Early last week, as we were pulling up to a small church under construction in northern Myanmar, I was asked to speak to the believers, mostly of Shan heritage.
I quickly began to pray for the right words to share. The man I’ve been traveling with suggested my talk (“Take up to an hour if you want,” he said) focus on God’s sovereignty over demons, an issue the Shan struggle with thanks to local village practices.
Determined to focus on Jesus’ healing of the demoniac, I began walking into the church, until my travel partner asked me to stop, so as to introduce me to an elderly woman “with a great story to tell.”
So I stopped, and I listened.
For most of her life, she’d suffered a leg condition, one that gave her constant pain and caused her to limp.
There was nothing to be done medically, she was told, and offerings to the Buddha (the Shan are mostly Theravada Buddhist), as well as incantations by the local Buddhist healer, also did nothing.
“Go find the Christians and see if their prayer works,” he told her dubiously.
So she did. And she was healed. Completely. No pain, no limp ever again. At once, she accepted Christ.
Excited, she eagerly returned home to her village to share the good news and the Good News. But upon her return, she was met with derision and fear. Every one of the villagers, including the Buddhist healer, turned against her, forcing her to forever leave her village and home.
What I didn’t know was that everyone of the believers in this church had a similar story of being ousted from their homes upon accepting Christ.
So I began to talk, in English, while my friend translated what I said into Lahu (another hill tribe living in the area) so that the local pastor could then translate my words into Shan.
Jesus, after teaching one day, decides it’s time to go to the other side of the lake. Upon disembarking from the boat, He and the apostles meet a man consumed by demons.
They instantly recognize Jesus and His power, asking that they only be allowed to enter a herd of pigs, to which Jesus acquiesces.
The demoniac, as he is known, is instantly healed. What had once been a mad and crazed man now sat clothed with a solid look of focus and peace upon his face.
But the villagers are terrified, and they want everyone, including Jesus, to leave.
There is much superstition that cannot be overcome that day, as much as still exists in the world of Buddhism in this part of the world. I know; like these Shan, I was Buddhist once.
But I also know that Christ is so freeing, that once you’ve committed your life to Him, you’ll never look back.
These Shan know that, too. They’ve built a new village– a Christian community– with their church just dedicated this past Sunday. Buddhist no more, they will live together, physically and spiritually.
I also know the pain of leaving a place you love, a place you know is home in your heart even when the people there don’t want you because of your beliefs. I know the pain and suffering I felt upon leaving Nepal almost two years ago, and what I felt is miniscule compared to what the Christian Shan go through.
And while anyone would be justified to never return again to a place they’re not wanted, Jesus also expects those of us who come to the table to be His salt and light.
When the demoniac asks to go with Jesus, He tells the man no, directing him to return to his village. “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you,” says Jesus.
Each time I return to Nepal, really anytime I travel anywhere to teach, I feel a bit of the sting leaving left, but I also experience the love of Christ in my heart and a desire to share it, even with those who hurt me.
The Shan, they feel this, too. And this little church, near enough the places they once called home, will be a symbol to those yet to believe that Christ conquers all and His mercy endures forever.
The story of the demoniac ends like this: Jesus later goes back to the same area, and this time, this time they greet Him with open arms, ready for the Bread of Life. The demoniac did what Jesus asked of Him… and so will the Shan who now know the Truth.