Home by home, Burmese hear church's Gospel appeal

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Thursday, January 18, 2018 (7 months ago)

SAN DIEGO (BP) -- Thirty people made professions of faith in Jesus during Agape Myanmar Mission's home visits for its third annual Christmas outreach.

Agape Myanmar Mission's 23-day Christmas outreach led to 30 people making professions of faith in Jesus. It culminated with a Dec. 23 celebration in which children received age-appropriate Bibles and toys.
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"And a lot of Burmese people hear the Good News for the first time," pastor Silas Lian told Baptist Press. "Please keep praying for us and support us as we will follow them up and disciple our new believers."

Not just locally in San Diego, but Lian is building a strategy for reaching Burmese throughout California, the United States and Myanmar (Burma) in Southeast Asia.

Burmese is the largest of the tribal groups in the south Asian nation whose name was changed in 1989 to Myanmar to be more inclusive of all the groups, the pastor said.

Lian immigrated to the United States in 2014. That same year he started a church, which from its beginning has met at on College Avenue in San Diego, about a mile east of the City Heights neighborhood where most of the immigrants from Burma/Myanmar live.

In addition to growing the church to the 65 now attending its two-hour worship services -- where 18 were baptized prior to the 2017 Christmas outreach -- Lian's ministry entails transportation, translation, interpretation, home visitation, praying for the sick and paperwork for the immigrants as well as home Bible studies every night of the week, "especially in the homes of Burmese who follow the Buddhist, Animist and Muslim religion," Lian said.

Members of Agape Myanmar Mission share a Burmese meal after their Sunday worship in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood.
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"This is part of my mission strategy," the pastor continued. "We worship together, sing together, study the Bible together. They are more open in their house.

"Daytime, I need to go to appointments -- clinic, hospital, DMV office for driver's license, welfare office and school office," Lian said of his ministry. "By helping their physical needs, I can share the Gospel and I can pray for them."

Lian is a third-generation pastor. His grandfather, who lived in a mountain village near the India/Burma border, was the first Christian in his village. He was baptized in 1936 by a Baptist missionary. In time, he became a pastor; years later, his son and, still later, grandson became pastors.

"We are very thankful for Southern Baptists sending missionaries around the world," Lian said. "Before the missionary came, my grandfather was very religious. They are tribal people who worship a big tree or big rock. They practice animal sacrifice.

"If someone sick in family, they have to kill and take animal blood and give it to [the object of their worship]," the pastor continued. "They believed by the blood of the animal they will be healed or forgiven."

Silas Lian, with his wife Tracy and their two sons, anchor a multi-faceted outreach to San Diego’s Burmese community.
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The missionary heard that and told the villagers that by the blood of Jesus, their sins could be forgiven and their sicknesses healed, Lian said. "He said, 'Believe in Jesus and you do not need to sacrifice animal again and again."

When Lian responded to God's call on his life, he went to Berean Baptist Bible Seminary in Bangalore, India, and Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang. After pastoring in Malaysia for more than 10 years, God opened the door for Lian and his family to move to the United States to plant churches in the Burmese community.

Agape Myanmar Mission's third Christmas outreach took place from Dec. 11-23. That's when the pastor's team of between five and 15 members visited every Burmese home the pastor knew of in the City Heights neighborhood of south-central San Diego.

"I live in this area four years and I know where they live," Lian said. "I really studied about my community -- how many are new arrival, how many families are Buddhist, Animist and Muslim, what they need the most, and how many children they have, what are their problems.

"We are all very new to the U.S, so we can get to know each other more easily," said Lian who with his wife Tracy and two sons (a third baby due in June) manage financially on God's providence and support they receive from the North American Mission Board.

Lian first trained Agape Myanmar Mission's outreach team "to share and pray and sing," the pastor said. "We let the family know first we are coming. Some Muslim family doesn't want us to come. Some Muslim family do, and get Christmas presents."

A California Southern Baptist Foundation grant was used to buy toys, school supplies, hygiene items and children's Big Picture Bible Stories books. Small gifts were given in the homes during the outreach. Bigger toys and Bible story books were given during the Dec. 24 "Celebration of Christmas" attended by about 165 Burmese people, which ended with several Burmese dishes, including chicken soup, beef soup and sticky rice.

"We share the Gospel with all these people -- Muslim, Buddhist, animist," Lian said. "Then the people who choose to believe, they all stand together and we pray together to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior."

For Lian, a Gospel presentation starts with Genesis 1. "There is a living God who created everything.... Our life is given by God and belongs to God." The pastor said he routinely uses the North American Mission Board's 3 Circles presentation of the Gospel.

"I want to make disciples of Burmese people, and [for] some of them go back to Burma, to Thailand, to where their family are, to plant a church," Lian said. "Plant churches around U.S. and back to Asia.

"Our church vision statement is that by year of 2030, all the people groups in Burma -- Myanmar -- hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the pastor continued. "A lot of people groups, they never hear the Gospel yet."

That vision starts with San Diego.

"All the people who are coming to our church, we disciple them, how to share their faith, teach them how to testify of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Then [send them to] another city, another state and then back to Burma," Lian said. "Only the Gospel can change our lives and bring us to heaven."

Material items have their place, though. Four times each Sunday, Lian drives the mile or more to and from City Heights in order to get all the people who want to be at church. He is praying for the gift of a vehicle large enough to carry several families at once.

Lian has a multi-point strategy for reaching Burmese people: Printing and distributing Myanmar Gospel booklets and tracts as well as video items; personal and mass evangelism; Training for Trainers (T4T) discipleship program; celebration services; Encountering God and Creation Science seminars; organizing development projects; and planting churches among the Myanmar/Burmese people.

"Evangelism is an act of extending God's blessing to others," Lian said. "The Gospel not only transform our life but bring us to heaven."

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.
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