Council for World Mission (CWM) held a Roundtable Meeting for Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM) and its partners from 2-3 August 2022 at Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy Hotel. It brought together PCM leaders, its partners from Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ), World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea, PC(USA), PC (Ireland), CWM East Asia member church delegates and the CWM Moderator Rev. Lydia Neshangwe to discuss and discern how as a global network of churches and ecumenical partners, they could strategise their solidarity and support with PCM.
During the introduction, CWM General Secretary Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum welcomed the delegates and guests to the meeting, where he affirmed that the Christian community must cling on to hope and pray for the deliverance of the Myanmar people from tyranny and discern practical and strategic ways of assistance. Referring to his earlier speech during CWM’s World Day of Prayer for Myanmar held virtually this year, he commended the Myanmar Christians for demonstrating prophetic witness in their resistance against the oppressive military regime and providing loving care towards the community as a priority.
This was followed by opening worship and prayer by Rev. Julie Sim, Mission Secretary – Mission Programme & Partnership at CWM, and the opening address by Rev. Phil King, the Chairperson of PCM Partners and Global Mission Coordinator from Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).
Subsequently, PCM General Secretary Rev. Ramthanga shared updates of the Myanmar situation as well as PCM’s ministry through its Covid and Crisis Response Committee (CCRC) to support victims of the Spring Revolution. The CCRC is working closely with Agape Hospital staff and volunteers to care for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), and has collaborated with their partners to vaccinate PCM staff followed by their congregation. In addition, Rev. Ramthanga highlighted the PCM’s current needs of space and buildings for an oxygen generator as part of the pandemic response, as well as the Agape Relocation Project in the Children Development Centre.
As for development of theological and secular education and other development programmes, Tahan Theological College (TTC) lecturer Rev. Ling Zaw delineated several areas of need – spiritual and financial support for 93 theology students; a full-time educator to conduct a B.A English programme, and PCM’s involvement in an income-generating TTC Farm Project, among others. In addition, the delegates received responses and input on the Myanmar crisis from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) perspective through a verbal report presented by Rev. Julie Sim.
Upon receiving these reports, the delegates made queries about TTC’s staff strength and breakdown of students, other theological colleges near TTC, and on the farming project. PCM delegates shared that TTC is well-recognised and popular among applicants for admission to theological institutions, and there will be a work-based scholarship where students involved in farm work are eligible for sponsorship for their studies. In terms of urgency and priority, Rev. Ramthanga indicated that Covid vaccines for PCM congregation members would take precedence over provision of masks and medical equipment at the moment. Apart from these, they mentioned a planned tree-planting project to raise funds, and voiced difficulties they currently face in procuring NRSV Bibles for theological students.
During the plenary discussions, the participants delved into exploring various digital means to facilitate teaching and access to theological resources for the students, and building teaching and infrastructural capacity to do so. A suggestion was made to initiate conversation with a suitable theological institution to seek a formal partnership and commitment, and pre-recorded lectures to circumvent internet connectivity issues going forward.
In addition, the delegates spoke about practical challenges in their respective contexts, and viable alternatives to support the brothers and sisters in Myanmar financially and academically by providing scholarships, as well as accommodation for TTC lecturers. Besides voicing support for this project, the CWM General Secretary Dr Keum outlined several broad areas of collaboration with partners such as contributing experience in curriculum development; strengthening PCM’s healthcare capacity by assisting with the Agape Hospital’s relocation and expansion into a 100-bedder facility, continuing existing work on scholarships and investing in capacity building for women.
Rev. Philip Peacock, Acting General Secretary for Programmes at World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) spoke about WCRC’s theological scholarships for women, and their emergency grants including direct cash for emerging areas of crisis. A medium-term response could be to speaking at international forums to explore advocacy work for Myanmar.
The second day’s devotion was led by Rev. Philip Woods in honour of those who lost their lives during the pandemic and military coup. He briefly shared about the life and work of the pastors and TTC lecturer, and the participants observed a minute of silence in remembrance of those who had passed on. On behalf of PCM, Rev. Ramthanga thanked CWM for its COVID-19 Gift of Grace which enabled them to vaccinate and save the lives of their members.
PCM Women and Youth Secretary Mrs Van Lal Hming Sangi presented a report on the current situation of Presbyterian Women General Secretary (PWGC) and highlighted their achievements since the last roundtable meeting. She shared about how female church members and degree holders in the various synods have decreased due to difficulties arising from the pandemic. Despite this, women from several synods increased their contribution of rice; assisted IDPs, and offered nurse-aid training and vocational tailoring training annually. Looking ahead, they plan to provide training for all synod women secretaries to build their capacity for ministry in church and society, strengthen partnerships with other organisations within and outside Myanmar, and reach out to victims of child abuse during the Covid lockdown and political conflict in the community.
Having concerns raised about substance abuse among youth, Mrs Sangi said that PCM is running drug awareness campaigns in villages. In the face of this challenge, PCM youths have worked on a MSP4 (Mission Support Programme) project for youth music training and volunteered to assist in community vaccination. Going forward, they intend to explore vocational training such as first-aid and tailoring, as well as creation of job opportunities for youth.