(Voice of the Persecuted) You are invited to join us on Thursday, June 23, 2022 in a prayer conference call for the persecuted church hosted by Persecution Watch.
Myanmar (Formerly Burma): Population: 55.2 million, Christians 4.4 million
It was one year ago today, when the Burmese military (the Tatmadaw) overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government. The military moved quickly to detain both President Win Myint and democracy icon Aung Sung Suu Kyi, and to prevent the new members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) from being sworn into power. While Burma is no stranger to ethnic and religious violence from its hardline nationalist military, the nationwide conflict that would follow was less expected, leaving nearly 1,500 dead and almost 400,000 displaced. This coup is once again tearing open the wounds of ethnic and religious violence that the country has tried to close so many times.
In June 2021, ICC released a report, Caught in the Crossfire, which explored many of Myanmar’s Christian groups who are currently under threat from the junta’s campaign across the country. Now, over six months later, we reflect on the impact this conflict has had on three of Myanmar’s largely Christian populations, and what steps have been taken to alleviate their struggle and the struggle of all being affected in Myanmar.
One Year Later
The military coup was met by outrage by the international community and instigated widespread protests and civil disobedience within Myanmar. After protestors took to the streets, they were met with harsh resistance by the new junta’s security forces, which quickly became violent. To defend its supporters, a new opposition government was formed, the National Unity Government (NUG), and with it the Peoples Defense Force (PDF). The newly formed PDF allied itself with many of the country’s ethnic armed groups (EAG), who had experience resisting the military’s aggression against their ethnic territories. Many of these EAGs represent significant Christian populations within this Buddhist nation.
While this current conflict was not instigated to persecute the country’ Christian and ethnic minority populations, Myanmar’s Christians and ethnic minorities have been impacted heavily by the junta’s violent campaign of suppression. In the junta’s attempt to break the pro-democracy movement, they continue to target religious and ethnic minorities in the country’s outer regions who have resisted the junta’s leadership.
This resistance from the ethnic regions of Myanmar comes as no surprise, as the country had been on a tumultuous pathway toward a civilian-led democracy – which has now been derailed. Myanmar’s ethnic regions have pushed for various levels of autonomy since its independence and have regularly been challenged by the Burmese military since the military’s initial coup in 1962 – instability has reigned since. In response to their current resistance to the 2021 coup, the military has targeted these regions through coordinated shelling, pillaging, and burning of homes and churches.
Significant assaults have been conducted in Chin state, particularly around the city of Thantlang. As a non-Bamar and predominantly Christian region, Chin State has long been targets of the military’s ‘Burmanization’ campaigns in the 1990s. This history of conflict has caused scores of Chin people to be displaced to places like Malaysia, Thailand, and India. This history of conflict made it only likely that this would end up a significant front for the regime’s attempt to suppress its opposition.
According to Chin Human Rights Organization, it is estimated that between September 2021 and January 2022, 727 homes and structures have been torched by the junta, including seven churches and a dozen other religious buildings in Thantlang. On January 3rd alone, the Tatmadaw burned more than forty structures in the now abandoned Thantlang, including Gospel Baptist Church and the congregation’s living quarters. Also among the assaults was the burning of the United Pentecostal Church, the church of the Vice President, Henry Van Thio.
Over the past month, the junta has continued to torch the city of Thantlang, leaving many to believe they are looking to clear space for the brigade’s camp, however more obvious is their disregard for anything sacred – this has led them to the killings of many civilians. Tragically among them was Pastor Cung Biak Hum, who was killed by the Tatmadaw after the soldiers shelled at least 19 homes and a government building in Thantlang. At the time of his death, he had come out to help put out the fire for another church member.
Chin State has remained one of the epicenters of the conflict as many Chins have fled the daily fighting between the PDFs and the military. The number of people fleeing the violence has risen dramatically since the fighting began in April.
In Kayah state, home to the Karenni people, there has been increased fighting between local defense forces and the Tatmadaw, particularly around the capital city of Loikaw. The region has seen increased airstrikes and artillery shelling against civilians, displacing almost half of the population of the capital. UN sources estimate that more than 650 houses and civilian structures in Kayah, including churches and schools have been burned or destroyed since May of 2021.
At least 15 parishes in Loikaw Diocese in Kayah state have been severely affected by the increased fighting, while at least seven Catholic churches in the area have been hit by the attacks. It is estimated that 170,000 people have left their homes in Kayah, and aid groups have struggled to support these now displaced persons, many of whom are taking refuge on Myanmar’s eastern border with Thailand, however still not out of harm’s way.
In Kayah State, we also witnessed one of the military’s most terrible atrocities, the Christmas Eve massacre. Here more than thirty people were burnt alive despite Christian calls for peace over the holiday.
Kachin State represents one of Myanmar’s heavily Christian regions, who has been in and out of conflict with the Burmese regimes for decades. Having been geographically far from Yangon, the Kachin Independent Army resisted the Tatmadaw for years. However, its 2011 ceasefire has since crumbled and over 100,000 Kachins had been displaced from their homes, even before this current conflict started, leaving them vulnerable across the region.
Even as the Tatmadaw’s early focus was around suppressing the protests and solidifying its power in Naypyitaw, it never stopped its attacks on Kachin Christians. As early as February 28, the Tatmadaw raided a Kachin Baptist Church in Shan State, arresting eleven members of the congregation; they were released a day later, but only after severe beatings. Kachin has continued to see the harassment of Christians and pastors as the conflict prolongs, leaving many new internal refugees to seek refuge there and in neighboring Shan state.
Given the conflict’s scale and the likelihood that it will be prolonged, the region needs assistance that will have immediate impacts. Humanitarian assistance for those suffering throughout Myanmar and in regional refugee camps is critical. ASEAN and the West must coalesce other nations to find ways to pressure the regime to end their violent campaign and institute a path toward federalism that can better protect the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. The junta’s promise of new elections now seems unlikely, as their violent campaign and conviction of their opposition has tanked their credibility, leaving us convinced that they would avoid a free election.
- Pray that the Lord will convict the Military Junta and give them a desire for peace and reconciliation
- Pray that the Lord will intervene and bring a peaceful resolution to the ongoing civil war.
- Pray for those who have left Buddhism to follow Jesus—that God will strengthen, encourage and protect them.
- Pray that all believers in Myanmar will receive and enjoy fruitful fellowship with other Christians.
- Pray that the Lord will stretch out His hand of protection over the churches and houses targeted by the military
- Pray for healing and hope as the level of trauma among Christians is reaching crisis levels, men are killed, and survivors are left in despondency over the future.
- Pray that the Lord will continue to strengthen their faith and that Christians and remain joyful under suffering.
- Pray that the Lord that believer will be protected when reaching out giving the Gospel to Buddhists.
- Pray that NGOs work in the country will bear fruit. Pray for continued protection and wisdom for our partners who must in high-risk areas.
- Pray to the Lord that many believers in the endangered areas will go through persecution-preparedness Open Doors training.
- Pray to the Lord that He will encourage church leaders who struggle with the horrific memories of the violence inflicted by the military.
- Pray that the displaced villagers who fled to the mountains will find food and shelter.
- Pray to the Lord that governing bodies of neighboring stated will allow refugees to enter and find protection.
- Pray to the Lord that He will add to the number of believers in spite of the tumulus times that challenge Christians.
Again, we want to lift up these persecuted witnesses to the Lord:
- Leah Sharibu, prisoner of Boko Haram since 2018. Pray for her release.
- Alice Loksha Ngaddah, kidnapped February 2019. She is a mother of two, working as a nurse for UNICEF. Pray for her release.
- Pray for Pastor Wang Yi to be released from prison.
- Pray for Anita, a Christian convert facing a long prison term who escaped from Iran and praying to go to a country where she can express her faith openly.
- For the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from Iran, and his family as their Persecution continues. Pastor Nadarkhani is serving the second year of his six-year sentence.
Andy, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Moderator
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What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God. The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern time in the United States (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted, and the missions became one. Brother Blaine passed into glory on December 26, 2019. It was truly a blessing for all of us to serve alongside this dear man of God and he will be greatly missed. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch remains an important part of our mission. Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with the dedicated Persecution Watch prayer warrior team.
Prior to the passing of Brother Blaine, he confirmed the passing of the torch as prayer conference call leader to Nadia Dybvik. Nadia has a burdened heart for the persecuted and is a prayer warrior standing in the gap for them. She joined the Persecution Watch prayer team in 2013 and has been part of the core ever since. Before becoming the prayer call leader, she served in the role of prayer moderator since 2015. Blaine chose Nadia for her faithfulness to pray for the persecuted and her strong commitment to the Persecution Watch mission. We are blessed not only with her gift of prayer, but her genuine love for every brother and sister in Christ that comes on the call to pray. May the Lord continue to bless Nadia and the prayer team in the mission and their personal lives.
“Pray for us” is the number one request that we hear from the persecuted. As the members of the first century Church were moved by the Holy Spirit to pray, we too must continue to serve those suffering persecution by lifting them up to the Lord through prayer.
On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the conference call to share the trials they are facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer. Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.
Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone.
We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you. If you are new to the call and cannot find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!
God bless and protect you in your faithfulness to serve.
Lois Kanalos, Founder, Voice of the Persecuted, Nadia Dybvik, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Leader and the Persecution Watch Prayer Team
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