When Phaw Phaw Dar walked into the dormitory, her winsome and radiant smile drew my attention. Now in Grade 9 and studying in a Myanmar public school at the Three Pagoda Pass, Phaw Phaw Dar and her family have been touched by God through the School of Mercy.
As Christmas songs in the communities' local languages blared in the main room, she shared that she was 12 years old when she first realised that Christmas is not merely a time of partying and receiving gifts. At that time, she was studying at the School of Mercy.
"Before I knew Jesus, my life was filled with worries. After understanding what Christmas really stands for, I now have a reason to stand firm in Christ and hope for the future," she enthused, with her trademark bright smile.
The true meaning of Christmas touched her young heart back then. She realised that it is the celebration of Jesus' birth and that He is our salvation.
I was spending the last evening of our trip at the School of Mercy, celebrating Christmas with Phaw Phaw Dar and a few hundred other children and adults. Earlier in the week, we had purchased and packed 300 sets of toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, exercise book, pencil, erasers, towel, cup, bowl and spoon for the gift bags for the school children and other children in the community.
As our vehicle pulled up into the school compound, the children were running all over the school, brimming with excitement. The evening's festivity was a fitting reward for their year of hard work. Some of them would make their way home for the holiday the next day. Most of them would remain in the village, spending their days climbing trees, jumping ditches, fashioning toys out of whatever they can find and helping their families in daily chores.
More truckloads of children arrived from partner schools and churches. Some arrived dusty from the ride through the dirt track. Those who lived in the school looked freshly scrubbed and groomed as best as they could, presumably to impress the visitors.
When the concert finally started, the children, parents and teachers filled up the classroom and spilled out into the corridors. The twinkling fairy lights and colourful garland laced the hall and created a cheery Christmas atmosphere.
The programme started with worship. Choruses of “Hallelujah” rang out from the hall into the village, as if heralding the birth of Jesus years ago on the first Christmas. Elijah Sim, one of OM MTI board members, shared a message of hope that is found in Jesus. The message is especially poignant for the parents in the community as many of them live in abject poverty and despair, but desire a better future for their children. Thereafter, we were treated to a myriad of performances, ranging from traditional dances and songs in different languages, to modern hip hop dances to English songs.
Phaw Phaw Dar’s story is an encouragement to the school’s team as they continue to serve the children and community, to provide quality education that can hopefully give the children a better future and strong spiritual foundation.
As the Christmas story is told again and again in this community, the team’s desire is that more people will come to know the love of Jesus and find joy and hope amidst their daily struggles and challenges.