Overwhelmed by yesterday’s coup, the church in Myanmar asks the global church to pray with them as the military takes control. It’s bringing back painful memories of previous years under military rule and there are grave concerns that the coup will further result in worsening persecution against them.
Christians in Myanmar are crying out to God in prayer following the military coup, and they need you to join them
“It feels like our hope has been taken away,” Pastor Zay* tells Open Doors following the military coup yesterday (Monday 1 February) that has shaken the nation and reverberated around the world.
"Our dreams, hopes, vision and freedom are taken away" Pastor Zay
“I couldn't sleep and I cried out to God more than three times that night. Our dreams, hopes, vision and freedom are taken away. Our lifetime has been full of grief, fear and trouble under the military regime. People are suffering because of the war. Job opportunities are also difficult now, and we are depressed by the military coup because we had hoped for a ceasefire.”
During the coup, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and 22 other members of the National League of Democracy (NLD) were ‘detained’ by the military. It was in response to what they deemed were ‘fraudulent election practices’ which led to the NLD recently retaining power in the country. A one-year state of emergency was declared to preserve the ‘stability of the state’.
The events have magnified the vulnerabilities of Christians in Myanmar, and there is deep concern that the military’s renewed hold on the country could exacerbate these further.
The military has already installed former generals and military party members into 11 key positions in their new government, controlling finance and border departments, cultural affairs, and religion.
“It’s like a new year for the military government,” shares Brother Daniel*, an Open Doors partner from Yangon, the country’s biggest city. “The central government, the high-ranking officers have been changed and it’s very sad. The Covid-19 vaccination schedule also could not be implemented as planned because of yesterday’s events.”
"We are expecting restrictions on the church to happen once again" 'Brother Lwin'
Brother Lwin*, another local partner, highlights what this means for the church. “Military rule could mean reinforced power for the dominant religion,” he explains. “The military government of the past has always been protective of their Buddhist culture and tradition. This may have serious implications for the church. We are expecting restrictions on the church to happen once again, though as yet we're unsure of the extent and form it will take.”
Brother Lwin describes this return to military rule as possibly even more powerful than before, prior to the dawn of democracy in 2011. “The military’s inability to accept defeat at the polls was just the spark that was needed to set the military back ablaze in power,” he says. “Once the military is in full control of the country, there can be a total news blackout. The immediate cutting of phone lines and internet connection this morning is just a preview of what may happen. The political and economic situation is very unstable and volatile right now. There is no telling how long the crisis will last.”
In response to the coup, people in Myanmar are rushing to the banks and stocking up on essentials. Brother Lwin is unsure how much longer this will even be possible to do. “The military has a track record of devaluing the local currency. It may happen again,” he explains. “This will make the country’s economy plummet.”
The church will inevitably be impacted by this. “Financial support to the church coming from outside the country will be impossible to bring in with banks being closed down,” Brother Lwin adds.
Travel has also been hit, threatening the crucial work of local partners in the country. “Yangon [largest city in Myanmar] residents have been restricted from traveling outside the city due to the pandemic but it’s even tighter now due to the crisis. There are now roadblocks and military checkpoints. Heavy monitoring will once again be enforced. This will restrict the movement of our local partners and ministry to the needy areas may cease,” says Brother Lwin. “The borders will be closed.”
Working with local partners, Open Doors strengthens persecuted believers through initiatives such as literature distribution, livelihood support, and children and youth training.
Some lines of communication have opened, enabling reports from Open Doors local partners to trickle in. There is sadness, fear and confusion – and prayer.
“The army is stationed in our area and we are very sad,” reports a believer. “The churches are very sad and are praying for the situation.” A pastor adds, “The churches are praying. We are calm, but scared at the same time.” Meanwhile, Brother Daniel says, “It is very quiet. The public is panicking – it’s a time of confusion.”
“Pastors are challenging their members to pray and intercede for the country in their homes,” shares Daisy*, also a local partner. “In less restricted areas, some pastors and believers have gathered for prayer meetings in their churches.”
"We are calm, but scared at the same time." Pastor in Myanmar
“The majority of our contacts across Myanmar are still out of reach,” Daisy adds. “But despite the absence of communication, there is confidence that the Holy Spirit will give the church leaders wisdom for such a time as this.”
Aung Tun*, a believer from the mostly Christian Chin State, shares that after the coup, more officers in civil uniforms have guarded his city. Historically, believers from the Chin State have experienced human rights abuses from Myanmar’s Buddhist military, with crosses being desecrated and believers facing constant threats. “Nothing has happened yet, but the churches are praying for the situation,” he shares.
Daisy also expresses concern for the 4,000 internally displaced Christians in Karen state. The recent political upheaval has left them further alienated from help and aid.
“Among the displaced are more than 500 believers, including missionaries, trapped in Kyaukkyi, in the Bago Region,” she shares. “The trapped believers cannot move forward nor go back to their homes. They need food, medicine and clothes, but access and communication is very difficult.”
Another local partner, Min Naing*, also expressed his concerns for Christians living in conflict areas and IDP camps. “They lost their jobs because of the civil war and the pandemic. They were hoping for a ceasefire between the military and the insurgent groups, but the future is uncertain, and we are now in an even more depressing situation.”
*name changed to protect their identity
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithful church in Myanmar and the way Christians are turning to You in prayer in response to this crisis. Hear and direct them in their cries. Speak powerfully to them by bringing specific encouragement, revelation and guidance. Protect Your people, and keep roads, communication lines and banks open. May the military acknowledge the election result and relinquish control of the country. And through Your people, may Christ’s light shine in the darkness. Amen.
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