“All I ever wanted was to have a happy family! I hated my father. I hated him so much …”
Students from 7 nations sit in a circle around him at Media Light student’s retreat in the mountains of northern Thailand. Every one of them is wearing their own personally-made necklace with 5 or more beads that represent the defining events of their life. Some of them are about to share their deepest secret for the first time in their lives. For them, and for Zaw, this is a critical experience: the moment where they tell the whole truth about their lives no matter how much it scares them or how much it hurts to confront it.
Zaw’s mother passed away when he was only 8 years old. First, his father wasted all of their family’s money, then married another woman and left the city with her. He never even said goodbye to Zaw or his 4 brothers as he abandoned them.
Zaw was only 10 years old when his father’s action saddled him with the weight of supporting himself and his brothers from that day onward. Every day, he did menial work in the market just to make enough money to buy bread for the day. At nights, he cried himself to sleep.
Soon his tears were replaced with burning hatred for his father and anger about his life. Zaw turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. “I was a bad person,” he says, “I lived freely. I had no control over myself. I was emotionally tired, and I could do anything I wanted then, so I did drugs every morning and every night. Everyone used to look down on me in my neighborhood.”
In 2007, a friend invited Zaw to a New Year’s Eve church service. Since Zaw was a Buddhist, he had never known who Jesus was or what Christianity was all about. “That night, I felt something inside of me,” he says. “I wanted to know what it was. I was used to being rejected, to feeling empty. My life was meaningless, but at the service, it was different. Everyone was welcoming, and I wondered why. It made me desire to learn more about Christianity.”
Zaw accepted Christ, started to attend church regularly, and began to grow in his faith. “I used to be so tired of life, then I heard Jesus call to me, saying, ‘I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28–that verse changed my life.”
Zaw was the first person to convert to Christianity in his family. He later joined the Emerge Institute to study the Bible in depth. He became especially passionate about leading worship, spending hours, sometimes a whole day, playing gospel songs on his guitar.
Even though Zaw was growing in his faith, however, he kept struggling with hate towards his father. Then, one evening, Zaw’s father showed up at his doorstep. His wife had passed away, so he had returned to his sons.
Zaw says, “Because of my father, I had endured so much pain and tears. I didn’t forgive him. When I saw his face, I still felt hatred.”
Though Zaw knew he should forgive his father, his heart remained hard. He even tried to share the gospel with his father, but his father would not accept what he was hearing. Zaw admitted that the way he shared his faith was not out of love, but out of bitterness and disgust, wanting to show his father that he was going to be punished for all the things he had done to his family.
“I realized that I shared the Gospel with my father with unforgiveness, with no love in my heart. Even when he denied the gospel, in my heart, I was saying, ‘Fine then, you’ll just burn in hell’,” says Zaw, head bowed, turning the beads of the story necklace in his hand.
Soon afterward, Zaw’s father had unexpectedly passed away. A few days following his death, Zaw saw his father in a dream. This brought him to the realization that he had missed his one chance to reconcile with his father. He knew that he should have forgiven him and shared his faith with him out of love.
This is where Zaw ends the telling of his story. Two years after his father’s death, he graduated from Bible college and started to pastor a church in Yang Hun mindful of the lessons God had taught him through his experiences with his father.
He looks around the room at his fellow Medialight students and the staff. No one speaks. He thinks he’s said too much, disgraced himself with the truth about the bitterness at his core, and disqualified himself from a place of ministry in the church. Then, one after another, the students stand, walk towards him, and lay their hands on him to pray for his emotional healing.
Zaw has come to Media Light to be trained as a next-generation leader for his nation. Over the next two months, Zaw learned not only about media skills, but had his spiritual core refined through forgiveness and a focus on the key teachings of Jesus. “My favorite moment at Media Light was the story necklace retreat. I want to use this in my home church and help many in their emotional struggles. Through this, God taught me that my story could teach other young people like me,” says Zaw.
Going back home to Myanmar, Zaw also aspires to teach young leaders how to use media for missions. He is planning to make short films and testimonial videos to reach the youth of Myanmar. “Our country is highly influenced by visual media. Some might lack food, but everyone is addicted to TV.” says Zaw. He adds, “My vision is to spread the love I received from Christ to the Buddhist community in Myanmar, to transform people through short films, and enable people to grow strong in their walk with Christ.”