At the time of writing this, it’s been just a little over a week since returning from Myanmar. My body has finally returned to our time zone and my mind and heart have had time to process all I experienced and it’s time I finally try to share some of my thoughts and experiences with you all.
For those who do not know, I was a part of a team from Calvary Church that travelled to Agape Orphanage outside Yangon, Myanmar. We were able to meet the children that we support and spend time getting to know them and learning the story of what God is doing in Myanmar.
My goal is not to rehash every detail of every moment of the journey. It was tiring, the travel was long, very long. We visited a lot of interesting places, saw some sights both good and bad. We ate great food and met many new friends. We played games, sweated through three shirts a day, and did more crafts in a week than I’ve done in my whole life. But the details of all my many experiences are just too many to share here. So I’m going to try to share what I feel are the most important things that I left Myanmar with.
We arrived in Yangon late on Saturday evening to a warm welcome of children at the airport. Right away it was a apparent that we’d be well cared for and loved during our time there. Although we were strangers, they greeted us all with warm hugs, bright smiles, and a welcoming spirit, even refusing to let us carry our own bags. We loaded ourselves and our bags into vans and started the final leg of the journey, a 45 minute drive to the orphanage. It was dark and we were incredibly tired from almost two full days of traveling, so we immediately were shown our accommodations and went to bed for the night.
As the odd man out on the trip (literally, as the only other guy had his wife with him and they roomed together) I was fortunate enough to stay in a guest room in David’s house. David is one of Joseph’s sons who also lives on the orphanage grounds – more on their amazing family later. My room was large, air conditioned, had a king sized bed and private bathroom – not bad! I wasn’t sure what to expect going in and was pleasantly surprised. I unpacked a bit but decided to just go to bed and fell asleep right away. Although I was extremely tired and had not slept well on the trip, the 11.5 hour time change was just too much to adjust to right away and I was awake by about 3am (this happened for the first 4 days).
I stayed in bed and rested as best I could but as soon as the sun was up I was out exploring with my camera. The morning was cool and foggy and created an amazing light that made photographing a joy.
Later that morning, after being treated to our first of many amazing breakfasts to come that week, we joined everyone for Sunday Church and got our first glimpse of what life was like for the children.
At this point I feel I need to back up briefly and talk about how I came to be a part of the group. A good friend of ours, Matt Geiger, had been on a past trip and has often spoken about his experience and his desire to go back. He’s even been working on his wife Karlyn, trying to convince her to bring the whole family for an extended stay (they have three children from 9-13 yrs old). When the opportunity to go again arose, Matt and Karlyn decided they’d go, to experience Myanmar together, and to address any concerns about bringing the family. When putting the team together, Matt asked me if I’d like to be apart of it. Honestly, I was caught off guard as I had never even considered it before. But after much consideration, prayer, and encouragement from Andrea, I decided to jump on board.
At that point I knew very little about Myanmar and what to expect of the orphanage, the people there, and the children. Perhaps it was my own ignorance, perhaps the American lens through which I view life, or a little bit of both, but when I thought of “orphans” and “Myanmar” I immediately pictured the sad, starving, downtrodden images I’ve seen on TV commercials accompanied by sad Sarah McLaughlin music.
Back to that first Sunday morning in Myanmar. I was wrong. Everything I had imagined or expected was wrong. Way wrong. I knew it right away but I had no idea what to think of it. I had feelings of guilt and shame that were quickly overtaken by happiness and joy. I looked around and saw rows and rows of beautiful, amazing children with smiling faces singing at the top of their lungs praising God. They were praying together, all at once and out loud. I had no idea what they were saying but the looks on the faces of even the littlest child let us know they were serious. It was apparent from the start that these kids, while orphaned, were a part of a bigger family. What Joseph and his family have created at Agape is nothing short of a miracle.
BETTER AND BETTER…
Joseph Sang, the patriarch of Agape orphanage is a truly amazing man. I won’t go into his entire story here but know it is filled with miraculous works of God, never-ending trust and faith, and a life of servanthood and love that is matched by few I have met in this world. His family, along with some of the first orphaned children that he cared for, who are now grown, operate a whole network of orphanages (5, I believe) and care for over 200 children. They make sure they are fed, healthy, educated, loved, and taught the Word of God.
From those first moments worshipping together with the children, the experiences just continued to get better and better. We were their guests and they made us feel loved. Everywhere we went we had 2 or 3 or more children under our arms and holding our hands. Not because we asked them to, not because they were told to, but because they genuinely cared for us and craved the love of a parent. It’s really quite impossible for me to explain it, to make you understand what it felt like to be there, to be so badly wanted by someone who didn’t know you and couldn’t even communicate with you. It was simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting in a most amazing and beautiful way.
I didn’t know a lot about Myanmar before going, but one thing I had known was that their government is closed to foreign adoptions. For whatever reason, they wish to keep their own in country. A day or two of being there and I felt certain, if that policy were changed, this orphanage would be half empty in a week and I (and everyone else who has ever visited) would be needing a bigger house. I couldn’t understand why the Burmese government wouldn’t allow these poor children to be rescued to a better life. It wasn’t right, wasn’t fair. But the more and more time we spent there, the more we learned about Joseph’s story and all the amazing things his family is doing there, we learned how these children are being rescued and educated, raised to love and serve God and each other, my mind changed. I saw something in this place that doesn’t exist in the United States. Something about that community that I’ve never experienced and still struggle to describe. But for all the things they may lack, the really important things they have in spades, much more than we do here. I began not to feel bad for them, but to be jealous for my own children that they wouldn’t grow up in such a wonderful community.
Now, I must pause here to make an important point. I don’t want to falsely portray everything as sunshine and rainbows. These children are orphans. Many do not have either parent alive. Others do but are unwanted or their family is simply unable to care for them. Other stories are far worse and include abuse of all sorts. These children need us and our support. But their place, at least for now, is in Myanmar; Myanmar, where they will grow up to be a generation of men and women of change, of love and compassion for their own people, spreading the love and Word of God.
So, pray for them, support them, write letters and befriend them. Love these amazing children, with hopes, dreams, and fears; who play soccer, make friendship bracelets, play duck-duck-goose and musical chairs, who sing and dance with joy and enthusiasm, despite their circumstances; children that are more like us than they are different.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my trip, perhaps my story will spark you to want to visit Myanmar yourself. Or maybe you’d be able to offer some financial support, or even simply write a letter. If you’re interested in learning more about ways you can make an impact, please visit the links above.
I hope you enjoy the images below, if you’d like to see more please visit: jandaphoto.com/joels-trip-to-myanmar/