I am always with you
Stephen Than Myint Oo’s courage and vision are God’s timely gifts to the people of Myanmar as they prepare for historic general elections.
I decided to tear a strip off my longyi and hang myself. Prison had broken me. Torture petrified me. Cruelty depressed me. Why do human beings oppress and torment each other? I was a Christian leader and Bible teacher. My heart trusted God but my mind was full of doubt. I had lost hope. It was time to die.
I had always intended to be a priest. I was born in a Karen village on the vast Irrawaddy Delta. As a child I loved singing choruses and learning about Jesus and I admired our archdeacon’s flowing robes.
When I was four years old fighting broke out and I was sent to Yangon for protection and schooling. As my family was poor the Burmese Air Force was my only prospect of gaining a tertiary degree.
In 1982, when I was 24 and close to completing my training as an Air Force engineer, I was arrested. I was accused of being a spy and sentenced to death. I had no idea why this was happening.
Every morning, cells would be opened and prisoners were taken. They were never seen again. When a voice cried our we assume someone was being hanged.
In prison I met many Karen National Union soldiers. They told me stories about the resistance. I was surprised to discover that the renowned fighter Red Blood was in fact my brother John. Now I understood why I had been imprisoned and repeatedly interrogated. I was a hostage.
One night I had the strange sensation that my brother was close. I scratched his nickname on an empty cartridge and gave it to a friendly guard. Sure enough, John had been caught in a skirmish. We were now in the same prison.
A Christmas carol
It was midnight. From my cell I could hear church bells ringing. So, I was going to die on Christmas Eve. I had always been a Christian. Now, I was going to die like a Christian.
I knelt down and started praying. I opened my eyes and I saw a tiny cross coming towards me. I tried to catch it, but it flew away. Again I tried to catch it, and again it eluded me. It became bigger and faster. As soon as I caught it, I fainted and fell into a deep pit. When I hit the bottom I was enveloped in light. I heard a very soft voice say, ‘My son, I am with you always.’
I woke suddenly. The doubt in my mind had gone. I shouted ‘My God is real! God is with us!’ The guards threatened to kill me. An officer said, ‘Don’t worry, he’s mad!’ A prisoner started singing a Christmas carol. Other’s joined in; Communists, Buddhists, everyone! A Korean started singing in his own language. Then a Baptist pastor began preaching. Others sang Karen songs. I was so happy. I was no longer afraid of dying.
Will you pray that English and Burmese editions of a biography of Archbishop Stephen will reinforce his leadership and inspire his people as he guides them through this time of transition.