The heat in the small, dark house is stifling and we foreigners, unused to such oppressive humidity, are drenched with perspiration. But the dozen or so locals, seated quietly in a circle on the rough wooden floor, don’t seem to notice it. They’re used to such a climate here in Myanmar. Their attention is fixed on a man who stands in their midst, speaking softly and with conviction.
Every eye is on Aung Ko Oo. A young woman cradles a Bible in her lap, its pages stuffed with sheets of handwritten notes. Several teenage boys sit respectfully, their hands clasped, attentive, as are the older members.
Being blind, you might think Aung Ko would be an unlikely candidate to lead a worship service. He has been blind since childhood and admits to attempting suicide multiple times. But that was before. Now he’s a witness to the power of Jesus to change a life—the power to find people at their weakest, to lift them from despair, to turn their emptiness to purpose and their sorrow and self-pity to joy.
Aung Ko, the eldest of five children, was born to a Bharmar father, a carpenter, and a Shan mother. They were a devoted Buddhist family. And when Aung Ko was seven years old, his father moved them to a town closer to the major city of Yangon, seeking better employment, eventually settling in Shwe Pyi Thar, where they live today.
About this time, Aung Ko began suffering from a disease in one of his eyes. Despite their heartbreak, his parents couldn’t afford to take him to a clinic to see a doctor and soon the disease spread to his other eye. Over time, Aung Ko’s condition worsened until, as a teenager, he went totally blind. He had finished seventh grade but was unable to continue beyond that.
Adrift and depressed, Aung Ko saw only emptiness ahead. Every day felt dreadfully long. Without hope, he began to have suicidal thoughts, which over time solidified, until one dark day, he acted. But his attempt was not fatal. When nothing changed, he tried again, then again, but he never succeeded.
When Aung Ko was about 30 years old, a Christian evangelist arrived in his village and began talking to people about Jesus. “Because the man was from the Karen tribe, I assumed that Jesus was a Karen ethnic god,” Aung Ko says. “But the evangelist explained that Jesus was the God of all people and nationalities.” As a result of the evangelist’s messages, Aung Ko’s whole family were baptised as Christians.
Since Aung Ko was blind, he could not learn more about Jesus through books, so he searched for audio sources of information. That’s how he discovered programs by Adventist World Radio (AWR).
“I soon grew to love these programs,” Aung Ko says. “Only the radio could comfort me. I noted the broadcast time and would listen every day, which I still do today. I liked the sermons about Jesus the Creator. Before, I didn’t know who God was, but I came to know everything through the radio.”
Every topic captured Aung Ko’s attention, from children’s stories to Bible-heavy sermons, health advice and nature talks. As his knowledge grew, he decided that he should share what he was hearing. So he called his neighbours and formed a small group. Soon the people were meeting faithfully once a week. Aung Ko focused on the radio programs even more intently, doing his best to capture all of the details.
“I could manage to remember some of the programs,” he says. “But I thought that there was perhaps a better way. So I called the AWR office and asked if they could send me the recordings.”
The AWR producers and staff in Yangon are highly engaged with their listeners, so they went a step further and visited Aung Ko in person. The technician, Saw Kapaw Moo, filled a USB thumb drive with MP3 files, which Aung Ko could listen to over and over at his leisure. And that’s how he developed his public speaking abilities to the point that he became a popular speaker and respected Christian leader. Now he has a real purpose and despite his blindness and lack of access to resources, every month he is invited to preach at a church.
From this beginning he founded a community services group, the Golden Eagle Handicap Foundation, which assists needy people in the community.
“I’m so happy that I’ve come to know God,” Aung Ko says with conviction. “Without the radio message, my life would be meaningless, and I could not continue living.”
Adventist World Radio (AWR), an international Christian broadcaster to even the hardest-to-reach people groups of the world. To find out about Adventist World Radio—its coverage and schedules, and how you can support AWR—visit www.awr.org.