activities that followed the Jubilee, through various meals and opportunities, I was able spend occasion in earnest and brotherly conversation with elders and leaders. By God’s grace, it was a time for heart to heart, eye to eye, side by side, with occasional arm on shoulder conversations.
It is a blessing to share in strong, mature and genuine fellowship – for which we can praise our God for the great favour He has granted and sustained us with. The Jubilee symbolises grace, forgiveness and release from debt and slavery, and in discussing the unique issues facing the church there, we noted that God’s grace can be defined as, “God treating us better than we deserve”.
Throughout the Jubilee, I was delighted that two or three other Churches of God, local and remote, were represented. This resulted in several behind-the-scenes conversations building bridges, with affirmations of Christian love for each other with the added mutual urgency for reconciliation. Leaders of other conferences joined in the joy of worship, community dance, and finally speeches further affirming the seeds of reconciliation. Speeches and acknowledgments expressed a desire for more cross-pollination of speakers, events and fellowship anytime and always.
Thanks to various contacts and fellowship on Sabbath, as well as a phone call or two, I was blessed to spend an entire day with another part of the Church of God (Seventh Day) family and their conference leaders, meeting first of all in a hotel lobby and later in their churches. Again, with the right-hand of fellowship and brotherly love, we spent many hours together sharing and listening. All their ten or so leaders asked sincere questions, requesting clarity on a number of issues.
In the afternoon, with the conference leader and their pastors, I enjoyed spending time in their two church buildings. We prayed together, took numerous photos, and I was again asked to share a few words of encouragement to their leadership and pastors. We also laid hands on those requesting healing. Throughout the day, there were many joyous and memorable moments of deep and shared fellowship.
On February 8th, 2017, several car loads of Church family from Aizawl joined the convoy as we travelled the winding, narrow road to the airport to wave our final and affectionate goodbyes. I will always cherish their the great love, hospitality, faithfulness, and love for the Lord (LALPA) – many of whom travelled significant distances on arduous roads to be at the Jubilee. Of course, they would all now like to meet my wife Rebecca.
Flying from there via Kolkata and Bangkok, I was met at the Yangon International Airport in Myanmar by the conference leader there and dear brother in the faith.
I thoroughly enjoyed our time together with brothers, including two friends who had flown in from Cambodia, sharing many occasions for fellowship and reflection over the next few days. The worship and fellowship was again tremendous. On the Friday, we baptised seven people, and after Sabbath worship in the morning, the afternoon was spent at the graduation ceremony of nine young men into church service from the Asian Christian Theological Seminary. The planning and dignity of the graduation service was impressive, with speeches, prayers, presentations and the level of protocol and excellence one might expect to see at a major university.
Again it was delightful to witness and affirm God’s good work among His faithful and loving people living in Yangon, Myanmar.
The following day, after seeing our brothers off at the airport on their return to Cambodia, we boarded an overnight bus for the eight hour ride to Mandalay, from where we caught a flight to the Kalay Valley. There, several faithful, thriving congregations live and work, and who abundantly reflect the love of God and an overwhelming gladness that they’d been visited again. Many in Myanmar remember with appreciation previous visits by representatives from the International Ministerial Congress.
It was enjoyable being “among family”, sharing in mealtimes, worship, and warm brotherly conversation, with several opportunities to share greetings from the churches in Australia, from the international Church of God (Seventh Day) as well as personally from every IMC Officer. I again shared the message “The Word of God”.
On our final day together, a group of us travelled by motor scooter to a mountainside lookout giving picturesque and sweeping views over the Kalay Valley, before we concluded our time together at a huge dam water reservoir.
I really enjoyed time spent in Myanmar. Their conference Secretary provides gifted and warm leadership throughout Myanmar, as well as continued visionary investment in training and growing the church there.
I came to Mizoram and Myanmar on the basis of fellowship, friendship and by invitation. What a great joy to have witnessed God’s good work in these two countries enriched with similar cultures and traditions but of one Spirit and faith. We have much to be thankful for in the grace and fellowship we share in Christ. Thus, so much more do I look forward to, by God’s grace and providence as He wills, to one day return (with my wife Rebecca) perhaps at the close of the Jubilee in a year’s time, and again affirm and share in the blessings of Christ-centred faith, fellowship and family.
A special thanks to so many people (you know who you are) who gave so generously in order to make this trip at all possible.
In the next few weeks I plan to begin work on two short documentary films, retelling in song, narration and events of God’s abundant grace and truth growing in both Mizoram and Myanmar.
Secretary 2016-2020, International Ministerial Congress