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998: Brayton Memorial Chapel, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
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Brayton Memorial Chapel, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Mystery Worshipper: Herminator.
The church: Brayton Memorial Chapel Yangon, Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma).
Denomination: Pwo Kayin Baptist.
The building: A wooden church building about 70 years old. The services are held in the first floor, the Upper Room. On the ground floor is the pastor's office and several meeting rooms. There are many windows, but no glass, since it is either warm or warm and wet.
The church: The church, which has 700 members in Yangon, serves the Kayin (Karen) people, one of the national races of Myanmar. The Kayin are mainly Christian, while most Myanmar are Theravada Buddhists. Sadly, the different peoples of Myanmar tend to keep to themselves, and there is not very much ecumenical contact between churches.
The neighbourhood: From the Lonely Planet travel guide: "Since 1988 Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has been under the military rule of the State Peace and Development Council – an abominable military junta... Dissent is suppressed, and political prisoners are jailed for expressing their opinions." The Nobel Peace Laureate and pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to be held under house arrest. Pwo Kayin Baptist Church is situated on the Baptist Mission Compound, with the pastor's house, the seminary and the houses and huts of some members of the church nearby.
The cast: The service was led by Rev. Mahn Aung Kyaw Zan, and the sermon was by a member of the church council, Mr Che Oo (meaning "first love", being the eldest child). Nice name!
What was the name of the service?
Sunday morning service.

How full was the building?
The room was two-thirds full, with about 150 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Since my parents and I were invited to the church by a relative of my sister, who is a member of the church council, we were welcomed by the pastor and introduced to many other people. It felt like being the exhibit in a circus, with everyone coming to look at the strange foreigners!

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews reminded me of garden benches with cast iron sides and wooden seats, but they were quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
In the quarter of an hour before the service began, the musicians played carnival-like waltzes and people were talking quietly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Sorry, no can do. The service was in the Myanmar language, and I couldn't write it down!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the Pwo Kayin Hymn Book.

What musical instruments were played?
Electric organ, a piano with a very "honky-tonk" sound, four violins (new players, not very good, but quite courageous!), the youth choir and the very good seminary choir.

Did anything distract you?
The violinists were enthusiastic, but often quite off-key. And off in several different directions... ouch!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Though I did not know any of the hymns, they were all old ones from the time Myanmar was first visited by missionaries in the 19th century. The youth choir sang something more modern as did the choir of the seminary. On the whole, the worship was quite stiff.

Brayton Memorial Chapel Yangon, Myanmar

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
It's difficult to say, as I only understood the summary he gave for the foreign guests. The Myanmar language has a kind of sing-song flavour that makes it difficult to know if the preacher was lively or boring.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Life is a fight between love and harmony one the one side and death and destruction on the other. We are called to take the side of the God who is love. After all, he took our place on the cross, because he loves us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The seminarists sang absolutely wonderfully. The whole experience was like coming home to my family in a strange place. I have never before experienced so strongly this sense of belonging to God's family, across the boundaries of denomination, race and language.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, the violins...

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, we were invited to the pastor's home for tea, and his sons and daughters sang songs for the visitors. As Sunday is a working day in Myanmar, there was no meeting after the service, and most of the congregation went back to work.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good tea for us, but nothing for everyone else.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – but mainly because I do not understand the language. Otherwise, I felt welcome and the style of worship was not much different from my church at home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Being far from my family in a strange and difficult land, it was one of the highlights to meet with my "other family". Since it felt so much like home, it made me glad to belong to the body of Christ.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The feeling of belonging.
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