Busting Barriers to Build the Kingdom in Burma
March 2, 2017
The end of 54 years of military rule in Burma (Myanmar) was judged to have ended when pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was elected nearly a year ago, but rights advocates note two things have not changed - the military still exercises much control, and Buddhism remains the de facto state religion.
Suu Kyi, whom the former junta put under house arrest for nearly 15 of the 21 years between 1989 and 2010, assumed power as state counsellor on April 6, 2016. The military now supports her National League of Democracy party. While the military once violently quelled Buddhist dissenters, the "special position of Buddhism" is emphasized in the 2008 constitution and continues to be invoked as a uniting force against a multi-ethnic, multi-faith country.
Since the pre-Suu Kyi days of the military regime, the standard inter-faith meetings of Burma's Ministry of Religious Affairs has not required senior Buddhist monks to attend -- instead, the minister himself represents Buddhism, a recent report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted.
"This conflation of roles illustrates the elevation of Buddhism as the de facto state religion," the report states.
"Our great enemy, Satan, got angry, and he used the village leaders, Buddhists, to try to stop the meeting and the ministry," the director said.
Entitled, "Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma," the December 2016 report states that Burma has long employed discriminatory restrictions on Christian buildings while introducing a mechanism for spending on Buddhist infrastructure. Since the 1990s, it adds, the military has increasingly occupied predominantly Christian ethnic Chin, Kachin, and Naga areas, "destroying churches and crosses while simultaneously expanding Buddhist infrastructure such as monasteries and pagodas, at times with the use of forced labor exacted from Christians."
The previous regime also sent Buddhist monks loyal to military rule to monasteries in Chin, Kachin, and Naga areas, the report states, establishing Buddhist strongholds that actively oppose Christian efforts.
Against this backdrop of hostility toward non-Buddhist faiths, indigenous missionaries have worked diligently and painstakingly to establish small Christian communities.
"Church planting among the unreached people is very hard work," the leader of an indigenous ministry said. "It goes very slowly, and church growth is difficult."
The Spirit of God is moving nevertheless, he said, and one of the ministry's native missionaries started a new work in an unreached village two years ago. A small house church formed.
"Our great enemy, Satan, got angry, and he used the village leaders, Buddhists, to try to stop the meeting and the ministry," the director said. "On Jan. 1, they told the missionary not to worship any more. Let's pray for wisdom to handle that kind of persecution, which has been confronted often by our missionaries."
The 80 to 90 percent of Burma's population that are Buddhists include many who practice spiritist and occult rituals. These villagers believe worship of Christ will anger the volatile spirits they hope to appease. Estimates of evangelical Christians range from 5 to 9 percent of Burma's population.
Many of the Christians are ethnic Chin and Kachin who, along with other ethnic minorities, have been locked in periods of separatist war with successive governments since Burma attained independence in 1948, the USCIRF report states. Many Kachin have suffered protracted displacement since Burma violated a 17-year cease-fire in 2011, according to USCIRF, resulting in a new generation of war victims.
During evangelistic events, another indigenous ministry has discovered many children who have been abandoned in the course of the regional wars.
"There have been civil wars in the country, especially in Shan state, and many children have been left fatherless, homeless and with no education," the leader of the native ministry said. "We try our best to deliver these hopeless children from their bad situations, and we have started two children's homes. Our purpose is to help them to know the living God and get saved."
After providing the children education and training to support themselves, the ministry assists them to help their own people to thrive and receive Christ. Besides war orphans, the children's homes also serve kids from families too poor to feed and care for them. These children sleep at home with their families, and by day they receive food and education alongside the war orphans.
A child in grade seven or under can be educated for about $100 per year, the director said.
"Once the children reach 8th grade and beyond, there are no local schools, so the children must live in a boarding school near the middle and high school in another area, which is more expensive - $300 per child per year," he said. "The ministry has a boarding home where these children are accepted freely, and their parents help pay for their food as they are able."
In December, 30 of these upper grade children professed that they had received Christ, he said.
"Providing children's homes and boarding homes are an effective means to share the gospel, not only with the children, but also with the villagers who know them or their extended families," he said.
To help indigenous missionaries to 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: 715HAM. Thank you!