Hit first by COVID-19 and then a bloody coup that has brought ongoing violence, local missionaries in Burma (Myanmar) are bringing light to unprecedented depths of darkness.
With some civilians dressed as soldiers and some soldiers dressed as civilians, it is often impossible to know who is responsible for ongoing acts of terrorism, the leader of a native ministry said.
“The situation is very bad – we are in a battlefield, every day there is killing,” he said. “We have bombs exploding everywhere. It is very risky to go outside. If it is not necessary, we dare not go out.”
Since the military took over the country on Feb. 1, most workers stay inside, fearing for their lives. The hunger that nearly a year of COVID-19 lockdowns brought grew more acute as indiscriminate killings left people even more isolated, and local missionaries and those they were serving would not have survived without support from Christian Aid Mission donors.
“After this coup, everybody is frightened, so we pray – I think everybody is praying more than before,” the ministry leader said. “Because everybody has no work, no job, no office, nothing, it encourages us to love each other. We are more united, so we share things with our church members. In our church, when someone doesn’t have food, we call each other and we share with each other. We show Christian love more.”
More local missionaries surviving the deadly combination of COVID-19 and the coup allows them to help others. Some are able to provide food and other aid, many others share the gospel.
“In one state one of our Bible school graduates is doing a very good job,” the leader said. “It is a very remote area, and it is not easy to get to, even by bicycle or motorbike, in the rainy season. But we can reach it in the summer.”
Other local missionaries have reached out to an ethnic group that traditionally has been in conflict with their own tribe, he added.
“They were able to reach many people,” the leader said. “The rest of those spreading the gospel are mostly in towns and cities. There are some pastors who are always on Facebook, always preaching.”
Sunday church meetings that took place on Zoom due to the pandemic were prohibited after the coup, the leader said.
“No one can have Zoom meetings on Sunday,” he said, adding that he calls congregation members once a week.
“I call them on the phone and encourage them, and they look good in their spiritual life,” he said. “And in rural areas, they also pray, but I am not sure how they will be – some look stronger than before, they say they pray every day, but other weeks, they may become weaker.”
In one outlying area, five families and three singles meet for worship, he said. That gathering is a two-hour journey from the leader’s base, and in another area another worker leads a worship meeting of four families, he said.
“When it was not so dangerous, I visited them, preached there and encouraged them,” the leader said. “The churches have learned many lessons. In the past, it was very rare that they had family worship, but now, every day, because they don’t have anything to do, they have Bible study or a worship meeting. It is a very bad situation, but it has also brought some good.”
Communication with area leaders is hit-or-miss since the coup. The leader is able to make phone calls with two area leaders every two weeks, but he cannot reach three others because they do not have a phone line, he said.
If current conditions continue, he and others will soon be lacking daily food, the leader said.
“My family is doing good; we study the Bible every day,” he said. “I have a correspondence course, and I also send some copies to church members to study. It is not very good to go outside. Every day bombs explode. It is dangerous.”
Fleeing to Jungle
In one state where fighting has grown worse, all villagers have fled to the jungles, including two graduates of the ministry’s Bible school, the leader said.
“Two of our alumni who graduated this year were also in danger and ran from their village, and they tried their best to minister to their own people in their wanderings,” he said. “Please pray for their daily provision. They are in a very bad situation. Now they have run out their phone bill, so that we cannot contact them anymore.”
Another ministry that saw its local support drop due to COVID-19 last year is now facing darker times.
“This year the situation went from bad to worse because of the military coup,” the ministry leader said. “The contribution from local churches is much less in the last three months. Now many of our people lost their jobs and are displaced. The monthly offerings we used to get have dropped, as many of our members are struggling to find their daily food.”
Armed conflict drove many people to India, where they contracted COVID-19, returned to Burma and infected others, he said.
“Within the last two weeks, more than 30 people died; many hundreds have got the virus,” he said. “This is an alarming situation. Many of our dear ones, church members, are getting sick.”
At the same time, many doctors have joined a civil disobedience protest movement, he added. As a result, the government hospital is unable to treat COVID-19 patients, and private hospitals are closed due to heavy fighting.
“Therefore, community-based groups and churches are helping the patients,” the leader said. “Volunteers are caring for them. We only have a very few number of medical workers and doctors. We don’t have enough oxygen. We are in great fear. We pastors are going here and there to find oxygen. We can’t lock down ourselves, since we need to help some of our members.”
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