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Evangelists in Burma Overcome Obstacles

January 21, 2016

Members of a house church listen to gospel preaching in Burma.
Members of a house church listen to gospel preaching in Burma.

In spite of steep mountains, opposition and a new law stipulating that the government must approve all religious conversions, an indigenous ministry leader in Burma (Myanmar) said the Holy Spirit has not slowed down.

"God is moving fast in our country, more than ever before, to the few elect among the Burmese and the Karen animists," said the leader, whose name is withheld for security reasons. "Our workers are giving training to the new Christians on how to share the gospel among their own people, and about how very near is His return."

The government gives special status to Buddhism, widely practiced among the Burmese majority, and the ministry leader said he was amazed at the gospel inroads to the Burmese in the past two years. Minority groups such as the Karen also are increasingly embracing Christ, and the ministry has seen pockets of success in reaching the Kayan, especially the Padaung sub-set, and other tribal groups.

Outreach to the Kayan began in eastern Shan state in 2014. Travel is "very hard, all up and down terrain" for the ministry's lone roving evangelist in the area, the leader said.

"They say that if they become Christian, the spirit of their ancestral fathers will be provoked, and unlucky things will happen to them, but slowly they are able to learn that God is the most powerful God and He will protect them," he said. "So prayer and answered prayers are a living testimony for them, and 16 adults have now received the Lord and were baptized."

Although personal repentance, the prompting of the Holy Spirit and encounters with Christ tend to take place outside of bureaucratic controls, President Thein Sein on Aug. 26, 2015 signed the Religious Conversion Law, which aims to restrict religious decisions. It requires those wishing to change faiths to undergo an interview and engage in religious study for up to 90 days before they can obtain approval for conversion from registration boards set up in townships.

Punishment for applying to convert "with intent to insult, disrespect, destroy or to abuse religion" would be as much as two years in jail, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which fears this provision would provide grounds for members of abandoned religions to file vindictive criminal charges against those who have left.

Widely condemned in the international human rights community, the new law forces those seeking to convert to provide an extensive list of personal information to the registration boards and answer intrusive questions.

"Pray for us fervently; we don't know how long the situation will be calm," the native ministry leader said. "Things are changing rapidly, going from bad to worse. We must hit the iron while it is hot."

The new law adds more obstacles to the advance of the message of Christ in villages where indigenous missionaries already encounter threats, deprivation and violence from Buddhist monks, followers of native animistic beliefs and local officials. Some indigenous missionaries count the cost and find outreach to certain areas would be too much to bear. The ministry leader had been praying that two young, Burmese-speaking men who recently put their trust in Jesus would share their faith in some of the country's 40,000 Burmese-majority villages that the gospel has not yet reached.

"The two Burmese fellows who once were interested in reaching Burmese villages gave up the idea, saying the situation was too risky," he said.

At the same time, veteran members of his team have forged ahead. After proclaiming Christ to 2,000 people in various areas in three districts, team members saw 67 people put their trust in Jesus, he said. One evangelist who led Bible training in an undisclosed town in Irrawaddy Division, where the ministry has planted house churches, reported that 60 students are now prepared to share their faith house to house – but discreetly, as they cannot even share it in their own homes.

"Her training helped 60 students who are young people still living at home," the director said. "They are still under the care of their parents, and they have no courage yet to reveal that they've received the Lord; if they did, they would be disowned by their families."

A Padaung woman with traditional brass rings on her neck listens to a gospel presentation.
A Padaung woman with traditional brass rings on her neck listens to a gospel presentation.

The evangelist who led the Bible training has planted seven churches, and another member of the director's team has formed six congregations.

"He's reaching every home he approaches among the Burmese-speaking people, and his home church has 83 members of different nationalities," he said. "Quite often I have visited his church and spoken the Word of God. His integrity and faithfulness is beyond measure, and he loves the Lord very much. I have been working with him for the last 20 years, and he is active and faithfully serving the Lord."

Following last year's widespread flooding, the ministry has continued to give aid. Teams recently provided rice, clothing and medicines and helped build small houses in six villages devastated by mudslides. In addition, the ministry is caring for 64 children at orphanages in two homes.

Besides outreach to the ethnic Karen and Kayan, the ministry is sending team members to proclaim Christ to the ethnic Asho Chin scattered throughout various areas of Thayetmyo District, in the Magway Region of central Burma. The largest religious segment of the Asho Chin is Buddhist – 40 percent, according to the Joshua Project – while many others are animists who worship spirits, the director said.

About 25 percent of the Asho Chin are evangelical Christians, according to the Joshua Project, which states 30 percent of the ethnic group belong to other Christian traditions, and the ministry leader described those members as Christian in name only. He requested prayer for the message to break through the barriers of the Asho Chin.

"So far among the animists, an elderly lady received the Lord," he said. "The Asho Chin are not quick to change, but slowly their eyes will be opened. Please send more assistance, so that we may help lay preachers while the season is still good."

To help indigenous missionaries meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 715MTSM. Thank you!

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