by Rebecka Colldunberg
Deep in the remote mountains of Myanmar, where clouded leopards prowl and the pig-tailed macaques flock; where the air is relentlessly humid and spires of Buddhist temples peep through the forest canopy; there live 25,000 Christians.
This surprising modern statistic is the result of the efforts of English missionary Rev Reginald Arthur Lorrain and his corset-clad wife, Maud Louise. In 1907 they left their comfortable Edwardian life in England for the unknowns of what was then colonial Burma. Just over a century later, the 25,000 members of the completely indigenous Mara Evangelical Church support themselves financially, providing their own pastors and evangelists, and maintaining an active mission program among other tribal groups in Myanmar.
Unfortunately, during the decades-long civil war between the Myanmar military and fighters for democracy, the church lost many of its members, who fled to nearby Malaysia as refugees. After ten long years a group of Mara people was finally resettled in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine. But their faith has not wavered despite their struggles, and their little community, now far from home, has remained strongly bonded and has even developed its own title: Mara Evangelical Church in Australia (MECA).
‘With the Mara Evangelical Church having become a member of the Lutheran World Federation in 2010, the MECA knew the name Lutheran’, Rev Cecil Schmalkuche said as he explained how the refugee congregation came to be intimately entwined with his own. ‘As most members were living in Sunshine, the congregation sent Samuel Mauthili to our church of St Matthew’s in Footscray.’
‘He was short, gently spoken and humble. Little did I know that big things would come from that brief meeting.’
Pastor Cecil smiled as he recalled his first meeting with the MECA representative on the threshold of the church. ‘He was short, gently spoken and humble. Little did I know that big things would come from that brief meeting.’ Samuel asked if his congregation could hire the church for worship. When St Matthew’s Church Council accepted the request, three leaders of MECA— Khai Cinzah, Ra Ko Cinzah and Samuel Mauthili—decided to hire the church premises. ‘The meeting took place in February 2012’, Pastor Cecil continued. ‘After that, our relationship developed quickly.’
In fact, the relationship flourished so well that very soon the two congregations were not only sharing the same church—but also sharing the same pastor. Despite language barriers, an agreement was reached that once a month the St Matthew’s pastor would preach (with the assistance of interpreter Khai Cinzah) to the MECA congregation.
‘Every six weeks or so both congregations worship together’, Pastor Cecil said. ‘Even though the church is overcrowded on those days, the mutual acceptance before the Lord is joyful. Right from the beginning I have been convinced that the advent of the Mara congregation is a special blessing from God.’ The special relationship between the two congregations has proved to be one of communal respect, love, sharing and …