by Margaret Colson
SAN DIEGO — Fleeing civil unrest in their homeland, many refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) desperately seek new lives in America. Here many, like Soe Htwe, find new life in Christ.
Htwe, a Buddhist monk, journeyed from Myanmar through a refugee camp in Thailand to San Diego. He soon met Pastor Silas Lian, who planted Agape Myanmar Mission to reach the city’s estimated 2,000 Myanmar people.
Passionate and committed, Lian and other Christian leaders visit “Burmese family’s houses to pray for them and to share the gospel day and night,” he said.
Meeting and soon developing a relationship with Htwe, the pastor invited the monk to a house fellowship on Saturday evenings. Htwe heard the gospel, but “he could not make the decision to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior easily,” Lian said. He then invited him to weeknight Bible studies.
“We went through creation and the story of Christ,” Lian said. “In the end he made a great decision and got baptized. He is still in the process of discipleship to become a mature disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Htwe is just one of many refugees from Myanmar who have made professions of faith. Lian said he has personally led more than 70 people to Christ; more than 40 have made professions of faith so far this year.
Lian has a heart for Myanmar refugees because he was once one himself. He left Myanmar more than 15 years ago because of political and religious persecution.
“He is a refugee, and he can relate to the mindset of other refugees,” noted Ross Shepherd, California Southern Baptist Convention church planting initiatives team leader.
He also has a heart for those who do not know Christ personally because he recalls his life before becoming a Christian. Although born into a Christian family, “I did not experience salvation in my life,” Lian said. It wasn’t until he was “reading and studying the Word of God” while in seminary in India in 1999 that he made a profession of faith in Christ. After seminary, Lian planted churches among Myanmar refugees in Thailand and Malaysia.
Arriving in San Diego in February 2014, Lian started intentionally meeting refugees from Myanmar, helping them with practical needs such as translation and transportation. He began leading Bible studies for the refugees, who are predominantly Buddhist, and on Christmas Day 2016, Agape Myanmar Mission held its first public worship service with 125 in attendance.
“It is a difficult ministry, and I am so encouraged by the success the Lord has blessed Pastor Silas with in reaching refugees from Myanmar for Christ,” Shepherd said.
“He has a passion for Christ and a passion for His people.”
Each Sunday, those in the worship services of the young church recite its vision statement in unison: “By the year of 2030, all the Myanmar (Burmese) people must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then they put that vision statement into action, holding numerous community engagement events, many centered around holidays and other important calendar dates, such as back-to-school. Through these events, “We have come to know a lot of new Myanmar refugee families, getting to know our community better,” Lian said. “A lot of Myanmar people hear the gospel for the first time, and some of them have made a decision to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
CSBC has walked alongside the church planter every step of the way as he reaches into his community.
“We are called to assist the church planter in every way we can,” Shepherd noted.
Funds from the California Mission Offering (CMO) help make the many outreach events of Agape Myanmar Mission possible.
“We really thank God for the California Southern Baptist Convention,” Lian said.
To further fulfill the church’s vision statement, Lian challenges “all my people every Sunday to share their testimony and their blessings to their families and relatives not only in America but back in Myanmar.”
This year, Lian has led the church to “Step Up!” the 2019 CMO theme, “to train and support 120 church planters and pastors in Myanmar,” with plans to conduct a training conference in Yangon, Myanmar in November. Participants will receive meals, accommodations, a Burmese Bible, books and training materials, a backpack, a notebook and pen, and a return bus ticket to their mission fields, Lian said.
It’s a big undertaking, one that would not be possible without financial support through CMO. Agape Myanmar Mission “has raised enough money to cover 60 of the pastors’ costs. CSBC is going to provide the funding for 30 more pastors to attend the training on full scholarship,” Shepherd said.
Training church planters and pastors in Myanmar is one facet of fulfilling Agape Myanmar Mission’s vision statement of sharing the gospel with all Myanmar people, wherever they are.
“To fulfill that vision, we need to partner with all believers, churches and pastors who believe the Great Commandment and the Great Commission,” Lian said.
Watch the video about Silas Lian's work with Burmese refugees.