THE FORGOTTEN MYANMAR:
THE SUFFERING OF CHRISTIANS IN THE GOLDEN LAND
WRF Member Henry Lyann
Christianity, down through the centuries, had undergone various types of suffering and persecution. The suffering or persecution of the Church differs from one location to another and from one type to another. But with these persecutions Christianity has spread like a wild fire, consuming the whole world within a short period of time. Looking at the past, one should not be pessimist in his view of suffering but he should understand that there are positive results even in suffering.
In this article, I would like to draw your attention to the situation and suffering of Christians in Myanmar. Before I go further, have you heard about Myanmar? When is the last time you pray for Myanmar? When was the last time you stretch your hands for the works of the Lord in Myanmar? I fear that the majority of the world knows little about our beloved country.
Let me tell you briefly about Myanmar. The population of Myanmar is over 55 million and the major races are the Bamar, the Chin, the Kachin, the Shan, the Kayah, the Kayin, the Mon and the Rakhine. Myanmar, formerly known as BURMA, is known for its fertile land and rich natural resources and is the largest country in the South-East Asia Peninsular, sharing the borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. It is about the size of Texas and the size of United Kingdom and France combined with a total land area of 676,577 sq. km of which over 50 percent is covered with forests.
Generally, Myanmar has three seasons. The monsoon or rainy season is from May to October, winter season from November to February, and the hot season from March to May. As far Religions, Myanmar is a Buddhist country comprising more than 87 percent of the people, mainly Bamar, Shan, Mon and some Arakanes, embrace Theravada Buddhism. There are also Christians (6%), Muslims (3.8%), Hindus (0.5%), and some animists (1.1%).
As we flip the pages of the early church history of Christianity in Myanmar, we will learn that the first Christian converts and leaders were under a severe persecution and suffered extreme brutality. This suffering came (and still exists) in two forms: The Outward Suffering of the Christians in Myanmar and The Inward Suffering of the Christians in Myanmar. Though many are familiar with the outward suffering of our people and through I mention the Outward suffering, here my purpose is to lay the greatest stress on the Inward suffering of the true believers in Myanmar. But first let me cover the outward sufferings.
THE OUTWARD SUFFERING OF THE CHRISTIANS IN MYANMAR
By outward suffering, I mean that Christians in Myanmar are persecuted bodily or physically. Many Christians leader have often discussed the persecuted Christians and churches in such countries as China, India, and others, but they always almost ignore the believers of Myanmar, in a country which is located between China and India. And I know many of you will be aware of the persecution of the believers in China. But are you aware that the Myanmar Christians constantly serve under the threat of severe bodily harm?
Churches in Myanmar are burned and banned, Christians are beaten and killed. New converts are driven away from their families and communities. Some are taken to jail and never heard from again. In these days, we often suffer alone and the only comfort we receive is from the Holy Spirit and the written word. We often wonder where our brothers and sisters in Christ in the outside world, and if they are aware that we are prohibited to worship, are beaten brutally, and thrown into jail. We badly need your prayers and your support.
Previously we had almost no way to get our story out to the outside world. But today, thanks to our sovereign and gracious Lord, we now have the Internet which helps us make contact with our brothers and sisters outside the walls of Myanmar. Even this contact could be taken away from us at any moment by the authorities. But until that occurs, we want to use this wonderful opportunity to tell our story to the world. We are also aware that Christians throughout the world are suffering in this manner and we know that we are not alone. We also know that we must take our share of Christ’s suffering and trust a God who calls on us to suffer in order to strengthen our faith.
THE INWARD SUFFERING OF CHRISTIANS IN MYANMAR
By inward suffering, I mean that Christians in Myanmar are persecuted emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Seldom do we think of suffering or persecution in terms of unseen or invisible means. Not only are Christians in Myanmar persecuted physically, but also they are persecuted spiritually. Our inner being is under attack. Our emotions are abused and spiritual lives are bound.
As a human being, born to be free, we have lost our rights as citizens. Our freedoms are taken in this country on the day we come into this world. As a Christian, limited by the invisible borders of this country, we have no religious freedom. Fear comes in the place of freedom. Poverty is our close friend and injustice our brother. The world financial Crisis seems no surprise to us because we’ve been under severe economic crisis for more than four decades. We have been distorted under this suffering. It is more painful than that of physical persecution. We live with the loss of human rights, the absence of religious freedom, and thus we live in fear and poverty of spirit.
Our human rights are quite different from that of most of the remainder of the world. We are so much under oppression that our definition of human rights means keep silent and do what “they want us to do.” Only when I went out of the country, did I clearly understand the real meaning of human right and experience it for the first time in my life time. It is so sweet, sweeter than honey. Most people who live in areas where human rights are honored fail to appreciate what a gift they have been given. But we long, dream and hope for it, saying that one day a time may come to embrace it into our chest, and believe that our dream will come true. We are so familiar with the language of Ecclesiastes; “everything has its own time” we patiently wait for that time. When Christians in Myanmar are given opportunity to exercise their rights, I am sure we will have to learn how to make proper use of them because we have never used before.
In Myanmar, according to the law, it is ordered that every religion is given freedom to exercise their faith and practice. So says the newspapers. However, one must understand order in the context of our country. The alleged freedom is only on paper, not in the practical life of the church or in the life of individual Christian. We are not permitted to build a Church building. We do not have the freedom of religious activities, tracts distribution, nor open field preaching. Praise and worship is something we do secretly and silently. Though they may claim we have religious freedom, in fact, we do not.
Under the pressure of such atmosphere, fear creeps into and reigns in the lives of the people and we take every step with fear. The fear of most people has to do with political or business issues, but those who are Christians constantly must face another more serious issue: fear of the authorities when all one wants is to live out his Christian life. Especially in the lives of the people who are in the ministry of our Lord are seriously concerned with religious freedom. We try to hide ourselves and ministry as possible as we could. Why? It is because of the fear that is inside of us. Fear becomes our unwanted friend and uninvited guest who stay with us under one roof. We, therefore, are driven by the force of fear.
When I mention poverty, I am sure that people in non-third world countries will immediately think about economic poverty. Though our country is beset with that type of poverty, I mainly want to emphasize on “poverty of mind.” With our loss of human rights and freedom of religion, a sense of hopelessness arises. Our minds tell us that others are superior and better than we are and that we could never achieve anything of significance. We have a tendency to pity ourselves and think that we were born to be small, ugly, and oppressed. We are afraid to daydream of accomplishing anything of value. Our ideas decay and we become paralyzed in our thinking. Thoughts of creativity and invention are driven from our minds and we have a sense of doom and despair and we live in a constant loss of vitality.
BENEFITS OF SUFFERING
But as a result of persecution, Christians and churches in Myanmar are growing spiritually. In times of persecution, we come to know who truly is a Christian and who is not. Persecution, therefore, is helping us to differentiate who are the lambs and are the wolves. It also purifies the life of the Church and brings unity among Christians. God uses persecution as a means to grow His body spiritually.
Because of persecution, the Church in Myanmar has grown in numbers also. As God has scattered his elect throughout our country, new churches have been established and te4h gospel has been advancing, as indeed Christ promised in His word.
We are aware that God’s people suffer all around the world. It appears that Western Christianity is suffering “intellectually,” whereas we in the Far East (and Middle East) suffer physically and emotionally. Suffering is a part of all of God’s children. That being the case, asking the Lord to take away our suffering and persecution would be like that of Paul who requested God three times to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” The Lord’s answer to Paul’s prayers was worthy of note: “My Grace is Sufficient for Thee.” My challenge to Christians in Myanmar, India, China and wherever there is persecution of Christian, that we find joy in suffering and that we seek to grow continuously by making use of this suffering. Unfortunately most of the Christians think that the only thing we should expect from the God is glory or blessing. But this is not so! We are called to share in the sufferings of our Lord. His grace will be sufficient for us and He will present us without spot or blemish in that great day when He returns to take us home. In the meantime, He will grow us in that grace while we are here on earth … through persecution and suffering!