Alpha - Youth Coordinator, Karen Tan, recounts her experience at an Alpha – Youth training near Yangon in Myanmar, Southeast Asia…
“Thank you. It was a time of special grace for every one of us.”
This short yet heartfelt email came from Fr James Htwe, the Youth Chaplain of the Archdiocese of Yangon, following the Alpha - Youth training in Maupin some 60 miles away from Yangon. From the moment the decision was made to give 350 youths from the archdiocese the opportunity to experience Alpha, Fr James gave his all to see this come to fruition.
We arrived in Yangon on a very hot afternoon. Our team was booked into a hotel which was actually built on a rabbit farm and run on generators. The first thing we youngsters realised was that there was no WIFI, shops nor restaurants nearby! Our first meal was with Fr James, who immediately made us feel at home. We were really surprised to learn that dinner included field mice, snakes and lots of other strange things! But it was deliciously cooked in the Chinese Style and when one’s stomach cries out for food you don’t really care what goes in!
We spent our first evening training 100 out of the 350 guests to double up as hosts in the small groups. The venue, St Rita’s Church in Maupin, was powered by generators which we were told could fail us from time to time, however we were spurred on by the 100 excited youths who were waiting to be trained on the principles of Alpha and how to lead in the small groups. Sr Eunah and Sr Florence did a fantastic job in translating for us.
We learned lots about discipline and punctuality from this camp and there was no WIFI to distract our team members, so we gave our all; preparing ourselves well and engaging with the hundreds of young people, ranging from age 13 to 28. There were seven guests in each small group, with two hosts. To overcome the language barriers we decided to use animations to convey some of the points. The young people were so attentive and seemed to really enjoy hearing the Gospel. Some took notes and small group sharing took place all over the church compound - in shacks, underneath a grotto and in narrow corridors. Despite the intense heat and humidity, the participation was lively in every session. Our team prepared well and everyone delivered their talks confidently. Some afternoons there was heavy rain which caused the power generators to stop working, so we had to resort to using a loud speaker! We city folk sure have a lot to learn from this wonderful experience!
By the end of the first day it was clear the groups were bonding with each other. One guest shared: “I find this course very much based on friendship. Due to the group sharing available after each talk, I am able to share my experience and journey with my group members…I can see myself becoming lifetime friends with my group mates…”. Evenings were spent playing games, skits and lots of activities, which helped strengthen the friendships made. During the ministry time after the Holy Spirit talk, guests had the opportunity to pray for one another and Terence led the entire room of 350 youth in singing the hymn Crucified which was extraordinarily powerful.
"I can see myself becoming lifetime friends with my group mates"
On the last day, we had guests coming up one by one to give their testimonies. Many shared that their friendships had deepened, especially in the small groups, and many were touched by the honesty of their friends and the speakers as they shared their stories. The talk on repentance leading to an examination of conscience before ministry time was much appreciated and those who had become facilitators in the small groups were grateful for the opportunity to lead. Before the camp our team had been worried about whether the event would be a success, given the language and cultural differences, but we were humbled as we realised it was the work of the Holy Spirit by God’s grace. As Fr James rightly said, ‘it was a time of special grace for all of us!’