November 21, 2012
Recently, Rakhine state (formerly Arakan state) of Mynamar has received international attention from the media during the U.S. President’s visit to the area in mid-November. During the last four decades, Rohingyas, who are Muslims originally from Bangladesh, have migrated into Rakhine state, settling in villages and towns. The Rohingyas are faithful to their Islamic beliefs and have not assimilated with the locals, who are predominantly Theravada Buddhists.
On Oct. 20, 2012, riots broke out when mobs of Arakanese extremists were running rampant against the Rohingyas, venting their anger upon them and trying to force them to return to their homeland.
In the midst of the confusion and pandemonium, Christian church members in this wide mission field faced difficulties and hardships. The pastors working in the towns sent reports to the Myanmar Free Mission of what happened during Oct. 20-25. One pastor who works with the mission relayed news from the other pastors:
In Kyauk Phyu where he works, the Rev. K. shared that 250 houses were destroyed and two Muslim mosques were burnt down. Two dozen people were hospitalized.
"Our church here in Kyauk Phyu consists of 10 families," says Rev. K. "The bazaar and all the shops are closed, as well as the schools. We could not go outside, so we had to suffer hunger and hardships at home behind closed doors. Then the mob began dismantling and destroying the 25 houses near our quarters. My wife and children were panic stricken, so I had to take them to a place of safety in the home of one of our church members. I came back alone and kept vigil in our parsonage by myself for three days and two nights. On the 24th, at sundown, all our church members left their homes bringing my family with them. Here, we are all living together, keeping the wolves at bay, and doing our best to eke out an existence."
A riot also broke out in the ancient town of Marauk Oo, where 300 houses were burnt to the ground. Four people lost their lives and seven were hospitalized.
"All the shops are closed, so we cannot buy anything," says Rev. L. whose church in Marauk Oo consists of five families. "The bus shuttle service from Yangon to Sittwe is not running. We dare not go out to look for food and sustenance."
"Arakanese mobs fell upon the Rohingyas living in our town," says Rev. H. from May Pung. "When they were attacked, the Muslims fought back in defense. A battle ensued and both sides fought with all their might. Five hundred houses were razed to the ground; many died and many were injured."
Rev. H. and his family could not go outside and had to stay indoors. His church members, 19 families in all, had to run away to seek refuge and look for a place of safety. They cannot go out to earn their living; so they are in dire need of aid and succor from above.
Due to the fierce fighting between the Muslims and Arakanese, 1000 houses burned, many people died and many were hospitalized in Min Pia.
"The fighting and the conflagration of burning houses took place near our Mission quarters," says Rev. M. "Taking the initiative my family ran around trying to get food and other necessities. All the shops were closed, so they came back with empty hands. We cannot contact nor communicate with other towns or villages because the Inland Water Transport services are at a standstill. We can neither receive nor send news at all."
On Oct. 25 at 4 a.m., fighting broke out in Kyauh Daw between Arakan crowds and Rohingyas.
"They fought with knives and spears," says Rev. T., a minister working there. "One combatant died in front of our quarters and two were badly wounded and were carried to the hospital. Houses were burning all around us until about 8 a.m., when the fire fighters were able to keep the fires under control. Inside our quarters, my wife and children crouched and shrank with fear as the jeering crowds shouted, urging their enemies to come outside and die."
Although the fighting is between the Arakanese and the Rohingyas, the Christian ministries in the Rakhine state are suffering because of the violence all around them.
Pray for effective witness of Christians to both Buddhists and Muslims. Pray that much-needed funds will be given so victims of these attacks, Christians and non-Christians, would have food, shelter and supplies provided by the indigenous ministries in the area. Christian Aid is in touch with local ministries and can get funds directly into the region where they’re most needed. When local believers provide assistance to Muslims and Buddhists in the name of Jesus, they are deeply moved by the unexpected generosity, and opportunities for witness abound.