When asked what his role as principal of Myanmar’s top Christian tertiary training agency requires, CK Hrang Tiam gives a list of responsibilities and daily tasks. As he talks, however, it is obvious that becoming and being an effective leader of MEGST* has and does require much more than routine efficiency – above all, humility and a willingness to serve God by serving others.
When the 8.8.88 pro-democracy uprising in Yangon interrupted his science studies as an 18 year old, he took it as an opportunity to fast and pray, asking God for direction (with a vow):
“If you choose me, open the way for me to go to Bible School. Then I will serve you, and I’ll do it in Myanmar.”
It was a risky prayer, given the political climate at the time outlawed Christianity. CK knew the answer from God would probably take him on a difficult path in the years to come, but he prayed it anyway.
And it’s this attitude of quiet determination and servanthood that has seen him reach and impact many, many people throughout his life, and rise to the status of a true leader – although it’s not a descriptor in which he takes any personal pride.
At this point in his journey his task is to lead MEGST and its mission, and this he does with energy and enthusiasm. He aims to register it officially as an institution (now that being a Christian institution is no longer illegal in Myanmar’s new democracy), grow the rolls, expand it and forge strong relationships with the rest of the Christian community in Yangon.
However, he does not take all the credit for his work or attitude toward it; he acknowledges other Christian leaders who have helped to shape him, including the two previous MEGST principals, Dr Aung Mang and Reverend San Cung Nung, and also his own brother Bishop Dr. CK No Chum. He also sees running the school as a team effort, making most decisions collaboratively with the board, the Executive Committee or the staff – again showing a humble leadership style very counter-cultural to what is typical within Myanmar.
After CK’s courageous prayer as a young adult, his journey of servant leadership immediately began with an actual journey – almost like a physical experience of what would lie ahead for him in life.
With nothing but a few coins in his pocket, but bag-loads of sheer determination to learn more about how to be a leader, he walked, living rough, for several days to reach India from Myanmar, and there began his theological studies.
It’s also where he got better and better at living on the smallest of subsistence budgets. He studied in India and the Philippines for 12 years, attaining many qualifications including a PhD. His commitment to God’s work in Myanmar saw him through the temptation to apply for refugee status and move to a first world country, as many of his Christian leadership peers did. His mission was Myanmar, and once qualified he returned to teach at Gospel for Asia Bible College, married his wife Rebecca and then begin teaching at MEGST under Dr Aung Mang.
CK may have several degrees to his name and head up a tertiary training agency, but his service goes well beyond the well-regarded and sometimes heady world of academia. Whilst still in the Philippines, a missionary he met was curious about why – unlike his many fleeing contemporaries – he wanted to remain in Myanmar. “I am called for mission in Myanmar. I made a vow to the Lord,” was his simple but undeviating reply.
In response this woman pledged CK and Rebecca $300 per month, to be used at their discretion. So they used it to open an orphanage and took in many homeless children, who they now consider their own.
These days, whilst CK’s time is taken up with leading MEGST, Rebecca’s work is a ministry to support children and their mothers subsisting in rubbish dump communities, daily feeding large groups of children with soup made from chicken feet. These acts of service are an incredible example of how – in the hands of humble, servant leaders of integrity attuned to the needs of their community – the very smallest amounts of financial support have an incredible impact for God’s Kingdom.
When CK was interviewed in February 2017 for the principal position at MEGST (an interview he was called to and did not seek out), he was asked two questions: What would you do if you became the principal of MEGST, and what would you do if you did not?
For the first question, he told them of his vision for the school: “Quality plus quantity education” i.e. making courses available in other cities and online; and how he wanted MEGST to be officially registered with the government, believing this would encourage many more potential students to take on theological studies. He also shared his passion to connect MEGST with churches and other Christian organisations in the city and the region.
But it was his answer to the second question that showed his true colours as a servant leader:
“When Aung hired me, I trusted him and served many years as a lecturer, a dean and more. When a new principal was to be elected, although my name was one of the three names proposed, I withdrew from being considered, because principalship was not something I had expected, prayed for, or chased. But today I sit here and you are interviewing me.
“Even though all the current teaching faculty have been my students, I would welcome any of them to be put into the position above me, because I am happy to serve anywhere.”
He was appointed to the role, and serve as a leader he does. With an energy and enthusiasm that has encouraged many and surprised some, the vision he outlined to answer the first question is now becoming a reality, as he gets on with the big task of building other leaders to send throughout Myanmar and further into Asia-Pacific.
His thoughts on what is needed as the country’s leading Christian tertiary training agency to achieve this?
“We must have good understanding, good relationships, mutual love and concern. Our focus must be on the Kingdom of God. If we stand together we will be strong.”
*Myanmar Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (MEGST)