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A Joyous Journey (through Myanmar)

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

And not joyous in the way you'd think

a field of temples in Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan, Myanmar

There is nothing like international travel to stretch your boundaries and increase your reliance on God. Last year, a friend and I were lucky enough to spend some time backpacking through the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The government in Myanmar is a relatively brutal military regime, and the official religion is Buddhism. There are temples and shrines and Buddhist monks walking around in their orange robes, everywhere you look. We started our trip exploring Yangon, the largest and most chaotic city in the country. After a few days there, walking miles around town in the tropical heat and humidity, it came time for us to catch a bus to the next town on our itinerary, Kalaw. This is where our journey truly began.

A surprising discovery

Our hostel booked our bus tickets for us, with a bus company simply called “JJ.” That meant nothing to us at the time, and all I hoped for was that it was indeed a luxury bus, as we had a 12 hour ride ahead of us. So we hopped in a taxi and headed to the bus station. After an hour long taxi ride in crazy traffic, we show up at the bus station, and to our great surprise is a big bus in front of us that had “Joyous Journey” painted in large letters across the side. Wait- that sounds like a really Christian name for a company, and we are in a really Buddhist place. And as I walked around to the front of the bus, I found the phrase, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” painted on the windshield. No way! Out of all the potential buses we could have gotten tickets for, we got a Christian bus. At that moment, I felt God looking down on us, and knew that we may be a long way from home and in a land of foreign languages and gods, but the Lord was with us.

streets of Yangon
Streets of Yangon

Impending disaster

Not long after we figured out what “JJ” meant, we also figured out that we had left one of our suitcases at the hostel. It was now 5pm, the bus was scheduled to leave at 6pm, and the drive in traffic was also at least an hour. This was bad. Our taxi driver didn’t speak English, but figured out what the situation was and called our hostel for us, and the staff at the hostel said that they’d send the suitcase to us in another taxi, right away. At this point, all we could do was pray that it would show up in time. The bus company said they could only wait up to 5 extra minutes for us if the suitcase didn’t arrive on time. We were pretty stuck- our itinerary didn’t really have any wiggle room for missed buses, and we certainly couldn’t leave a suitcase behind. So, prayer it was. As time is ticked by, we were getting more and more nervous. The bus company started loading all of the passengers and luggage onto the bus, and we were still waiting for the suitcase. But, at the very last minute, the taxi arrived! Out jumped one of the hostel employees as well, who had accompanied the suitcase to ensure that it reached us. Thank you Jesus!

More uncertainty

And so we headed to the bus to take our seats, relieved that the stress was over. Except, there was another problem. We were told that our tickets were actually for ANOTHER bus, leaving at the same time. Uh, what? We had met some other western travelers at the bus station, all of them going to the same destination as us, and they were all on bus #7, which we tried to board. Yet, we were being told to get on bus #17, where there were no foreigners at all, supposedly going to the same town. Naturally, there was a major language barrier here which complicated things, but the bus company insisted there were 2 buses leaving for the same place at the same time. This just seemed wrong. The first bus was full of people that looked like us and spoke our language, but the one we were being told to take was intimidatingly foreign. We had no other choice but to take our assigned seats, and hope for the best. But you know what? As much uncertainty as there was, I felt God’s hand on us- especially after the suitcase showed up in time. I knew that we were not alone there, despite being in strange land and in seemingly the wrong place. We decided to laugh, trust God, and settle in for our Joyous Journey. And it truly was- they gave us great snacks, had movies playing on individual TVs, and the bus driver and attendant looked after us. And as promised, we arrived safely at the correct destination! God is good.

Shan countryside, Myanmar
Tea plantations in the Shan Countryside

The joyous journey continues

As it turned out, JJ buses were a recurring theme on our trip. At our next hotel, we needed to book bus tickets again, and the hotel booked us on JJ. This trip went much more smoothly than the first- we even got a free noodle dinner at a rest stop, and made a great new friend. And a week or so later, it came time for our final overnight bus trip. We had a choice between 2 luxury buses, JJ and one called “VIP” which also sounded pretty nice. The JJ bus was a few dollars more expensive, but we’d had a good experience with them so far, and the fact that it was a Christian company made me feel like guardian angels were with us. So we chose JJ again. But this time, the journey was not so joyous.

Joyous Journey bus company
JJ Buses

Less than fun

The 10 hour ride was extremely bumpy, people were getting carsick, the snacks were terrible, and the only movies playing were the Matrix and Lord of the Rings, on a loop, which was exactly the same as the last two trips. And of course, we didn’t sleep at all. But you know what? We arrived safely at our destination, and were rewarded with a glorious 8 hours of sleep in a real bed (of questionable cleanliness, but that’s a minor detail).

Hidden meaning

Our experience with the Joyous Journey buses parallels our walk with God. Sometimes, He finds us when we aren’t expecting it. He brings peace and guides us, even when we feel like we are in the wrong place, with the wrong people, way outside of our comfort zone.

Sometimes, being with God is easy and life runs smoothly, and things feel grand for a while.

But other times, following God is a choice we have to make. The cost might be higher, the ride bumpier, and the snacks terrible, but the Lord is always with us- watching over and protecting us, delivering us to our destination safely. The 23rd Psalm reminds us that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Following Christ was never advertised to be easy, but we can find joy in our journey by trusting in His promises and love, and knowing that he walks with us through the most difficult of times.

Next time you’re traveling, or just struggling through everyday life, try to find little bits joy in your journey, knowing that God is in all of it, working behind the scenes for your good.

Want more?

On a similar note, I’ve also written about how God never chooses the shortest route… check that out here!

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