How did this all start, and why did I go to Myanmar?
It all started with a 3.15 carat pigeon’s blood Burmese ruby. I was in awe of this gemstone; little did I know that this tiny little miracle of nature (as I call all gems) would shape the course of my life. I had the honor of creating a custom piece of jewelry with this ruby for a client, and in doing so I became more aware of all the trade bans and restrictions the US had implemented over the years in an effort to prevent economic ties to the Burmese military-run government and groups involved in human rights abuses. Something struck a chord in me, and I could not get Myanmar out of my head. Some friends may even recall about eight months ago when I did a 30+ minute live video on social media on the topic of Myanmar, in hopes of finding out more about the country and what we could do to help. Over the next several months, the theme of Myanmar miraculously erupted into my life left and right. I researched, and asked as many questions as I could about the country to those who had been there before; it became clear that the only thing left to do was to go there and see it for myself.
The team and how it came together
As fate would have it, a small group of women were weeks out from holding a women’s conference in Myanmar, and needed a businesswoman to fill out their team. It was nothing less than fate that I somehow ended up on this team, and just so happened to fit the bill of exactly what they needed to round out the three day women’s conference. Over the next 8 weeks, and with the help of many generous souls, we raised enough money to hold the conference and gift the women in attendance each a year’s worth of vitamins, among other fun goodies like journals and lotion. All of our hard work in fundraising and preparation was all worth it by the time the conference was over; the 180+ women in attendance were nourished, mentally and physically.
The Influential Woman Conference 2018
The women who filled the room were leaders from the local orphanages, women from the widow’s home, and bible school students. There were a variety of women in attendance who varied in age, tribe, and many of whom spoke different languages. We had talented translators who translated our messages line by line, into multiple different dialects from the various tribes. We shared messages and discussed topics that would empower the women, help them build community, and help them break free from the cultural stigmas that held them down. One of the main messages that we made sure to get across to the women, many of whom see themselves as just mothers, or just wives, is that they are loved, and that they are influential women. We believe that women are the backbone of any community, although often quietly and without recognition. Our goal was to fill the women in attendance with the love and care that they are always unselfishly giving to everyone but themselves.
We shared our own personal testimonies and hardships, many of which seem tiny compared to what the strong women we met had been through. Yet through our sharing and vulnerability, we were able to relate and identify with one another. There was lots of crying, praying, and hugging. At the end of the last day the women began coming up to the front and grabbing the microphone without us prompting them to, and telling us how thankful they were for all we had done for them. One woman named Twen Pen recounted that she had been praying since 2003 for medicine. She told us how thankful she was that God finally sent her the medicine in the form of the vitamins we had brought. The women were far too kind, even going as far as calling us angels; it was heartwarming to know that all the weeks worth of preparation was all worth it.
Working with the women and their businesses
I gave my message in two parts in the afternoon of the first and second day of the conference during our break-away sessions. This gave the women an opportunity to decide between two types of messages, and gave us a chance to break up into a smaller group to invite more discussion and collaboration. My two day interactive workshop and message was on ‘Business as a Mission,’ while the alternative option delved into dealing with crisis and helping others who are in crisis. Most of the young women and students came to my workshop, while many of the older women attended the crisis workshop. It was a blessing to talk to this amazing group of women in a forum structure that allowed me to ask questions, take polls, and get a sneak peak into their minds. Overall, I’m not sure who got more from the conference, the women in attendance, or me. Having discussed business with the women, it was an even greater blessing to spend time after the conference learning about the women’s different businesses and collaborating with them. Their businesses included crafting handmade goods such as blankets, bags, clothing, brooms, and jewelry, and also raising livestock such as pigs, chickens, and making soy milk. I spent the tail end of the trip helping the women come up with jewelry designs that would be marketable to US consumers, since the minimalist trends of our culture vary so much from the Burmese world where an abundance of vibrant colors are king.
The orphanages and the kids
While the main purpose of our trip was the three-day women’s conference, each and every day of our fifteen day trip was filled with love, connection, and indescribable experiences. One of the biggest blessings was visiting 6 different orphanages, and connecting with the children, whom we spent every weekend and afternoon with. It was an amazing thing to be surrounded by hundreds of children who were filled with what seemed like an infinite amount of love and joy. The kids’ love language was touch, and everyday I was covered from head to toe in children. I had more hands on me than I could count. They all took turns holding my hand, sitting next to me, and walking beside me under my arm. I felt the kids’ need to be loved and embraced, and I was so happy to oblige. I think we can all recall wanting love and adoration as children—wanting someone to watch us kick a soccer ball, or just to sit on our parent’s lap, and feel their safe arms around us. I can’t help but think about how much more love these kids need, being 1 of 30 kids, or even 1 of 150 kids at the bigger orphanages.
I received as much love as the kids did, if not more, and it was blissful. We drew in the sand, played soccer, and just sat together. That’s all the kids wanted—just to be near you. They wanted to hold your water bottle, bag, umbrella, and help you put on your shoes, and when they were the one that got to help you with your things, they would get the biggest grin on their faces. They would take my hands and pull me across the orphanage to their favorite hang out spot, or to play a game, and every time we sat down it was a shuffle to see who would get to sit next to me. We couldn’t speak to each other past the few words and phrases that I learned in Burmese, but we were able to connect and understand each other through smiles and the language of love. I will never forget their giant smiles, winks, kisses and hugs. It reminded me what a blessing it is to be loved by God, for the children loved and adored me for no reason other than I was myself.
This trip was made complete by love being poured out, and received. In Myanmar there were no emails, or work to stress about. It was such a blessing to truly be present and enjoy the company of these amazingly kind children and people. We were invited into people’s homes for home-cooked lunches and dinners, and the love we felt from the children was given to us equally from the adults. During the women’s conference I complemented a sweet woman on her shoes, and she took them off and insisted that I keep them! She would not put them back on despite my refusal, and only once I found a more practical excuse (that they weren’t my size) did she put them back on. Needless to say, I’ve never met a kinder people ever.
I learned that love is healing and faith can help you overcome any obstacle. Happiness has nothing to do with how many material possessions you have. I learned that a small group of people, or even one person can make a huge impact in hundreds of people’s lives. I learned that the best way to have love in your life is to love others.
And so, where do I stand now that I’m back in the states? I’m convicted to do everything in my power to help my new family and friends in Myanmar live a life full of as much opportunity and abundance as I was given. I’m inspired to tell anyone who is willing to listen about the wonderful people I met in Myanmar, and how we can help them. I’m not exactly sure where this road will end, but I know this is God’s plan and there is no way that I can even begin to fathom what that plan is.
Here’s what I’ve got brewing so far that I need your help with:
We’re building a home for children.
“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.”
Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has had a traumatic history, to say the least. Between a long history of a military run government and religious wars between the country’s diverse tribes, the country has been oppressed and many of its people displaced, without much hope for change or opportunity for the future. You may have heard of the more recent and ongoing religious warfare such as the Rohingya crisis, whose violence has displaced thousands of people, and left countless children without parents, and without refuge. Other less publicized crises include the persecution of Christians in the Kachin state.
This past May when violence erupted throughout northern Myanmar and there was a huge influx of displaced children. The network of 12 orphanages that I visited took in what children they were able to, and the others were taken in by another loving man I met on my trip, David Lian. It was quite inspirational to see someone be faced with a need and an opportunity to help others, and to take it on wholeheartedly. With a temporary home for the children, and a big heart, he started Khua Kian Children’s Home, named after his grandfather.
KK Children’s Home currently has twelve boys and girls, most of whom come from the Rakhine state, where war ravaged their homes and families. The orphanage provides a home, physical and mental nourishment, the opportunity to attend school, and love that would seldom be found in the climate and community that they come from. I realized how lucky these children were to be welcomed into a home with loving arms when my heart broke witnessing homeless children wandering through the town, rummaging through trash cans for scraps.
Currently on borrowed land, David and his children are moving to a new permanent home and building their orphanage in March 2019. With your help, we can provide these children and others who need love with a place they can call home. One time donations to help get this new orphanage off of the ground, and also ongoing sponsorships for each of the children will make a world of a difference for a child that deserves to be loved and cared for. The money will go towards buying land, building infrastructure to live in, food, school supplies, clothing, and medical supplies for the children.