Life among the pagodas
Safety—or should I say, the lack thereof—is a really popular discussion topic. It fuels the evening news, insurance company stock holdings, and in my case, conversations about our future life overseas.
When someone asks me, “Is it safe?” or “How dangerous is it there?” the question tends to emerge from one of two trains of thought:
A) “Tell me all your snake stories!”
B) “I hope there is someone at the top of your organization who will order you to leave at the first sign of danger, like it or not. And, do you have life insurance???”
I generally relish making life in Myanmar sound as dangerous as possible, because it elicits such delightful responses from both groups of people. Group A) is generally thrilled and has a Jason Bourne movie reel playing in their mind while I narrate. Group B) is readily horrified, such that an innocuous story about leeches, followed up by an invitation to visit someday produces many a gratifying shudder.
Shock and awe aside, what does safety really mean, though? What do you think poses more danger to you? Armed guerillas? Or pride? What is better: to obey and suffer for it, or to disobey and make it out unscathed? (Think carefully, Job’s friends assumed that “right living” moves us away from suffering.)
I was recently told of a young woman my age who was planning to visit east Africa, with no companions, only one local contact, no language ability, and no American Embassy, due to rising conflict in the region. She wanted to go to prove her zeal for missions to a particular agency (not at their behest—this was her idea), and to prove to herself that she could handle it. She may have gone and returned unharmed, but if that had happened, I think she would have been in more danger than if she had never gone at all.
When I was 20, I was accepted as an intern with an organization called Urban Promise and I moved into inner city Camden for a summer, to run summer camps for elementary school kids. Those who loved me and knew the area strongly counseled me against it. Looking back, I believe that I was exactly where God wanted me to be. (I also confess that part of my attraction to the setting was the fact that it was a risky place to work.) My safety in Camden had more to do with God than it did my street smarts. Being safe is being where God wants you, not where the homicide rate is the lowest.
If you are a Christian and you think safety has more to do with the body than the soul, go read Matthew 10:28. I hope the girl who was planning to go to east Africa changed her mind, not because I think her choice would’ve been physically dangerous, but because I think it would’ve been spiritually dangerous. If your choices have you taking a route that fueled by your wishes rather than God’s will, that is always, always a place of danger (And you might not be the only one in danger: think Jonah on a boatful of people, running away from God.). Going overseas to serve God when it’s not God’s idea for you is bad for your soul. Staying in suburbia when He wants you in the slums is bad for your soul. There are greater dangers afoot than carjackings and tapeworms, my friends (Eph. 6:12).
So, back to your question: “is Myanmar safe?”
I think this question of safety needs to hinge on a bigger question: “Do you believe God has called you to this?”
For Jim and I, at this juncture in our lives, the answer is undeniably yes. And if our answer to the certainty of God’s calling is yes, than all matters regarding the world’s economics of safety can be put to rest as irrelevant.
As one of our forbears in Burma once wrote, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
And, “if God is for us…” Well, you know the rest.