The Hope of Phinn Li

by Marjorie George

The short film we were watching before worship on Sunday morning told the story of a Burmese family of refugees living in Thailand. Like many of the residents of Thailand, the family’s resources are meager – a dirt-floor hut for a house, straw mats for beds, and food cooked outside over an open fire. Making it worse, because the family are not citizens of Thailand, only visitors, they are subject to being evicted from their little home with only a day’s notice as the government of Thailand snatches up land to build modern houses for the middle class. Then the family packs up all their belongings, loads them onto a couple of hand-pushed carts, and goes in search of another spot to erect their mean little house.  

The father of the family, Phinn Li, related all of this with not a whit of anger or complaint. “I am a Christian,” he proclaimed, grinning.  “I know that God will take care of us.” Phinn Li said he is grateful that he has a job and can buy food for his family. He works construction, building those modern houses for the middle class.

Being a Christian has cost Phinn Li: his Buddhist family has ostracized him and begs him to renounce his Christian faith. The guys on the construction job taunt him, calling him “Jesus.” No matter; Phinn Li continues to read his Bible and praise his God.

When the film ended, our little group realized that we had witnessed someone who depends on God, literally, for his daily bread.  “This man and I read the same Scripture and follow the same God,” I said.  “But he walks so much more closely with God in his daily life than I do,”

“Why do you think that is?” asked our group leader.

”I guess I am just not needy enough,” I said. As the words came out of my mouth, I ducked and looked up at God-in-the-ceiling. “Not that I want to be needy enough,” I added. The group laughed, and someone said, “Stay away from her!”  

And isn’t that just like us? We think that if we humble ourselves, stand before God totally exposed, and ask him to make us holy, all hell will break loose. We take Job as our model: when we have suffered enough, when we have relinquished all of our earthly goods, then and only then will we be blessed.

But Pinn Li in Thailand expects all heaven to break loose – every day. Pinn Li is a man of hope and faith.

In the letter to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul offers his great witness to the fathers who lived by faith (see chapter 11). “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death. By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household.” By faith, Abraham set out for a land he was not even sure existed, believing that, as God promised, he would become the father of many nations though his wife was barren.

It’s a long list of people that Paul has compiled, people who began their lives in the most ordinary fashion: Moses leading the people into the Red Sea believing they would not drown;  Joshua circling Jericho for seven days expecting the walls to fall down (and they did!). “Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,” says Paul. Those who “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” 

I would add to that list Phinn Li, who through faith lives every day expecting God’s blessings and acting on that hope.

Pray God that so will we.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.