Miracle in Myanmar
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Recently, Colonel Hary Haran, territorial commander of the Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand Territory had a brief visit in Atlanta. At that time, Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee had a chance to talk with him about the challenges and advances of The Salvation Army’s work in the country of Myanmar.
Satterlee: We have been aware of the military junta (a committee of military leaders) running Myanmar for some time. But there is also some opposition to it. What have you observed in your travels there?
Colonel Haran: In the city areas, in the early stage there were a lot of protests, lives taken, while the military brought that under control. But in the rural area, it is more under the control of what they call the People’s Defense Force (PDF), which is not recognized by the military government. The military junta is fighting against them. The people in the rural area are caught in the crossfire. They have to run away from their villages, abandoning everything. They hide in the forest, try to return to their village to see if it is safe. What is painful is they (the military government) are also attacking schools because they feel that this PDF force is hiding among the young people. So, they couldn’t care less, and they just bomb these places. I heard close to 800 kids died when they bombed some school areas. This is what the villages are going through.
Satterlee: How has The Salvation Army been affected?
Colonel Haran: We have been operating in Myanmar since 1915. So far, we are also being very careful not to be politically involved in any way but to concentrate on our mission by serving suffering humanity. At the same time, we make friends with local authorities. We build relationships with them by inviting them to any celebrations. Christmas is the best time. They never miss our Christmas events and sometimes invite themselves. It warms their hearts to witness what we are doing in the homes serving the kids.
There is a sharp difference in what is happening in the city areas and the rural areas. In the city areas, in all travelling outside, I have to be in civilian clothing because the concern is once you are in uniform, it will create curiosity among the military government of watching and knowing what is going on. They can’t take chances because there are fights going on, and they are not too sure who will attack the military government. They are always on the lookout. To be safe, we want to be sensitive. Again, me coming from a foreign country, I’ve got to be very careful with our people there and not create any kind of problem for them. When we are indoors, within our own complex, we safely wear the uniform and serve God. But when we are out of the complex, we don’t want to attract any unnecessary attention.
The Salvation Army’s work is not hindered despite whatever is going on. In the countryside when there is conflict, the corps officers do their best to provide pastoral care, provide them food parcels where possible. At the same time, they’re conducting homeschooling as well, because kids can’t go to school. They occupy the kids with study games.
Satterlee: Has this hindered The Salvation Army’s growth?
Colonel Haran: The Salvation Army is absolutely growing. Junior soldiers are being enrolled. Corps Cadets are being discipled. Women’s ministry is flourishing with many women coming into meetings, receiving the peace of God. Women are also learning about self-sustainability despite the crisis. They want the mission to be carried out. Obviously, you need God’s provision, God’s support through money. They are finding the ways and means for what they can do. The women’s ministry is also strong in supporting the corps and developing corps ministries. Close to 200 soldiers have been enrolled despite the crisis there. That’s heartwarming. You see the hand of God upon His people, saving souls.
Satterlee: You shared that Myanmar has its own training college. Recently you shared you were able to travel there to commission the cadets, but even that was difficult. What happened?
Colonel Haran: I was given the privilege to commission eight cadets in Myanmar. It all started at the beginning of April (2023). Initially, when I applied for the visa, it was turned down. I went on my knees, and I asked God, “Is it Your will for me to be there personally to commission the cadets?” The very next day I received a text that my visa was being reviewed again. It was approved. It was a clear indication that it was the will of God for me to be there personally in Myanmar. Although my faith was strong in Christ, I was doubtful that I would be getting the visa. It was a miracle for me. I believe God opened the door.
When I arrived at the airport, I realized there were only two international visitors, including me. I had this little fear as I approached the immigration officers. I was wondering what kind of questions they would ask and how to respond to them. Surprisingly, at the immigration counter not a single question was asked. They gave me entry. I got my passport and rushed out immediately.
I had a second stage where I had to go through customs with my luggage which was full of uniform trimming and Christian materials. I took the opportunity to bring as much as possible. Here I was, walking through customs, thinking that they were going to ask me to open up the bags. But again, I was given the green light to move on without even opening any of my bags. That was another miracle. I was the first one to get out of the airport. I went on my knees to thank God for this.
Satterlee: What happened next?
Colonel Haran: Moving further into Myanmar, I saw at every corner of the road sentry posts set up, military standing all over the place, some even pointing guns at their own local residents. It’s that scary. But I was never stopped. I reached my room, and there I prepared. I had the privilege of conducting the covenant service for the cadets and later the commissioning. I also had the privilege of preaching on Good Friday. I led the service and preached on Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful celebration of new life that God has given us.
It was so emotional being with the people. I wholeheartedly thanked God because I could see their feelings. Being among them and celebrating Easter was beautiful. God also opened the door for me to be part of a marriage and to preach at that ceremony. We dedicated two new corps buildings. One of the buildings interestingly was located in an area surrounded by retired military officers. Yet I sensed the peace and calmness of God as we dedicated the building. We believe God loves everyone, and God wants us to reach to all these p eoplewithHislo v e.
Notasingle time wa sIconfronted by any military man. I witnessed soldiers stopping locals, scanning through their cell phones to see what is going on, but I never was. Obviously, there were times where you could see the military eye on me, but again, I was covered. God was my refuge. He brought me there to carry out the mission, and He brought me back to Singapore safely. What more could I ask for than to look up to Him? And thanks, glory, and honor be to Jesus!
Satterlee: What would you like Salvationists in the Southern Territory to understand about Myanmar?
Colonel Haran: What I want people to understand about the Salvationists of Myanmar is that they live simple so that others can simply live. That’s the motto for them. I just heard them say to me when I was there that it’s a blessing to be poor. Even in that poverty you see the richness of faith in God. Despite the poverty there, their faith is strong. Whatever the circumstances are, they are very strong people with their willpower. Never underestimate them. If their faith is not strong, you find that in a crisis like this, they can easily give up and surrender. Christianity is growing in Myanmar. They believe very strongly that God will deliver them. In all circumstances, they will stand tall for God.
We are grateful to the international Army, and more so for the American territories, the USA Southern Territory, because for many years, since 1915 up to today, we have been blessed by this territory, providing us with many mission support projects. There are hundreds of wells to draw water that have been built throughout Myanmar. Thousands of people who were suffering have been served soup and soap for many years, and the work is still continuing. Although the international Army is far away, they are near with the great love of God in our territory. I want to express thanks to this territory for all the beautiful support that has been given thus far. Hopefully Myanmar will open up to the world and we can have international visitors come to showcase the glory of God in Myanmar.