Ted Kersh is a planter of seeds.
Not the kind that take soil and water and sunshine, but the kind that go deeper — the kind that take root in a person’s heart.
As pastor at First Baptist Church in Claremore, Kersh is no stranger to going on mission trips.
He’s planted seeds of the Gospel in Cambodia, Brazil, Tanzania, and other countries across the globe.
Recently, Kersh returned from another “seed-planting” mission trip to the Pacific Rim, specifically, the country of Myanmar.
“Myanmar, which used to be called Burma, is currently under the power of a brutal military regime,” Kersh said. “The country, one of Asia’s poorest, has experienced severe oppression as the military there is determined to keep power at all costs. As Myanmar is primarily a Buddhist country, to be a Christian there is to be breaking the law.”
Although Kersh has been on mission trips since 1990, this was his first trip into Myanmar.
“When considering missions, you tend to look at two groups: the un-engaged and unreached,” he said. “Un-engaged is a group of people who have never heard the Gospel, unreached is a group that may have heard the Gospel, but only a small percentage of them have been affected by it. To be honest, I was interested in going on a mission trip to an area that was ... slightly restricted in its access to hearing God’s word — and Myanmar was just that.”
With Kersh were his wife, Jerri and nearly a dozen other pastors and their wives.
“When we were making plans for the trip, I was made aware of a group of people in Myanmar called the Palaung people— we decided to do our ministering to them as an un-engaged group,” Kersh said.
Kersh left for the Pacific Rim on the eighth of May, landing first in Bangkok, and later Yangoon (pronounced “Rangoon”), capital of Myanmar.
“Once we got there, the men and women parted ways — the ladies going to speak at women’s centers and the men going on treks,” he said.
The “treks,” Kersh noted, were often the only way to reach the Palaung people, who lived deep in the forests of Myanmar, along the banks of rivers.
“We really had to prepare ourselves physically as well as spiritually for the trip,” Kersh said. “It wasn’t uncommon for the men to make two to three mile treks through the dense forest along oxen trails to get to a village.”
Having to deal with the mosquitoes and leeches was one thing, but Kersh said he was always mindful of what he ate while overseas.
“As a rule of thumb, whenever I’m traveling in remote countries, I don’t eat anything I haven’t seen cooked with my own eyes,” he said. “Tea is a key drink there, which they boil during preparation, so it’s usually safe to drink. One thing I’ll always do is carry my eating utensils with me and dip them into the (hot) tea before using them — hopefully that kills anything that might try to kill me.”
Between the exercise and what he ate (or didn’t eat), Kersh said he lost nine pounds during his 12 days in Myanmar.
“Not only did we make trips into the Palaung villages to speak to them about the Gospel, once word got out that we were in the country, there were people who would make equally as long treks — if not longer — to reach us.
“Some of the men would walk for two days or ride crowded buses for days on end to get where we were to hear about Jesus,” he said.
But those hungry for the Bread of Life weren’t the only ones taking an interest in Kersh and company.
“We were always aware that there were people paying close attention to us,” he said. “We were never worried about our safety, but we knew that there were people, secret police or other government officials I believe, who were watching where we would go and listening to what we said.
“I remember one morning, Jerri and I were having breakfast in a hotel cafe,” he recalled. “It was empty except for us, until one man came in and took the table right next to us — it wasn’t like there weren’t other places to sit. It’s something that we were always mindful of.”
Kersh added that he and the other missionaries always kept in mind that the military could potentially follow where they went and persecute those they spoke to.
“Because of the regime in power, death is a ... constant threat on the part of those who become Christians — or at the very least, persecution,” he said, soberly. “We heard stories of homes being burnt, children being taking from families and put into ‘retraining schools,’ and more. While we were there, we learned of 15 men who were imprisoned for sharing their (Christian) faith.”
Much of the ministering was done through translators and on a “fundamental” level as there are currently no Bible translations available in the Myanmar language, but he was encouraged by the convictions of those with whom he shared the Gospel.
“People would come to us in secret to be trained in discipleship and the power of the Spirit — they would write and write and write everything we said,” he said.
Although Kersh said he saw “some “ conversions during his stay in Myanmar, he felt his mission was a success in terms of seeds sown.
“Myanmar is such a strict, Buddhist country, we went with the idea that we’d be planting the seeds of the Gospel, which other missionaries will go back and harvest later,” he said. “I feel that we were successful in that respect.”
Ultimately, Kersh said that he always learns more than he teaches on missions trips.
“While we were in Myanmar, we met a young girl — probably about 14 — by the name of Yen,” Kersh said. “Yen had accepted Christ while she was a student in a hostel, so she was still a relatively new Christian. Because of the political climate in Myanmar, I asked Yen through an interpreter if she thought she would be persecuted for her beliefs.
“She said ‘Oh, yes, I’m sure I will be persecuted,’” Kersh said. “She told me that her father might not let her back in her house, she might be run out of her village, or even worse.
“I asked her if she was afraid, and through her interpreter, she told me ‘Afraid? There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for my Jesus,’” said Kersh, visibly moved. “That’s commitment to your faith rarely seen here in America.”
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Ted Kersh is a planter of seeds.
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