More than ten times since 2000, Paul and Gail Aita have volunteered through International Ministries (IM) to teach at the Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT). Gail has mostly taught in the undergraduate program (English and other subjects as needed), and Paul has taught in the divinity program (pastoral theology and Biblical languages). While in Myanmar, they always visited the offices of IM partner the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC), developing relationships with MBC personnel as well as with local pastors and faculty at other seminaries (such as the Pwo Kayin Theological Seminary). Wherever they went, Gail and Paul were treated well and warmly welcomed as representatives of IM and American Baptist Churches, USA (ABC/USA).
At some point, therefore, it seemed natural to Stan Murray (IM’s former area director for Southeast Asia and Japan) to recognize Paul and Gail’s expertise and experience by inviting them to become IM Special Assistants. While their role continued to be mostly serving with MIT, it also expanded in different directions. In 2010, for example, Paul took part in a mass baptism service at the Mae Rah Moe refugee camp in Thailand, along with 31 other pastors from around the world, at which 456 candidates were baptized. In 2013, Gail and Paul combined their teaching with participation in the bicentennial celebration of the arrival in Myanmar (then Burma) of the first American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society missionaries, the Judsons. They attended meetings of the Karen Baptist Convention, the Kachin Baptist Convention, and the Myanmar Baptist Convention. In 2015, Paul and Gail joined two different American Baptist groups in Southeast Asia–first with Stan Murray and me in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and secondly in Thailand and Myanmar with a delegation led by ABC/USA General Secretary Roy Medley. The latter included visits to the United Nations High Command for Refugees, to internally displaced people camps in Myanmar’s Kachin State, and to four communities in its southern Chin State. In 2017, Paul and Gail went to Malaysia with me and others to see how ABC/USA might help refugees from Myanmar who are now living in Kuala Lumpur. They returned there with other volunteers in 2018 to provide training for teachers and pastors. Part of Paul’s role as IM Special Assistant has involved serving on the ABC/USA Burma Refugee Commission. The commission’s work with IM has connected the Aitas’ ministry with Burmese refugees resettled in the Seattle area, including the churches the refugees have founded. Gail has connected with American Baptist Women’s Ministries activities (locally, regionally, and nationally), in which she has involved women from local Burmese churches.
Gail and Paul say that they frequently tell people that they have received far more blessings from their experiences with people from Myanmar than anything they could have contributed to them. From their first trip to Myanmar in 2000, they were impressed with the depth of faith and commitment of these brothers and sisters whose lives were affected by oppression and often by poverty as well. They reflect that their own faith has been deepened over the years as they have seen God open up new opportunities for service through a growing network of relationships. They have made some wonderful life-long friends in Myanmar and also here in the US among resettled refugees from that country.
Paul and Gail have learned and continue to learn so much from their Burmese brothers and sisters, even as they offer up their gifts and expertise to Burmese communities around the world. I am thankful that the Aitas continue their work to develop the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven”.