Amid death and despair in a country wracked by COVID-19, local missionaries in Burma (Myanmar) are going to streets, parks and prisons, daring to offer help and hope.
With 1,400 new coronavirus cases reported each day and a daily toll of 25 deaths, the pandemic has kept workers in the majority-Buddhist country from organizing evangelistic camps and other large gatherings. Instead, they are sharing rice and gospel tracts in public places while taking the appropriate precautions, the leader of a local ministry said.
“COVID-19 causes many people to be jobless and hopeless, especially in the poor areas where we are living, but we bring hope to those people by encouraging them in the word of God and help them by distributing rice, which is our main food, for them as much as we can,” the leader said.
Local missionaries recently distributed rice to more than 300 people and gospel tracts to at least 500.
They also made visits to a prison with 500 inmates, providing noodles, rice and coffee. They are allowed to visit prisoners individually in their cells.
“Most of them are Burmese people whose religion is Buddhism, but when they are in prison everyone is hungering for hope and encouragement, and spiritually they need some comfort,” the leader said. “Even though they are isolated and lonely, their future becomes bright when we share the gospel with them. Whenever we visit a prison, we have seen a change of lives in the prisoners.”
One of the inmates, Aung Myint*, was addicted to drugs since his youth. He was a Buddhist who had never heard the gospel before he went to prison for using drugs. Myint suffered such severe withdrawal symptoms while in prison that he often said he wanted to kill himself, the leader said.
“It is very difficult for drug-addicted people to overcome without the help of God,” the leader said. “The first thing we told him to do is to read the Bible every day and to meditate on the Bible every morning.”
Workers told Myint that if he put his trust in God, the Lord could change his life in a way that would eliminate his need for drugs. Prayer, Bible reading and meditation helped him overcome addiction in six months, and when he was released, he left prison a truly free man, the leader said.
“Now he gives his testimony to everyone he meets – how in his old life he used drugs and did not have a job, just spent his life on gambling,” he said. “But now that he has Jesus in his life, he’s stopped doing all those bad things and instead is spending time with Christ, reading the Bible every day and attending church every Sunday. A Buddhist found Jesus and became a new, Christian son of God.”
Burma is the third worst pandemic-hit country of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states, behind Indonesia and the Philippines.
After a second wave of COVID-19 cases struck in mid-August, Burma’s largest city, Yangon, saw daily cases peak at 1,900 on Oct. 10, though the number dropped in December to between 500 to 700 daily. By the end of the year, the pandemic was increasing in provincial areas such as Mandalay and Bago regions and Mon and Rakhine states, with Mandalay reporting more than 300 new cases per day, according to local news reports.
Those figures led to stay-at-home orders in certain areas, compelling some local missionaries to rely more on online outreach. Among the new projects starting up is the production of gospel songs and sermons that are distributed through social media, the leader said.
“We are now producing gospel songs to distribute online worldwide,” he said. “These days everyone uses online programs such as Facebook and YouTube, so it is very important to reach those people through our ministry. We are praying that God will provide for our needs – so far we are needing some instruments.”
In an area yet untouched by the pandemic, local missionaries with another ministry saw young siblings come to Christ when they enrolled at a Bible college, first a young woman and then her brother. Eager to see other family members hear the gospel, the brother and sister arranged for local missionaries to visit their village last summer.
The ministry leader said local missionaries staying at the home of the siblings’ father encountered opposition from the two new Christians’ stepmother, a strong Buddhist. At the same time, their father listened intently to the gospel.
“We prayed hard and kept on teaching and sharing about the living God, and when we counseled the father, he dared not respond,” the leader said. “After two full days of teaching, seven young people come to faith in the Lord.”
They went to a river for baptisms, and as a local missionary read from the Bible, the siblings’ father ran into the water where the seven were about to be baptized.
“Everybody was surprised and thought that he would make some problems,” the leader said. “But he confessed his sin with tears and got baptism. Now he is a very strong Christian in this Buddhist village, for which we praise the Lord.”
Local workers throughout Burma are overcoming various obstacles to spread the message of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Please consider a donation today to help them share Christ and cultivate maturity in those who follow Him.
*Name changed for security reasons