By Walt Wilcoxson
I was sitting in a flimsy, plastic chair under a bougainvillea so large and beautiful it defies description. I looked over at Ahdee Wayezi, a short man who stands tall in the lives of pastors and teachers of the Lisu people of Myanmar, Tibet, and the China border towns.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, seems an unlikely place to find a Christian mission with the outreach and effectiveness of CAMP (Christ for Asia, Mission to the People). After all, estimates of the Buddhist population of Myanmar range from 80 to 89 percent. Regardless, about 1.4 million Lisu people are concentrated in China, Myanmar, and Thailand, and they have a rich Christian heritage.
If you spend any length of time chatting with a Lisu pastor, you will hear about J. Russell Morse, a Christian church and churches of Christ missionary who started North Burma Christian Mission. You will also hear about the rest of the Morse clan and others that have followed in their steps sharing the gospel and discipling believers in the Lord. (To learn more about the Morses’ ministry, see our November 2018 feature article.) Ahdee Wayezi is a product of the Morses’ efforts in Burma, and his approach to ministry mirrors theirs in many ways. Through CAMP, Wayezi makes it his life’s work to evangelize, disciple, and train nationals to do the same.
But, for the moment, Wayezi has slipped his road-toughened feet out of his sandals. They need the rest. His journey for 28 years has been long and frequently difficult. Wayezi has seen hardships and persecution. If he were given to self-promotion, he could tell stories of beatings, jail cells, tragic losses of co-workers, and much more. No doubt he could write with Paul, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). And, truth be told, Wayezi has experienced hardships not far removed from what Paul listed in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Being humble, Wayezi would be uncomfortable with me discussing his troubles. But I mention them here so you can see his unwavering love for the Savior that drives and undergirds the CAMP ministry.
I met Wayezi in the fall of 2013. Four fellow believers and I were traveling to Myitkyina, Myanmar, to teach at a pastors’ conference and preach at local Lisu churches.
We arrived at a small airport in Myitkyina. As we were being transported through town, the surroundings reminded me of a patchwork quilt—many pieces joined together: ancient, old, modern, and new. It is a place you can see the traditional longyi—which covers the lower half of the body—worn with T-shirts, vests, or trendy jackets. It is a region in transition. Some of the change is beneficial and some is detrimental.
As this transition occurs, Wayezi points out that providing solid biblical teaching and discipleship is more urgently needed than ever. Among his desires for CAMP: Young people will be provided with a biblical foundation to evangelize the world, and pastors and teachers will be supported in a way that ensures the purity of the gospel through teaching, evangelism, and service.
CAMP focuses its efforts in four areas: evangelism, leader development, local church support, and literature translation.
Sharing the Gospel
Although the Kachin state in Myanmar is becoming more accessible, evangelizing the China border towns takes considerable effort and determination. Many times a year CAMP puts together a team and goes on what they call a “soul-winning journey.” The group typically consists of Wayezi, a few members of his family, and some students and professors from Myitkyina Christian Seminary (MCS). They usually fly to Puato, the northernmost town in Kachin state, and then journey on foot through the jungle and into the China border-town area. This trip is an evangelistic effort that provides training for MCS students. On this trip, students share their faith, interact and minister to children, participate in a worship team, and watch and learn from their mentors.
In today’s world of instant communication and rapid transit, it is easy to forget that people like the Lisu still do not have access to such things. But this does not stop these beautiful people from sharing the gospel or learning about the Word of God.
While visiting the China border-town area once, I met a man in his 80s named Jedediah. He heard about a conference for pastors too late to arrange transportation, so he left in the middle of the night to walk the seven miles to the training.
The journey to the China border towns is no less of a feat. When on the mission, the team is gone from 21 to 28 days; they walk and share the gospel as they go, carrying everything with them and camping on the way.
Wayezi has a heart for pastors. You can see it in the schedule he keeps. You can hear it when he explains biblical truth to a visiting pastor. You can feel it when you attend a CAMP-organized conference for pastors.
Pastor conferences are held all over Southeast Asia. In rural areas, pastors like Jedediah might travel miles or even days to get to one. They value the Word of God highly, and they appreciate the people who have dedicated their lives to teaching them the Scriptures.
But CAMP doesn’t just minister to existing pastors. The group also invests time and resources into the next generation of the church in Myitkyina and the northern part of Kachin state through Myitkyina Christian Seminary.
MCS, which is part of CAMP, was started as a collaborative effort of three Lisu missionaries: Ahdee Wayezi, Jonathan, and Ruben. When I first visited and taught at MCS, it was in a very rural setting inside rented buildings with dirt floors, bamboo walls, and thatched roofs. But these three men had vision and drive. Using donations from various mission organizations, they purchased 5 acres in a prime location. Now, several years later, MCS is in full-development mode and has the space it needs for expansion. It consists of a men’s dorm, two women’s dorms, a kitchen, and a building that houses classrooms.
MCS students are charged a meager amount for food; they are not charged for the classes they take. In addition, CAMP recently used donations that originated in west-central Illinois to purchase a cornfield that provides it with some self-sustaining income and allows students to earn money by working the field.
God’s blessings come in many forms for both CAMP and MCS. During my last visit, a student mentioned that during the rainy season the buildings stay dry but students must walk through knee-high water. I told him I hated to hear that. “On no, pastor Walt!” the student said. “It is a blessing from God. When the water comes in, so do the fish! We have more food during the rainy season.”
Supporting the Ministry of Local Churches
While at the seminary, the students minister to area churches; virtually all of the graduates go into full-time or part-time Christian service. Over the last nine years, MCS has graduated 123 students with various degrees in theology and ministry.
Visiting with the Lisu in Myitkyina is an encouraging and enriching experience. That said, northern Kachin state is not without problems. Presently, there is an ongoing battle between the Kachin Independence Army, a nonstate armed group, and the Myanmar military. This has displaced many Lisu people from the northern part of the state to Myitkyina. They leave their homes with what they can carry and are often separated from family and friends. Local churches step up and provide makeshift shelters and take up grain offerings to help feed the refugees until a permanent location can be found for them. CAMP has supported these refugees by providing rice through the local church.
The final area of ministry CAMP participates in is the translation of teaching material into the Lisu language. The teaching at the pastor conferences, when done by non-Lisu-speaking teachers, along with other valuable, biblical material, is translated and distributed for use to Lisu pastors all over Southeast Asia.
The next time I looked over at Ahdee Wayezi, he had slipped on his sandals again. In a moment, he was gone . . . but he didn’t get far. A Lisu pastor cornered him to seek his wisdom. The urgency of supporting these pastors and teachers for the Lord’s mission continues to be the life’s work for this humble man.
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Donations to CAMP can be made out to The Crossing, 909 Maine St., Unit 2, Quincy, IL 62301 (note “CAMP” in the memo). You may also visit Ahdee Wayezi at the ministry’s booth at the International Conference on Missions, November 14-17, 2019, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Walt Wilcoxson is a campus pastor/multisite discipleship pastor for The Crossing in Quincy, Illinois. He and his wife, Terry, have four married children and eight grandchildren.