Myanmar, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and also known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand.

Nearly two-thirds of the people are Bamar (also called Burmese or Burman.) In addition, there are many indigenous minorities, called ‘people groups,’ with their own languages and cultures, including the Shan, Karen, Rakhine, Chin, Kachin and Mon. Most Christians are from the minority ethnic groups: Karen, Lisu, Kachin, Chin, Lahu.

Less than one percent of the majority of the Bamar population is Christian. Ethnic and denominational ties are very strong and the reigning religion is Buddhism.

Riverside Community Church in Scottsboro is dedicated to reaching the people of Myanmar with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Over the past five years, the people of Riverside have raised several thousands dollars to help with missions in Myanmar.

“We give a large percentage of our missions fund to missionaries in Myanmar,” said Steven Barber, pastor. “There are more than 6,000 people groups in the world, and these are people with their own distinct ethnicity, culture and language who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Barber said 40 years ago, missions strategists believed if they could just get the Gospel to Myanmar, their job was done.

“But the problem is there are so many dialects,” he said. “Many of these people have never heard the Word of God in their own language, and that is what we are striving to do.

“To explain it in practical terms, mission work used to be viewed like a pancake,” he said. “You pour the syrup on and it covers the pancake. Today, it is viewed more like a waffle, where you have to reach each individual square.”

Because of the current laws in Myanmar, missionaries are not free to share the Gospel.

“Anybody doing missions work has to have a creative access platform,” Barber said. “For instance, if you are a journalist, you would not say you are a missionary, you would use the platform of your job to get into the country.”

Barber has taken two trips to Myanmar, recently returning in November 2015.

“Amazing things are happening there,” he said. “We are talking about a people group of close to one million. About five years ago, they had less than 10 Christians, now there are in excess of 200-300.”

Barber said the goal of their mission is to plant reproducing churches.

“There are laws in Myanmar where you can’t have public gatherings,” he said. “There are village heads, or leaders of the tribes who may or may not allow it. It’s up to them. Those who hear the Gospel and convert to Christianity could be kicked out of their village or lose their job. It’s very different from the way we live in America.”

On the last mission trip, Barber’s group went in as tourists and brought with them more than 300 pairs of reading glasses to give away.

“Unclaimed Baggage Center helped a lot with that,” he said. “These people do not even have the basic necessities of life, so they love just getting a pair of ordinary reading glasses.”

Once in the country, missionaries try to share the Gospel while teaching basic life skills to the people.

“Americans with more skills are trying to help them develop agricultural techniques so they can have food and better water,” he said. “In the near future, we will be helping them get a new well.”

Barber said missionaries have to be very sensitive to different cultural contexts.

“We want to respect their uniqueness and cultural identity,” he said. “Our goal is to meet their physical needs in order to get to their ultimate need, which is spiritual.

“I’ve seen some amazing things,” he said. “These people are so touched that you would travel so far to minister to them. Most of them had never even seen white people, but they are so kind. They literally offer everything they have to show their gratitude.”

According to Barber, the average salary for workers in Myanmar amounts to around $300 American dollars per year.

“They are very poor,” he said.

A group called ‘Faith Comes by Hearing,’ out of Albuquerque, New Mexico has developed a recorder called a ‘proclaimer,’ that runs off solar power and has the ability to put the Gospel into the correct dialect.

“The people were hearing the Bible in their own language for the first time,” he said. “The Myanmar religion is Buddhism. The problem is due to ‘karma’ the people don’t believe in helping someone who is going through a difficult time. They believe in a merit-based society where you earn good or bad karma for the next life.

“The religion teaches that you have to do something to get to God,” he said. “Like you have to ascend the mountain in order to get to Him. Christianity teaches that God descended from the mountain and comes to us. When they truly understand that, it is very freeing for them.”

Riverside Community Church partners with Corinth Baptist Church in their mission effort.

“I think there are nine or 10 other churches, as well,” he said. “There are some in California, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Kentucky.”

This summer, Barber will travel to a Missions summit in Dallas, Texas.

“It’s a meeting of all of our churches to discuss what’s going on and different ways to effectively strategize,” he said.

Riverside Community Church holds various fundraisers throughout the year for the mission work including a booth at Art in the Park.

“Our booth sells hot dogs and ice cream,” he said. “Last year, we made over $700 and all of that money went to missions.”

If you would like to help Riverside Community Church in their efforts to reach the un-churched in Myanmar, contact Steven Barber at: 256-599-8675, or email him at: stevenwaynebarber@gmail.com.

“If the community wants to help,” he said, “we are always looking for more people to participate.”

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