NEW ORLEANS – A joyous group of more than 50 people gathered in the New Orleans Convention Center Monday, June 12, for the first-ever meeting of the Myanmar Baptist Churches USA.
The historic event took place in conjunction with the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in the same location.
“We’ve been praying for this for three years,” National Coordinator Hre Mang said in his opening remarks. He is pastor of Falum Christian Church in Indianapolis, member of the trustee board for Indianapolis Theological Seminary and on the executive committee of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.
Later in the meeting he was called unanimously to a first five-year term as the Fellowship’s executive director. Mang professed to those in attendance his love for his homeland, Myanmar, formerly Burma, and the many ethnic groups that still live there.
“Two hundred years ago Christianity came [to Burma with Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson] and yet now only 6 to 8 percent of the people are Christian,” Mang told his listeners. Members of the 128 Myanmar churches across the United States are reaching out to their friends, neighbors and coworkers locally, and to loved ones still in Myanmar, Mang added.
Those in attendance turned to a six-page songbook in the rounded and frilled letters of Burmese as they were led in worship by Kamlen Haokip, who played his guitar. Haokip is pastor of Bellevue Myanmar Baptist Church in Owensboro, Ky.
Haokip interspersed each melodic song in Burmese with a corresponding Psalmist’s plea in English: “The Psalmist said the numbers will increase. … The Psalmist said, ‘I will look to the Lord from whom comes my strength.’ … The Psalmist said one day everyone will bow before Jesus who saves us. …” and more.
“It is good to sing together in our language, yes?” Mang said to a chorus of agreement.
“It is an historic day,” Mang continued. “The Great Commission binds us together with each other and with the Southern Baptist Convention. We have heard the Gospel shared with us. We know the benefit of the Good News shared with us and we must share this young baby [news of the new Fellowship] with others tomorrow.
“We have to work together to have progress,” Mang continued. “Jesus never left His homeland, but he always spoke globally.”
Ezra Bae of the IMB told his listeners of the commissioning Tuesday of nearly 80 new International Mission Board missionaries, including one young family set for the closed country of Myanmar, who were present. They were brought to the front and others gathered round to pray for them.
Victor Chayasirisobhon, SBC first vice president, spoke of his dismayed astonishment when he heard last year that Thailand’s arch enemy was to have a national fellowship in the SBC.
“[The year] 1767 was 9-11 for Thailand,” Chayasirisobhon recounted. “The Burmese burned this place [northern Siam] to the ground.” That attack and resulting year-long war continues to fester in the minds of people in Thailand, the former Siam, he added.
In rereading Genesis 15:20 last year though, he saw how God took something evil – Joseph sold into slavery – and turned it into good – Joseph rescued his family and thus all Israel, the SBC first vice-president explained.
“We learn from this to move on from ancient history,” Chayasirisobhon said. “How good and reasonable it is, how good and pleasant it is, to work together – Thai, Burmese, Karen [ethnic group] – for good. We are the same people.”
To which Mang responded, “With Southern Baptists I feel at home.”
Chris Kellermeyer, director of missions for Crossroads Baptist Association in Indianapolis, spoke in recommendation of Mang, who was later called as the Fellowship’s first-ever executive director.
“Burmese will be the language of heaven,” Kellermeyer said, referring to the beauty of the trilling and rounded tones of the music that had been sung. His listeners’ voices swelled in pleased agreement.
Peter Yanes, the SBC Executive Committee’s associate vice president for Asian American Relations and Mobilization, said he was glad to be a part of the Myanmar Baptist Churches USA inaugural gathering.
“Missionaries in Myanmar (Burma) and refugee camps is how many Burmese came to know Jesus Christ,” Yanes said. “God has orchestrated the time,” alluding to Chayasirisobhon’s words about what man meant for evil, God used for good. “There are many major ethnic groups in Myanmar, each with their own language, culture and customs. Dr. Mang has taught me a lot about that.
“We believe by coming together we can do more,” Yanes said. “We are here to serve, to lead, to bring positive change to Southern Baptist life. We now have 32 ethnic fellowships and networks.”
The world’s evil can be counteracted by Christians embracing all nations as racially diverse neighbors and as partners in sharing the Gospel, Yanes said.
“We are not just recipients of the Gospel, we are practitioners of the Gospel,” the Executive Committee leader of Asian groups said. “We need to come together as Southern Baptists to serve God and each other.”
In business, the MBCUSA’s bylaws were passed, including a logo that combines a white cross centered on a blue Bible surrounded by the Fellowship’s full name, “to represent sharing the Gospel to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of Jesus Christ around the globe.”
The bylaws had been formalized by the steering committee in February. That committee’s members, representing different Burmese ethnicities and from several parts of the United States included Mang and seven others:
Thuam Cin Khai, Kamlen Haokip, James Amar, Silas Thiang, Zo Zum Matu, Naw Bawk Kinraw, Moses Thang, and Niceu Cinzah.
Officers elected to two-year terms included the president and one vice president from each of the nation’s four regions:
President Thuam Cin Khai, Ph.D., pastor of Siyin Chin Baptist Church in Laurel, Md.; Vice President (East Region): Rev. Naw Bawk Kinraw, Senior Pastor, Life Community Church Myanmar in Jamestown, N.C.; Vice President (West region): Rev. Silas Thiang, Senior Pastor, Agape Myanmar Mission in San Diego; Vice President (Mid-West region) Rev. ZoZum Kuihon, Pastor, Indiana Disciple Church in Indianapolis; Vice President (Southeast region): Rev. Thomas Than Swe Thein, senior pastor, First Myanmar Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C.
Additional officers: Recording secretary: Rev Kamlen Thang Haokip, senior pastor, Bellevue Myanmar Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky; and Treasurer: James Amar, Ph.D., associate pastor, Atlanta (Georgia) Chin Baptist Church.
Members at large of the MBCUSA’s leadership team: Rev. Pau Do lian, Ph.D., senior pastor, Emmanuel Christian Church in Indianapolis; Hau Suan Khai, lead pastor of Myanmar Zomi Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla.; Niceu Cinzah, lead pastor of Monmouth (Illinois) Chin Christian Church; Moses Thang, senior pastor of Calvary Zomi Baptist Church in Indianapolis; David Thang Pau, member of Grace Baptist Church in Battle Creek, Mich., and consultant to Zomi Baptist Association of North America; Htoo Htoo, associate pastor of First Myanmar Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C.; and Tinpaul Kawbawi, pastorof Zotung Baptist Church in Arbutus, Md.
The first annual meeting of the Myanmar Baptist Churches USA meeting closed with a prayer of dedication for the new leadership team led by Peter Yanes.
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.