Baptized in Burma: Churches thrive in Asia
The Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, was devastated…
‘Our country is now just a battlefield.”
That’s the message from a church leader in Myanmar after months of violent protests that have resulted in an estimated 600 deaths in the Southeast Asian nation.
“The situation is so bad that we have no hope,” the church leader, whose name is being withheld for security reasons, said in a recent message to fellow Christians in the U.S. “It is unknown at this time what will happen in the future. Myanmar — and we — need your prayer constantly.”
Such messages are rare, said Mark Hooper, since the country’s armed forces seized control of Myanmar, also known as Burma, on Feb. 1 following an election that military leaders claimed was beset by widespread fraud. As protests have intensified, internet access has dwindled.
“Besides the physical fear of harm, they are facing hunger and helplessness,” said Hooper, a longtime missionary to Asia who works for Texas-based Missions Resource Network. Burmese Christians know that “their only hope is Christ,” Hooper said, but their ever-worsening situation is nonetheless “heartbreaking.”
Christians outside Myanmar feel equally helpless, said Wayne Barrier, director of missions evangelism for the Double Springs Church of Christ in northern Alabama. Commerce has slowed to a crawl, businesses have shut down, and food prices have skyrocketed. Banks and money wiring services in Burma aren’t functioning either, making it impossible to send aid.
Burmese Christians are no strangers to hardship, said Barrier, who first traveled to Myanmar in 1996 and helped establish a ministry training program there with the government’s permission.
“They just put us to shame,” he said of the Burmese believers, who claim Jesus as their savior in a country of 54 million souls, nearly 90 percent of whom claim Buddhism as their faith. “They praise us for going over there, but those people literally put their lives on the line for the gospel.”
‘They just put us to shame. They praise us for going over there, but those people literally put their lives on the line for the gospel.’
About a dozen students comprised the first class of the ministry training school — on the outskirts of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon. They preached, planted and established additional schools, one at the foothills of the Himalayas and one near the country’s border with India. Close to 2,000 students have participated in the ministry training program. Four years ago, Denver-based Bear Valley Bible Institute International launched an advanced training program to prepare Burmese teachers for the growing ministry schools across Myanmar.
Ministries associated with Churches of Christ have sent relief aid to Myanmar after disasters. In 2008, Arkansas-based Partners in Progress spent $200,000 on relief efforts for people in the country’s Irawaddy Delta after Cyclone Nargis claimed more than 30,000 lives. The nonprofit helped feed 9,000 people for a year after the storm, said Bill McDonough, who oversees the ministry.
Baptisms followed, “and we have watched in wonder as they changed their hearts and lives and brought their friends to Jesus,” McDonough said.
Small congregations meet across Myanmar, Barrier said, but “we don’t know what number. There are hundreds of little house churches. It could even be thousands.”
Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948 and was ruled by its military from 1962 to 2011. In 2015 the National League for Democracy, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, won 86 percent of the seats in the country’s Assembly of the Union. Suu Kyi served as head of state until February, when she and members of her party were removed from office by the military, who allege that she violated the country’s official secrets act, possessed illegal walkie-talkies and published information that may “cause fear or alarm,” the BBC reports.
Protesters began flooding the streets nightly, banging on drums or water jugs and “making as much noise as possible,” Barrier said. Many used a three-finger salute that originated in “The Hunger Games” books and movies. Violent clashes soon erupted, prompting Christians to stay home.
“Nowhere in Myanmar is safe right now,” said K.P. Yohannan, founder of Gospel For Asia (GFA) World, a humanitarian ministry that serves the region. “Every single night is spent with fear, and dawn seems so hard to reach. The people are restless, and they’re exhausted physically and mentally. Many businesses have been burned down.”
Christians around the globe should pray for a quick resolution to the crisis, Barrier said, and for food and medicine to reach the people of Myanmar.
As he was responding to The Christian Chronicle’s request for updates, Barrier received a message from a Burmese Christian who said people there had been told they were about to lose internet access for at least a week.
Before the online blackout, another Burmese Christian, a minister, sent a message to fellow believers.
“I have encouraged the church members with God’s words,” he said, “and I share with them about Jesus’ love.”
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