The Matu people are separated from other communities by large mountain ranges. Chan says life today is very similar to the way he grew up. "They live in villages using the ‘slash and burn’ system of farming, shifting from one place to another place every year," explains Rev. Thleng. "They grow dried rice, corn and vegetables by the mountainside for their food. Most do not have enough food for their families."
The children do not attend school; therefore most do not know how to read or write. They do not have the resources to protect themselves from hot or cold weather. "Their food and drink are not clean, and as a result, children and adults die from diarrhea," says Rev. Thleng. "They do not know how to prevent themselves from getting mosquito bites, so everybody has malaria."
Even Christianity was skewed as it came so far into the mountains. "Some became Christians – but not because they knew the Word of God and believed in God – it was only because they wanted to be free from the fear of evil spirits," he explains.
"When I was young, I was one of those having many times diarrhea and always carried malaria in my body," remembers Rev. Thleng. "There was no access to go outside from the region because there was no way to go out. I walked 25 miles away from my village to go to school. I carried rice and other necessary belongings on my back and walked up and down through the mountain path to Matupi to go to school."
Even though life was difficult and his family members were new Christians, the Holy Spirit was working in Chan’s life, creating in him a passion for the Matu people and for the Word of God.
Through an extraordinary chain of events, Rev. Thleng attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and became a pastor. Although he was far from home, his heart remained in the mountains of Myanmar. "I love the region and the people," he says. "I want the people to know the Lord and have Him in their hearts."
After finishing his education, Rev. Thleng returned to Myanmar, and he realized that his people needed health education in addition to spiritual counseling. "The villagers believed that malaria, diarrhea and other diseases were consequences of evil spirits punishing them for their failure to offer sacrifices," Rev. Thleng says. "In order to free them from such belief and superstition, the love of God began to compel me to tell them the truth. The truth is Christ Himself and His command to heal the sick in His name."
Rev. Thleng began by educating the people about germs and viruses. He teaches that taking potentially contaminated water from streams and boiling it greatly reduces the risk of getting sick. Those who can afford mosquito nets use them, knowing it can prevent malaria. Rev. Thleng also opened the Siloam Clinic in Matupi. "At this clinic, they are encouraged not only with medicines, but also with the Word of God."
The Siloam Clinic is the region’s first health center of any kind. Le Ding is the health technician at the clinic, and he reports that many of the patients walk to the clinic or are carried by family members. A pastor from the local Christian Reformed Church comes to the clinic each day to have devotions and prayer with the staff and patients.