Monday, June 28, 2010


Day 1: Lost in Translation

We arrived in Burma a bit bleery eyed. Probably because after 25,000 miles of travel, one thing I've learned is that all originating flights leave at 6:00 am. That means we have be at the airport at 4:00 am. Of course, by then, our bodies really had no clue about the difference between am and pm anyway, so it was no big deal

There was one smiling face at the Yangoon airport and thankfully it was the man there to greet us. It's a little difficult to explain 16 scapels, large bottles of levaquin, a water purification systems that looked like flying saucers to a Burmese customs officer. Fortunately, they let us keep everything.

There is one rule in Burmese transportation: Stuff it until it can hold no more. We thought we stuffed our bus and truck with our 18 bodies and 34 suitcases, but we were put to shame when the first truck passed us: three in the cab, eighteen in the bed, and four more holding on to the back. It's the latest thing in fuel efficiency.

When we arrived at the orphanage, the children were excited, curious, and perhaps a little scared. It isn't every day that 17 white people come to their little compound. The kids were dressed in their green and white school uniforms and arranged in orderly rows as they sang "Count Your Blessings"

Our team took over the largest structure - an open building with a metal roof and concrete floor - and began to devise a medical clinic while I went into the dorm (a/k/a "oven") with the children and four suitcases worth of "kid stuff."

I had carefully planned out the next four days...Bible lessons, songs, English lessons, games, and crafts. I had also tried to pack all of the items in an orderly fashion so I would have what I needed when I needed it. I shouldn't have bothered. Fortunately, the kids were pretty patient with me as I tried to sort through the packed, sorted, unsorted, repacked, and then generally mixed around suitcases in the dim light.

People in the US had donated school supplies, flip flops, hygeine items, and other stuff that we had packed in bags for each of the children. As we called each kid's name to come get their bag, there was a thunderous applause and that child would come shake hands with me. Made me feel like Bob Barker or something.

Greg and Rhett joined us in the Oven for a little while and we taught them some songs in English. Then we played some games to help them learn animal names in English. Then we did a craft. Then we played some more games. Then we did another craft. Then we played some more games...We played with balloons. We played with crayons, markers, and paint. We played with beanie babies. We played with legos. We played with cards. We played with pick up sticks. We played with bouncy balls. We played with frisbees. We played with jacks. It seemed like I had no sooner finished explaining something to the translator, than she would look at me and say, "Miss, new game. They want to play."

I decided that it was time to do the Bible lesson. These kids have actually had good Bible teaching from the workers at the orphanage, so I had worked hard to try to come up with a creative way to teach Bible lessons. Today I was going to teach on creation. I thought that I would start by talking about why we study creation from the Bible. I started by asking "How many of you can remember what happened before you were born?"

I had two translators at the time and they both took turns asking the children, then they discussed it with each other, then asked the kids again, and finally turned to me and said, "Hands and feet."

"Hands and feet?" I tried again. More talking with the kids. More discussion. Same answer. I looked into the faces of 42 very confused looking children and finally gave up. We would have to stick with crafts and games.

I couldn't believe it when it was time to leave and I realized it was only 4:30 pm. It seemed like it had been an eternity. In a good way. I made new friends. I sweated out liters of water. I talked myself horse to a group of people that couldn't understand a word.

Perhaps the biggest sum of the afternoon was when the translator said to me, "Miss, you can do many things."

We had indeed done many things. Thanks to the generosity of many people and churches in Charleston, we had done many things. And now all I needed to do was come up with three more days worth of things to do...with little or no translation. And I couldn't wait.

Day 2: Boys, Boys, and more Boys

The girls went to school on day two, but I had about 27 boys ages 5 to 14. All day. Yep. It was fun.

The rest of the team was working--giving medical exams, trying to solve the puzzle presented by the water system, administering prescriptions, etc. And I was playing games and doing crafts. It really wasn't fair.

I know God can use our weaknesses because there is no other way to explain the fun we had making paper airplanes, something I stink at. The boys kept saying some phrase when they would launch their plane. It sounded like sakjd; ajksdl uewiro but it must mean something really cool in Burmese.

I tried to get them to teach me some Burmese, but the only phrase I still remember is "tata ("Goodbye"). Now you understand why we had so much trouble communicating.

I took the most time to explain "Steal the Bacon" and Football to the boys. But I had to stop Steal the Bacon after only a few minutes because it turned into World War III. Football, on the other hand, I couldn't have stopped if I wanted to. It quickly turned into an unrecoginzeable game of throwing, running, passing, kicking, jumping, and bumping with your head. After "hike" who knew what would happen, and it wasn't long before they stopped bothering with "hike."

When the girls came back from school, I thought it was time to give them some attention, so I pulled out the bags of beads that I had brought. I expected the girls to enjoy the beads. What I didn't expect was to get absolutely mobbed. There is nothing in all the world like having 42 sweaty bodies crowding around you and talking eagerly in a language you can't understand while you try to thread a needle on a fat piece of string in a dark room. Nothing.

The boys got into it just as much of the girls and were soon running around throwing the football and frisbees with strings of colored pony beads wrapped around their wrists and necks.

I remember telling my mom that I wanted ten boys. She told me that I would change my mind, and I guess I have. Now I want 27.

Day Three: Take 20 Asprin and Call me in the Morning

On Day three, the majority of the children went to school, so I got to help in our pharmacy for a while. It was cooler in the pharmacy, which was a nice plus.

Hundreds of people from the village came to the clinic and were waiting for hours on hard benches to see the doctors. We had a little of everything from head trauma, to children with heart problems, to worms, difficult pregnancies, and people needing simple operations.

One recurring complaint was dizziness and other was neck pain. I think the dizziness is because of the 110 degree heat with 200% humidity. The neck pain probably because of the loads we say them carrying around on their heads. Sometimes you saw people with a load of hay on their head as big as a Toyota Carolla.

I tried to do some photography and videotaping as well. I don't think I will elaborate on that further.

I learned a lot about medicine that day. And about deciphering doctor's writing. Maybe after the course on photography I can take one on handwriting analysis.

Elizabeth, Curtis, and I generally stayed pretty busy. The people were pretty patient as they waited their turns and the doctors worked like dogs seeing patient after patient. The dentists pulled so many teeth I'm pretty sure the Burmese tooth fairy is filing bankruptcy.

We gave everyone who came through a simple tract and several on the team had opportunities to share the gospel. Dr. McClain shared the gospel with a Buddist monk who came through and Curtis shared with one of the village leaders. Because we were helping the village, they were more receptive than they would ordinarily have been.

When the children came back from school, I felt the magnetic pull back into the Oven. We made more bead necklaces. You talk about neck pain...these kids are going to be taking tylenol because of wearing too many necklaces.

We played some other games...they loved the balloon stomp although they didn't quite understand that when your balloon popped, you are supposed to be out. Oh well. We did some other English lessons and made puppets. Every now and then you would here the sounds of hundreds of little beads hitting the floor and there would be a mad dash to recover rolling pony beads. Good stuff.

Pastor Greg gave the kids a lesson on hygeine. After discussions on brushing their teeth, he said, "Now we're going to talk about water." Just then, the skies broke loose and a torrent of rain came down accented by thunder and lightening. Because of the metal roof, there was so much noise, you couldn't hear someone next to you if they were yelling. So much for our talk on water. We wanted to explain to them the ramifications of the new purification systems that had been installed and the importance of drinking clean water and trying to keep the water clean.

I don't know really know how to say this and maybe it won't come out right...but I don't really feel sorry for poor people. In a way I hate to see them in tattered clothes and eating mostly rice and drinking dirty water. But in another sense, their lives are so much simpler too. They don't have TV and Wii, and DS, and their lives aren't as complicated with a lot of the pressures that we put on ourselves physically and financially. So while I enjoyed bringing good things into the children's lives, I also don't want to build in them a sense of discontentment. If they can build Godliness and keep Contentment they will be richer than money can ever make them.

Day Four: A Little Bit of Everything

I sat next to one of the translators named Rhoda on the hour-long ride to the orphanage. I enjoyed talking to her and learned a lot about the persecution in Burma. She said it is less in Yangoon and the bigger cities because that is where Westerners come. The further you get from Yangoon, the greater the persecution.

Our last day at the orphanage we continued the clinic, made more bead necklackes, gave out more tylenol, and played more football and frisbee. I went back through leftovers from different crafts and with a little creativity, we were able to make new crafts from the same supplies.

Rhett and I played bubbles with the kids. It was their first time seeing bubbles and they had a ball with them. Even the older ones seemed to have fun popping them and blowing them. I let the older boys paint...they had fun with that. And Jonathan and I attempted to teach the kids to play indoor baseball. We were never quite able to communicate the sequence of the bases. The boys would hit the ball and run to the base of their choosing depending on where the ball went and what was open. I'm afraid it was a desecration of the great American sport. All the while, I was sweating my insides out chasing a ball into the furthest corners of the room trying to catch kids who were impossible to catch because if I actually did manage to get the ball to the base before them, they would pick a different base. Kudos to them for thinking outside the box, I guess.

We concluded our visit with another meeting with our whole team and the children. We sang together and Curtis shared another Bible lesson about being Jesus' disciple. I would not be surprised if our visit is something these children (and the village) remember for a long, long time.

I hope, if nothing else, that the children and the village will take from this week a greater understanding of the Church. I want them to know that faith in Jesus Christ is not just something their leaders are teaching them, but something that is so important to us that we would leave our jobs and families and travel to the other side of the world to serve. Maybe as they continue to grow, they will have that kind of vision not only to change their village - which 42 passionate Christians will almost certainly do - but also to advance the Kingdom of God throughout the world.