Traveling back to Yangon on Wednesday allowed us to see signs that new policies are underway. In one small village, there was a thatched dwelling that displayed in bold letters “National League for Democracy,” Aung San Suu Kyii’s longsuffering protest party. Now serving as a member of parliament, her voice and those of her followers fear little censure in this emerging democracy.
Even more remarkable is the presence of Karen soldiers in the towns near the Karen State, just to the east of the Mon State through which we were driving. In former times, if they were observed coming into the towns, the inhabitants saw this as an intimidating presence. No longer. We even saw a small community building devoted to political organizing flying the Karen flag. The desire of the varied ethnic groups is to have a federal army, which will include these regional armies. Giving the local armies jurisdiction in the ethnic states will go a long way toward sustainable peace.
Anyone who visits Myanmar will be alarmed by the looming ecological disaster. Pollution, trash, overharvesting, water control, and many other issues threaten the future stewardship of a land rich with natural resources. Thankfully, there are public and private programs and educational initiatives addressing this reality. Thankfully, Myanmar Institute of Theology is making sustainability issues a core value in their preparation of students.
We observed one interesting and creative use of space at our lunch stop. Parking attendants guide the various vehicles to park in the shade provided by the young rubber tree planation. The spaces between the long rows accommodate cars and vans and cycles, and the shade cools down the vehicles, thus saving energy.
Today we will attend the great Judson celebration opening services. Reports suggest that there may be as many as 25,000 persons in attendance—hopefully, not all at once! The newly constructed building will not hold them all, but I have witnessed at a MIT graduation the willingness of many simply to be near the building where the special event is occurring. Their joy in being together is palpable.
Presently, MIT is functioning as a campground for many who have come in from long distances. Indeed, the school is shut down this week in order to be able to accommodate all these sojourners. We will drop by there so the Central pilgrims can see the school and the festive atmosphere.
These next days will be long and full of opportunities to hear choirs, sermons, greetings, and visions for the future of Baptist work in Myanmar. I am anticipating a renewing time as we celebrate the bicentenary together.
Molly T. Marshall