Nearly 4.4 million of Myanmar’s 54.8 million population are Christian. The majority religion is Buddhism.
Buddhist nationalism is especially strong in Myanmar and drives much of the persecution of Christians.
Converts to the Christian faith face persecution from their families and communities for leaving, or ‘betraying’, the system of belief they grew up in. Communities who aim to stay ‘Buddhist only’ make life for Christian families impossible by not allowing them to use community resources such as water.
Non-traditional church groups experience opposition too, especially those located in rural areas and/or are known for evangelistic activity.
Myanmar is also the scene of the longest civil war in the world, which began in 1948. It affects, among others, the predominantly Christian states of Kachin, Karen and Shan. Believers are vulnerable to persecution by insurgent groups and the army.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought added challenges, since many Christians are deliberately overlooked in the distribution of government aid.
“The village sorcerers would come to destroy, to kill our mission and ministry and those who are living here. But they are truly afraid of the ministry that we are doing here because we are bringing the gospel here." Pastor Moses
Moses – whose name we’ve changed to protect his identity – was working as a caretaker at a church building when he decided to give his life to Jesus.
Moses later trained as a missionary and he, with his wife and four children, moved to a village known for its religious festivals and animist worship. It was a place of opportunity – and opposition.
The family encountered hostility from mediums and neighbours. Moses’ motorbike was damaged three times by a villager, and both he and his son have been beaten up. These kind of attacks against Christians are not unusual in Myanmar.
“I don’t have any discouragement about what I’m going through, because I remember the Lord Jesus Christ and how He suffered for me,” says Moses, who now pastors a little church. “If He suffered that much for me, then what am I suffering is nothing.”
On 1 February 2021, the military seized power of Myanmar, claiming Aung San Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) landslide election victory in November 2020 was fraudulent. The coup threatens to undo the promising steps made towards democratic rule made in the past decade.
The political upheavel has 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. Already churches have been caught in the crossfire between the military, ethnic armed groups, and citizens resisting the military coup, having been subjected to attacks, raids and occupation by the military. The coup has also aggravated the spread of Covid-19, whilst a scarcity of commodities and soaring inflation are adding to peoples’ struggles.
Decades of military in rule, between 1962 and 2011, witnessed systemic persecution against Christians by the army. This has persisted in the years since, notably in the Christian majority states of Chin, Kachin and Shan. Now the military is back in power — and with extremist monks often enjoying the support of the army — Buddhism's place in Myanmar could strengthen, which could result in worsening persecution against Christians.
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in Myanmar. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Working with local partners, Open Doors strengthens persecuted believers in Myanmar through literature distribution, discipleship and leadership programmes, livelihood support, family and marriage enrichment, and children and youth training.
Lord Jesus, bring peace to the ongoing conflict impacting parts of the country, and provide ways for Christians who’ve been internally displaced to return home. Comfort, strengthen and heal all believers affected by violence. Thank You for the many people who’ve boldly given their lives to You, despite opposition from their family and local community. Help them to stand strong and grow in their faith, and may their transformation touch the lives of their loved ones. Amen.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.