Wisdom and Grace: Asia bound - Myanmar and Hong Kong


January 6, 2020

Courtesy photo

Linda Smyth and Ila McClenhan taught "Christian Ethics" at Faith Theological Seminary in Myitkyina, Myanmar for two weeks, five hours a day.

Everything seemed to be going pretty well. Because of the recent protests and riots, I was nervous about traveling by myself to Hong Kong (population 7.400,000). The Hong Kong airport was closed to residents coming into the airport to pick up visiting passengers. But I found my way outside and met up with long-time friend and 40-year missionary in Hong Kong, Linda Smyth.

I stayed a few days in Hong Kong and then Linda and I boarded a plane to Yangon, Myanmar. We would stay there overnight and then go onto Myitkyina (population 200,000) where we would team teach at Faith Theological Seminary for two weeks.

When we landed in Yangon (population 7,500,000) we were directed to immigration. Linda went in one line and I went in another. There was absolutely no problem for me. I showed them my passport and then my visa. Quickly, I passed through.

I looked over to where Linda was going through and to my disbelief she was surrounded by five armed guards! They began to look at her passport and then at her visa and then questioned her, "Is this your passport?"

"Yes, it is. That's me in the picture."

"When did you get this passport?" asked another guard.

"Look in the passport. It will tell you."

"Where did you get this passport?" asked another guard.

"The U.S. Counsel in Denver, Colorado."

"This passport doesn't say you got it in Denver, Colorado," stated the guard. "Have you ever replaced your passport?"

"Well, yes. The last time I was in the states I lost my passport. After looking and looking for it, I drove to Denver and the U.S. Consulate issued me another."

It seems the last time Linda was in the United States, she unintentionally left her passport in the pocket of a coat she gave to her niece in Missouri. Getting ready to return to Hong Kong, she could not find her passport. She went to the U.S. Consulate in Denver where they nulled the old passport number and issued her a new one. A month or so after she had returned to Hong Kong her niece sent the old passport to her.

Linda admits that she probably should have destroyed it, but it contained a 10-year visa for China that would be costly and time consuming to replace. So, she used the new passport, along with the old one, to enter into China numerous times without any problems She inadvertently used the old passport number to obtain the visa to enter Myanmar. And that was the problem because it seems the old passport number had been illegally used by someone who was blacklisted worldwide.

Linda was informed that she would not be able to enter Myanmar and would need to return to Hong Kong on the next flight.

By this time, I was also surrounded by officials and guards. Legally, I would have been able to stay in Myanmar, but emotionally and mentally I could not stay, if Linda could not. I am not experienced in traveling in a foreign country and the thought of traveling on without my experienced co-worker was incomprehensible. At that point we were uncertain as to whether Linda would ever be permitted to enter Myanmar.

At 12:55 a.m. Nov. 23, we were on a plane returning to Hong Kong. The guards asked each of us for $320 USD cash for the return tickets. I tried to use a credit card but they would not accept it. They returned with two tickets on Cathay Pacific Airlines. They followed us through the line to enter the plane and probably stood and watched until we were in the air.

Linda and I returned to Hong Kong and she began immediately to look for her correct passport. While we were in the Yangon airport, Linda's son Scott and her friend Vicky had searched her apartment, but without success. For two hours Linda looked in every spot it could possibly be.

Finally, I said to her friend Vicky, "Let's pray about this."

I began, "Dear Lord, we come before you on behalf of Linda. Lord, you know where Linda's passport is. Please show her where it is. We need your help, In Jesus' name, Amen"

Two minutes later Linda came out of her bedroom holding the passport, "I found it. I found it! I'd look in that drawer before, but something (Someone) said, 'Look again.'" And then she turned to Scott, "Book us a flight back to Myanmar!"

At 11 p.m. we were on our way back to Yangon, Myanmar ... humbled by answers to prayer. We knew we were doing God's will and He would be with us, every bit of the way.

Family and friends have asked "What was the most memorable part of the trip?"

Without a second thought I answer "The students and their singing." Each class session began with singing and prayer. On the second day they sang one of my favorites "Because He Lives."

"God sent His son, they called Him Jesus.

He came to love, heal and forgive

He lived and died to buy my pardon

An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives.

How sweet to hold a newborn baby

And feel the pride and joy he gives

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

And then one day, I'll cross the river

I'll fight life's final war with pain

And then, as death gives way to victory

I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living, just because He lives."

With tears in my eyes, I prayed, "Oh thank you Lord for the opportunity to serve You in Myanmar. Thank You for these wonderful students who want to know more about You. Be with my family at home. May I be worthy to wear Your name, Jesus. Amen."


Ila McClenahan is a retired chaplain and activity director living north of Havre in the Amos Community where she was raised. She spends her time speaking for Christian events, volunteering for community organizations, and chauffeuring grandkids.


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