Ayeyarwady Mission

By Saxon Shwe

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Saxon Shwe, M.A. in religion (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States), B.A.A. (Spicer Memorial College, Puna, India), is president of Ayeyarwaddy Mission in Myanmar Union Mission. He is married to Salome Tin with a son and a daughter.

Ayeyarwady Mission is a church administrative unit of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Myanmar. It is located in the Ayeyarwady Region (or Irrawaddy Delta Region) of Myanmar. Ayeyarwady Mission is a part of Myanmar Union Mission in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division. It was organized in 1919 and reorganized in 1938. As of June 30, 2018, Ayeyarwady Mission had 62 churches and a membership of 7,578 in a total population of 5,956,474. The conference headquarters is in Pathein, the capital of the Ayeyarwady Region.1 There are nine districts in Ayeyarwady Mission: West Yoma, East Yoma, East Pathein, Kyonpyaw, Hinthada, Ma-ubin, Pyapon, Labutta, and Myaungmya.

This region’s ethnic groups are Bamar, Rakhine, Kalar, and Kayin (Karen). In this region, Buddhism is the dominant religion. Other religions include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and others.

Historical Background

Ayeyarwady Mission was organized from seven companies on November 10, 1910. Robert A. Beckner worked with Chit Hla and Maung Maung among Buddhists in Mandalay and Meiktila.2 Afterwards, Beckner worked in Myanaung, Hinthada, Htoogyi, Pathein, and Myaungmya as a colporteur, preacher of the gospel, and medical missionary from 1918-1919. Beckner returned to America in March 1921 due to the health condition of his wife, Mabelle McMoran. Unfortunately, she died in June 1923.3 Beckner then married May Ethel and returned to Burma (now Myanmar). He transferred to Myanaung from Mandalay. Beckner helped establish the Ayeyarwady Mission office at Hinthada in 1923-1924.4

Among the missionaries sent to Burma, Beckner was the most proficient Burmese-speaking missionary and served the longest, from 1908-1941. In 1924, he started working for the Burmese, Chin, and Karen in the Ayeyarwady Region. From 1914-1916, Beckner founded a Seventh-day Adventist church at Myanaung in the Ayeyarwady Region. Beckner had arrived in Myaungmya to search for a place to establish a mission station among the members of the Pwo Karen group.5

As Beckner and Chit Hla, his first convert, distributed Christian literature on the Sabbath published by the Kinsaung Press, they met an elderly man and his son, Saw Tha Myaing, a young teacher. Later, Saw Tha Myaing became a Sabbath keeper, and Beckner baptized him in 1927. An Thoo, a village leader and businessman, came to know the Sabbath truth by reading an Adventist magazine called “Signs of the Times.” He and his son, Ba Myaing, donated about 30 acres of land at Myaungmya so that the mission work there could be expanded.6

Expansion of Mission Work in the Ayeyarwady Region

Frank A. Wyman initially started the work in the Myaungmya area and established a primary school in 1927. He built a two-story building and two brick houses for faculty. He then built a house for the school’s principal in 1930. The school at Myaungmya taught elementary school up to Standard 6 in 1934. The school was shut down in 1942 during World War II. It reopened in 1946 after the war had ended with Lenny A. Hare as principal. The school was approved to offer high school levels from 1947-1957. In 1957, when the high school program at Myaungmya was moved to Taungoo, the school continued to operate as a middle school until 1966, when it was nationalized by the government. Frank A. Wyman, Robert A. Beckner, Eugene A. Crane, and Alfred J. Sargent dedicated their lives to the Lord. They traveled through muddy roads and difficult conditions to share the gospel message to the outlying Pwo Karen villages.7

About a dozen village schools and churches were opened and built after a decade of speculation and labor. The first school and church were opened at the village of Bahmaw Chaung, where Deacon David, a Burmese local, worked as a teacher-evangelist for many years. Years later, Po Shwe, Po Toke, Po Lwin, Po Aung, Tun Kyaing, and San Aye Maung started work among the Pwo Karens in the Ayeyarwady Region. F. Ba Tin, U San, and Robert Myat Pe joined this team as teacher-evangelists. Mission work developed in Myaungmya Adventist School. Its teachers were Chit Maung, Ah Chu, A. Ba Tin, Ba Nyein, Daniel Lwin, Po Ngwe, and Tun Sein. Those working near Myaungmya were Thein Ngwe, Mya Din, Kyaw Din, Nan Ooh, Nan Shin, Sein May, Thin Ohn, Maung Sein, Maung Ko, Maung Ni, Ohn Myint, Maung Htwa, Barnabas Peter, Kyaw Yae, San Cho, Daw Rosetta Sein Than, Than Yee, Ma Mee, and Mya May. Those working in Hinthada and Htoogyi were Ba Mya Poe, U Sein, Aye Maung, and Hla Shin.8

Some missionaries, diligently served for short terms, such as Dr. Ollie Oberholtzer Tornblad, who served in the Ayeyarwady Region for one year in 1928-1929. Other missionaries, like Robert A. Beckner, Frank A. Wyman, Alfred J. Sargent, and Eugene A. Crane, spent much longer in the Ayeyarwady Region. Beckner dedicated his life to the work in Burma and was well remembered as an editor, publisher, educator, and evangelist.9

H. B. Meyers and A. G. Watson started the work in Rangoon by selling religious books. They opened a school at 110 Brookling Street in East Rangoon in 1902 and paved the way for Robert A. Beckner, Chit Hla, and Maung Maung to distribute religious literature and preach the gospel in lower Burma, specifically Myanaung, Hinthada, Htoogyi, Pathein, and Myaungmya. Frank A. Wyman arrived in Rangoon in 1913.10 He was transferred to Mussoorie Sanitarium, India, in 1917. His wife, Nellie, left for America in 1920. Wyman returned to Burma in June 1923 and expanded the work in the Ayeyarwady Region, including Hinthada, Pathein, and Myaungmya, and also Taik Kyi. He served at Myaungmya as mission president in 1927 with R. A. Beckner, A. J. Sargent, and E. A. Eugene as mission directors. Wyman left Burma a third time in 1930 but returned in 1931 and conducted evangelistic meetings in Myaungmya and nearby places. He left Burma in 1937 and returned a fourth and final time in 1938. Before World War II, the mission’s headquarters rented the house of Saw Ba Oo Gyi and Dr. San Si Poe at Pathein. In 1938, the mission bought land owned by two gentlemen, Boothe and Dickman, at Myetto, where the mission later built the headquarters of Ayeyarwady Mission.11

Alfred J. Sargent and his wife, nurses and well-known medical doctors, arrived in Rangoon in 1929 and joined Beckner and Wyman in the Ayeyarwady Region. They started mission work among the Pwo Karen people in the region. By traveling up and down the region in a motorboat named “Kinsaung,” they shared the gospel and extensively offered free medical service in the Ayeyarwady Region. Sargent served in the Ayeyarwady Region as a mission leader and director but left Burma in 1942, during World War II. He returned to Burma on December 26, 1945, to continue the ministry in the Ayeyarwady Region.12

Eugene A. Crane arrived in Rangoon in 1934 and joined Wyman, Beckner, and Sargent in the Ayeyarwady Region. He trained locals to be Bible workers and conducted evangelistic meetings at Kyaukpyu with Beckner.13 Po Lwin, Po Toat, Tha Myaing, Po Seit, and Aung Zone were Beckner’s earlier converts. They later became Bible workers in the Ayeyarwady Region. Po Toat, Po Lwin, Po Shwe, Po Aung, Tun Kyaing, and San Aye Maung directly worked with the Pwo Karen people in the Ayeyarwady Region.14 Sargent expanded the work in Einme Township. He conducted an evangelistic meeting in 1935 at a nearby village that resulted in the conversion of an elderly gentleman, Nay Yaung Gan.

Sargent proceeded to Inma, where he met a Sabbath-keeper, Po Shwe, and his family. Po Shwe was an officer of Inland Transporting Corporation in the Ayeyarwady Region and a simple, young, godly person. Although he belonged to the Baptist Church, he learned about the Sabbath truth through self-study. He and his family started keeping the Seventh-day Sabbath. The whole family was converted to Adventism after Po Shwe met Sargent in 1935. There were two Baptist churches in Inma. It was apparent that the Spirit of God worked in them as all the church elders and deacons of the Baptist Church converted to the Adventist faith after hearing of the Sabbath truth. Po Shwe, U Gway, Tha Doon Oo, U Bandeed, and Shwe Daing (Thein Ngwe’s father) became pioneering Adventists in the village.15

Mission Work Over the Years

It is well noted that from the time the mission hospital and the schools in the country of Burma were nationalized in 1965-1968, much attention was paid to evangelism and the ministry. Tha Myaing, who was baptized in 1917 and became an ordained pastor in 1927, and Tha Hmwe, a lay leader, expanded the work in Aung Gone, preached the Bible truth, and founded a church. Tha Myaing died at age 80 in 1954.16

A young couple, Ban Gyi and Sein May, devoted their service to working in Buddhist land at Pantanaw, Shwelaung, and Maubin and founded a church nearby in the 1950s.17 The work grew, and Soe Maung organized a group of believers in the late 1960s.

E. Dwe Tha, president of Ayeyarwady Mission from 1985-1989, grew up in Pantanaw Township and became a dynamic preacher throughout Burma. He is a retired minister.18 Kyaw Sein Pe, who also came from Pantanaw Township, completed his studies at Spicer Memorial College and served as principal of Union Bible Seminary, president of Ayeyarwady Mission, manager of Kinsaung Publishing House, union publishing director, and church pastor.19

In an earlier period, church work in Hinthada had resulted in planting churches in Htoogyi, Yenan Taung, Kan Gone, and other villages. Church leaders from this area included: Tun Sein, a former union secretary; Tun Maung, a former Ayeyarwady Mission president and Central Burma Mission president;20 Bo Than, a district pastor, school principal, and former secretary of Central Burma Mission;21 San Chi, a teacher of Myaungmya Adventist High School; Myat Poe, a teacher and minister; Saw Orlando, a lab technician in an Adventist hospital;22 Lay Tay, a district pastor and union ministerial department director;23 Naw Ei Ei, faculty and head of the education department in Burma Union Adventist Seminary;24 Tin Tun Shin, faculty in Union Bible Seminary, former president of Ayeyarwady Mission, and former president of Burma Union Mission;25 and Doe Doe Shin, manager of Kinsaung Publishing Press.26

Likewise, mission work in Einme Township expanded in the year 1935, when Po Shwe entered the ministry.27 He was from Inma and later became San Chi’s father-in-law. Thein Ngwe, teacher and district pastor, was also from Inma. From this village, Brown Kai became the first native-born principal of Union Bible Seminary at Myaungmya.28 Sein May and Ban Gyi, church planters, teachers, and evangelists, were also from Inma.29 Shwe Ngone, a young, enthusiastic district pastor also from Inma, built the first concrete church building in Inma and the Ayeyarwady Region. Its construction started in November 1966 and was completed in April 1967. He had a plan and vision for the advancement of the gospel in the Ayeyarwady Region, but sadly, Shwe Ngone died young at age 42 on August 9, 1967, due to a stomach ulcer.30 Claudius Brown, also from Inma, served as an evangelist, office secretary in the union office, faculty in Burma Union Adventist Seminary, and principal of Rangoon Adventist Seminary.31

Growth of Ayeyarwady Mission

Many events and activities assisted the growth of Ayeyarwady Mission, but the Burma Union Adventist Seminary’s existence should be duly noted. The seminary has been a distinct entity that has supported young people into action in the Ayeyarwady Mission’s territory. These activities simultaneously benefitted the seminary and the mission in that young people were trained to be enthusiastic in the ministry while the work in Ayeyarwady Mission grew.

As a result of these efforts, the Adventist work was expanded, and a number of churches and companies were added, including: Nga Ba Chaung Church, San Chaung Company, and Padat Sar Company in the Myaungmya district; Pa Toat Company, Kaw Gone, and Tanyin Gon Company in the Hinthada district; Thayar Gon Company and Shwe Gon in the Labutta district; Oatpogon Company, Tatgon Company, Ye San Company, and Kyet Paung San Company in the East Yoma district; Kyauk Than Gyunn and Yar Ban Gon Church in the East Pathein district; and Kyunn Tait, Kyone Bauk, Myago Gyi Church, and Paukkon in the Maubin district.

List of Presidents

R. A. Beckner (1923-1924); F. A. Wyman (1924-1928); A. J. Sargent (1938-1942); T. Peter (1951-1955); Ba Nyein (1956-1962); Tun Maung (1963-1964); Ba Nyein (1964-1966); Thein Shwe (1966-1975); Kyaw Sein Pe (1976-1985); E. Dwe Tha (1985-1989); Ephraim Han (1990-1991); Edwe Tha (1992-1993); Tin Tun Shin (1994-2000); Khin Maung Nyein (2001-2003); Rawlson Johnny (2003-2008); Khin Maung Yin (2008-2010); Khin Maung Latt (2011-2015); Saxon Shwe (2016- ).

Sources

Brown, Claudius. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Ei Ei, Naw. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Fernandez, Gil G. Light Dawns over Asia. Silang, Cavite: Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, 1990.

Gyi, Ban. “Diary Record.” 1982.

Kai, Brown. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Maung, Tun. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

May, Sein. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Ngone, Shwe. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Pe, Kyaw Sein. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Pe Yee. The Story of Seventh-day Adventists in Myanmar. Rangoon, Burma: Kinsaung Publishing House, 1986.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2019.

Shin, Doe Doe. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Shin, Tin Tun. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Tha, E. Dwe. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Than, Bo. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Tay, Lay. “Employee Service Record.” Dagon, Myanmar. Southern Asia-Pacific Division. Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

Notes

  1. “Ayeyarwady Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2019), 347.

  2. Gil G. Fernandez, Light Dawns Over Asia (Silang, Cavite: Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, 1990), 280.

  3. Pe Yee, The story of Seventh-day Adventists in Myanmar (Rangoon, Burma: Kinsaung Publishing House, 1986), 49, 131.

  4. Fernandez, 284.

  5. Pe Yee, 132, 142, 161, 284.

  6. Fernandez, 284; Pe Yee, 80-81.

  7. Fernandez, 284; Pe Yee, 134, 312.

  8. Fernandez, 284; Pe Yee, 134.

  9. Fernandez, 284; Pe Yee, 47.

  10. Fernandez, 284; Pe Yee, 131.

  11. Pe Yee., 71-72, 129.

  12. Ibid., 126-127.

  13. Fernandez, 284; Pe Yee, 153.

  14. Fernandez, 284.

  15. Ban Gyi, “Diary Record,” 1982; Ban Gyi, interview by author, Inma, Einme Township; Kyaw Thein, interview by author, Inma, Einme Township, 2017.

  16. Pe Yee, 81, 99.

  17. Ibid., 99.

  18. Kyaw Thein, interview by author, Inma, Einme Township, 2017; E. Dwe Tha, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  19. Kyaw Sein Pe, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  20. Tun Maung, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  21. Bo Than, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  22. Sandy Dee, telephone interview by author, 2017.

  23. Lay Tay, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  24. Naw Ei Ei, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  25. Tin Tun Shin, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  26. Doe Doe Shin, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  27. Pe Yee, 127.

  28. Brown Kai, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  29. Sein May, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  30. Shwe Ngone, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

  31. Claudius Brown, “Employee Service Record,” Dagon, Myanmar, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Myanmar Union Mission Archives.

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Shwe, Saxon. "Ayeyarwady Mission." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Accessed January 21, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6AO3.

Shwe, Saxon. "Ayeyarwady Mission." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Date of access January 21, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6AO3.

Shwe, Saxon (2021, January 09). Ayeyarwady Mission. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 21, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6AO3.