The President of Providence University College says his trip to Myanmar was so much more incredible than he expected.
Dr. David Johnson says the delegation traveled to Myanmar to present Providence Alumnus Reverend Doctor Samson Hkalam with an honourary doctorate for his work in the Kachin Baptist Convention. He notes the hospitality of the Myanmar people was astonishing.
"We were giving him an honourary doctorate and it turns out that we were the ones who were being honoured. It felt like royalty sometimes, there were parades and music and a big presentation just for us so that made us feel very humble but very welcome."
Dr. Johnson says the group from Providence included his wife Barb, Dr. Stan Hamm Dean of the Providence Theological Seminary, Dr. Hamm’s wife Bev, Director of Providence Institutional Services Gary Schellenberg, and Providence Creative Content Specialist Jerrad Peters. He notes upon landing at the airport all six of them received 15 roses.
Rev. Dr. Hkalam has been the head of the Kachin Baptist Convention, which has 400,000 members, for the last eight years. Dr. Johnson says the ceremony to present Dr. Hkalam with his honourary doctorate was fantastic.
"It lasted two and a half hours maybe. There were 1,000 people in the audience. The church held maybe 700 and there were another 300 outside looking in the windows. I was the graduation speaker and I had to speak barefoot because they don’t wear shoes on the platform. It was phenomenal and the man we honoured felt very esteemed and that was good."
Dr. Johnson says in addition to presenting the honourary doctorate, he also spoke at a pastors conference, taught courses at a seminary, taught at a Bible college and was involved in church service every evening. He notes his wife Barb and Dr. Hamm’s wife Bev visited a number of refugee camps.
"There is a huge ethnic conflict in Myanmar and the Kachin people that we were serving have been oppressed, they have had to leave their homes and villages, they have been displaced into camps. The church bought property and they established these camps for these people, there are a number of NGO’s, Canada is one of the main ones who supports them."
Dr. Johnson says they had an opportunity to speak with to a former member of parliament and a current member of parliament. He says they really want the outside world to understand the ethnic oppression that is going on in the Kachin State. He adds it is sad to see the refugee camps and the pain but notes the strength of the Kachin Baptist Convention is encouraging.