Myanmar has been in the news in a disturbing way since Feb 1, when the military responded to the declining voice of the party representing their views, and the growing voice of democracy among the people. Demonstrations this past weekend started with hundreds, and then thousands, peacefully walking the streets demanding return of elected officials.
The BBC has been a particularly good source of this news. I have been in contact almost daily with a national mission leader in Myanmar who is also a good friend. Here are some excerpts of his comments on the situation.
Two days after the takeover events:
“Our brothers and sisters on this side are doing well too and were thankful. We continue to pray for the safety and well being of the whole nation. Things are quite silent at this point. We feel like we are living in a dark place, and so much is at stake at this point. Yet, in all of these, we trust in the faithfulness of God and His sovereignty over the whole universe and in the midst of these troublesome situations. Deep down in our hearts, we experience the peace of Christ each day and for which we’re grateful.
What has been happening for the last couple of days have been very discouraging and disturbing to most of us in the country, and our hearts’ cry is to the Lord for divine protection over our people and intervention in our national affairs. Thank you very much for hearing the news and praying for us all. Please do continue to stand with us through our prayer for our nation.
Please do not worry too much about our life as a family. With the grace and strength the Lord has given us, [my wife] and I seek to serve Him, take care of our children, and shepherd our people to the best of our ability.”
He adds Feb. 3,
“The situation appears yet to be ok. Banks and some shops are open. Life is rolling gradually. Most people expect the worst to come yet, the fire seems to be kindled soon according to many people’s expectations, and much is uncertain. We pray for God’s gracious intervention in these affairs for the good of all. In all of these, your words of encouragement speak loudly deep down in our souls… The Bible is true and it really gives us light in times of darkness.”
Feb. 7 summary:
There are increasingly disturbing happenings, but not predictable, so we are expecting the worst is yet to come. Many people are coming out of their houses to the streets to do their work, power outages are unpredictable, and the internet is available only from time to time and also disruptions of cell calls. We are told our water supply will be cut off for three days or so.
So it seems difficulties and challenges will increase, but in the middle of these things, we are determined to trust God, and be encouraged when we hear of our friends in Canada praying for us. We specially pray for matters among our friends in Canada, as we hear about them.
Myanmar in the past ten years—some perspectives through the eyes of a ten-time visitor.
On my first visit to Yangon in 2011, I was amazed at how open the country seemed, but our coming and going was carefully controlled to reduce interaction. We were told part of our safety was that the army would be keeping eyes on us any time we were out in public.
We flew to the northeast for a seminar and had another reminder that we were in a restricted country. After the seminar ended, we ate in a restaurant near a table of army officers. On our return to the hotel, and only minutes after I left my friend to return to my room, he was taken to police headquarters for questioning. A visiting general at the restaurant insisted on knowing why foreigners were eating with local people. When my friend returned about an hour later, he got rid of all seminar material from his room. The next morning, he cancelled the planned church visit to avoid putting suspicion on local people, and we flew out later in the day. I feel God allowed this so our mission would realize the actual state of the Myanmar Christians.
Since then, there have been many signs of change. The press gained freedom rapidly in the months to follow, although there was a definite limit to that freedom. Slightly used cars were allowed in from Japan. There are at least a third more cars on the road in the capital.
In 2011, there were a handful of small multi-story department stores in the main city of five million and only those of the small middle and upper classes could afford to shop there. Now there are mall-like stores in quite a few places.
Tourists could now travel more freely, but street vendors that had been seen on every sidewalk downtown were being replaced by car parking. Clothing in stores became more western, although traditional clothing is still readily available, and you see a mix on the streets.
Foreign blockades were removed, and the port began to fill with containers as goods were shipped in and out. Where once only one in five had a job in Yangon, there are now companies going to find workers locally. Meat is more available, and even junk food is sold on almost every street. Electric frying pans, rice pots, and small burners have replaced many of the small fires that were seen even in apartments ten years ago. Phones and other communications improved and became affordable. Roads improved, travel between areas didn’t require permission, churches were easier to build, and so evangelism was easier to accomplish.
And yet, it was also during this time of progress that the devastating Rohingya crises took place. This was a shocking example of the army’s use of their power.
Last year, most churches in another area chose not to participate with a direct government request to demonstrate in support of the government’s stand at the international court of Justice.
An Uncertain Future
How will the recent military coup effect the country and the church? Will “stability” take away freedom to travel, to speak and report? Will the port once again sit idle instead of bustling with products? Will the extra pressure on churches in conflict areas become more oppressive? It’s way too early to tell.
But we know that the church has grown during these ten years of relative freedom. There are thousands more Bibles available and being read, just through the work of one mission. There are 82 Bible school grads from one school alone in the past five years who are everywhere around the country spreading the word. More than a thousand pastors and Christian workers have been encouraged by the visits of Bible teachers, and through the prayers of many who now are aware of them.
My friend’s mission theme is hope for his nation. From Psalm 130 (NLT): “I call for your help…. I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on him, I have put my hope in his word. …Hope in the Lord.”
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