According to a 2014 census there are slightly more than 3 million Christians in Myanmar. Of those, about 550,000 live in the hilly northwest of the country—in Kachin State. Approximately 400,000 Kachin Christians worship as part of the Kachin Baptist Convention, or KBC. The General Secretary of the KBC is Rev. Dr. Samson Hkalam, who graduated from Providence in 1999.
Later this month Rev. Samson, as he is known, will be recognized with an honorary doctorate from Providence Theological Seminary at a special ceremony in Myitkyina, the Kachin capital.
Since earning his Master of Arts in Theology at the Otterburne campus Rev. Samson, who also holds Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Yangon’s Myanmar Institute of Theology, has launched study programs for Kachin pastors, mentored missionaries, established a bible college and founded a leadership training centre. Additionally, he has aided Kachin State’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), advocated for drug eradication and worked for the cause of peace in Myanmar.
This past year he met with the American and British ambassadors to Myanmar, with whom he discussed humanitarian aid for Kachin refugees displaced by civil conflict. He also reached an agreement with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to secure education for children living in IDP camps.
“He is known for being an active leader who is positive and open-minded,” says La Wom Gumling, one of the nearly 20 students from Myanmar who have attended Providence. “Additionally, he has a constructive vision for the Kachin people. He is well-respected.”
Rev. Samson was one of the first students from the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma to study at Providence. The first was Rev. Dr. Saboi Jum, who, while visiting the United States, encountered Providence professor Dr. Jonathan Bonk, who was on sabbatical. The two quickly established a rapport, and Saboi, expressing a need among Kachin Christians to better train their leaders, was invited to make the move to Otterburne.
“After his studies Saboi came back and took a higher leadership position,” recalls La Wom. “He also kept up the relationship with Providence by sending Kachin students. Every Kachin student who has had training at Providence has contributed tremendously to the Kachin community. Some are in leadership positions in churches; some are in seminary.”
Dr. David Johnson, Providence President, and Dr. Stan Hamm, Dean of Providence Theological Seminary, will lead the institution’s contingent to Myitkyina later this month. They’ll each deliver a modular course to pastors and seminary students before conferring the honorary doctorate on Rev. Samson.
“It provides recognition for the significant work Samson has done after his formal training,” says Dr. Johnson. “He continues to grow in knowledge and character for leadership and service.”
Dr. Hamm, who has travelled extensively for Providence Theological Seminary, is excited to be able to bring yet more cultural context to his teaching.
“I’m looking forward to meeting alumni and seeing them in their context and culture,” he explains. “I trust that it will also give me greater insight into teaching the international students who come to study with us.”
For La Wom, who has organized much of the Providence contingent’s visit to Myanmar, the week of modular courses, church services, Thanksgiving festivities and celebrations of Rev. Samson is an opportunity to appreciate the ties between the Kachin people and Providence.
“I’m confident that this honorary doctorate will not just be for Rev. Samson, but for all Kachin students,” he says. “I’m looking forward to building a stronger relationship between Providence and Kachin people as we equip future leaders.”
(Top to bottom: Rev. Dr. Samson Hkalam; Rev. Samson, 2nd from left, meets with former US President Barack Obama)