Evangelists in Burma Trust God amid Hostilities

December 15, 2016

Native missionary preaches to villagers in Burma.
An indigenous missionary preaches the good news of Christ to villagers in Burma (Myanmar).

A Buddhist couple from Burma (also called Myanmar) found work – and Christ – in Thailand. In spite of the earnings they sent back to relatives in their home country, upon their return to Burma the welcome they received as Christians was less than enthusiastic.

The couple, unidentified for security reasons, had requested that the relatives buy land for them and for the extended family with the remittances they had sent. The relatives did purchase land, but when the couple returned to their village earlier this year, their relatives refused to allow them to live on the property because of their Christian faith, an indigenous missionary reported.

"Finally, their relatives gave them a small piece of land at the corner of their village for a temporary dwelling," he said. "Moreover, they were strictly prohibited not to receive any Christian pastor or guests at their home, and not to have worship services at their home."

Indigenous missionaries tried to visit the couple, testing the degree of opposition the relatives might put up.

"When their relatives saw us visiting them in their home, they immediately came to their home, rebuking them severely and threatening to kick them out of the house," the indigenous missionary said. "Sometimes they deliberately hung up a poster that said, 'This house is for sale.' So we withdrew and stopped visiting their house."

The couple, who have two children, have been allowed to remain at their modest home, but wary Buddhist villagers keep constant vigil on their activities, with the more hostile ones frequently hurling false accusations at them, he said.

The couple's motive for moving back to Burma in the first place was to bring word of the salvation of Christ to their home villages and begin a fellowship. Undaunted, they are trusting in God to continue.

"These believers are not dismayed and dispirited even though they are in many troubles, but they are still strong in their faith, trusting God that we will get a small amount of land soon for worship at a village and evangelize all the villagers," the missionary said. "They do not even want to move anywhere. We have a big dream and prayer that we will get permission and land for worship services at this very village to proclaim the gospel of Christ for the extension of the kingdom of God."

In Burma, official policies also result in difficulties for Christians to obtain church buildings, according to a report released Tuesday (Dec. 13) by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Typical structure where a house church meets in Burma.
Typical structure where a house church meets in Burma (Myanmar).

"Discriminatory restrictions on land ownership for religious purposes affects Christian communities across Burma," notes the report, entitled, "Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma."

The USCIRF report documents incidents of intimidation and violence against Christians, forced relocation and destruction of Christian cemeteries, attacks on places of worship, and an ongoing campaign of coerced conversion to Buddhism, particularly in Chin and Naga areas.

Indigenous missionaries in Burma face other obstacles. Former President Thein Sein signed Burma's Religious Conversion Law into effect last year, requiring 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.

Applying to convert "with intent to insult, disrespect, destroy or to abuse religion" will be punished with as much as two years in jail, according to USCIRF, which has stated that the law would provide grounds for members of forsaken religions to file vindictive charges against those who have left. The new law, widely condemned in the international human rights community, forces those seeking to convert to provide an extensive list of personal information to the registration boards and answer intrusive questions.

About 80 percent to 90 percent of the country's population practices Buddhism, which includes spiritist, occult and superstitious beliefs that pre-date Buddhism. Evangelical Christians make up about 5 to 9 percent of the country's population.

In Burma, where the typical home contains a shrine to Buddha with his image commonly placed on a throne-like structure, many people consecrate their Buddha statue with a ritual that is believed to imbue it with a sacred quality that protects the home and area from misfortune. Mixed into the attribution of powers to Buddha is worship of spirits – including 37 "great spirits," most of whom were humans who died violently, along with the rest of the more common spirits associated with trees, water, mountains and other aspects of nature.

Worship of these spirits predates Buddhism in Burma, but the beliefs and rituals merged with Buddhism as the religion gained prominence in the country. Professing allegiance to Christ alone is seen as angering the very spirits both villagers and urban dwellers hope to placate.

Facing these cultural and legal obstacles is another Burmese couple who became Christians while living in Thailand. They have returned and also are working to bring people to Christ in Burma, an indigenous missionary in an undisclosed area said.

He has worked with the couple for several months, helping to spread the gospel and worshiping with them in their house.

"The Lord increased our numbers with three more families from that village," he said.

Their church had met previously at another house, but the Buddhist parents of the Christian who made the house available for worship drove him out after learning of his newfound faith.

"The first family with whom we worked together in church planting was kicked out from their housing, which belongs to their parents, due to being Christian," the indigenous missionary said. "But a rich man bought land and built a house for this family on the other land at the same village. This new Christian now works at the boarding school of the one who bought land for him."

The indigenous missionary thanked God for this provision, and he thanked Christian Aid Mission donors for making outreaches by all the ministry teams possible.

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