Sunday, February 16, 2014

bridges to hope

I have a friend who has been to Myanmar more than sixty times. Another friend is pushing twenty. My sister and her husband are closing in on ten visits. As for me, it has been only three ...

But that is enough to be sobered by what I've seen. There is something particularly evil about a regime that represses its people so fully and for so long. The time frame is of (biblical) exilic proportions, long enough to clear the living, corporate memory of any other reality. This seems to lead to a different brand of poverty. I can't quite put my finger on what I mean by this. Maybe others can help?! But it is more like the poverty in (post-Soviet) Kyrgyzstan, than in India. Along with all the other impoverishments, there seems to be a poverty of ideas, of initiative, of innovation. While in India there seems to be a lot of 'why bother?' in the handling of poverty (due to the failure of will), in Myanmar I have wondered whether it is more a case of 'how bother?' (due to the crushing of will).

But on Trip #3 last month I had to question this assessment. One image challenged me to reconsider. More accurately, it was the one single image which I saw dozens and dozens of times on a six hour bus trip to Chaungtha Beach. A bridge. Almost every 100 meters, off from the elevated main road, there was a bridge that spanned a moat-like space. It took people down from the road and across into homes and fields. I was transfixed by what I saw. After more than 100 photos on my smartphone as the bus whizzed by, I found myself fantasizing about taking six days over the trip and trying my hand at photojournalism, creating a book full of photos and stories about bridges.

Why the intrigue? Every single bridge was different from the one before. I kid you not. Each bridge was made from local products. Each one was functional, but still vulnerable to the elements. My theory about the poverty of ideas and innovation went out the window. To see the flowering of such creativity and innovation, under such interminably repressive conditions, is testimony to the image of God lurking in each person. My despair was transformed by these bridges to hope.






The metaphor of the bridge is richly polyvalent, isn't it? As 'the bridge to life', it tells the story of the cross, of reconciliation and restoration. John Stott used it with communication and mission, advocating that bridge-building lies at the core of both. Churches build bridges into the community. It is bridges that reconcile conflicting peoples. In my own life, the bridge was the centrepiece of a personal mission statement that held me for three decades: 'building bridges between the academy and the church, increasing the flow of traffic both ways, and directing it all towards mission'.

The essence of the bridge is it's recognition that a gulf exists. Then it makes connection possible, with the expectation that there will be movement and traffic over that connection which enables distanced people and ideas to mix and mingle. When I think of this enormous task of nation-building which Myanmar faces (together with the church-building that is integral to that task), it is bridges that they need. Everywhere. Find a chasm and bridge it. And there is inspiration to be found by the roadside. Oh, yes there is. It is where I found it.

nice chatting

Paul

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