Tuesday, March 23, 2021

RLPB 590. Burma (Myanmar): Christian Crisis Looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 590 | Wed 24 Mar 2021
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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as front-line moves outwards, from Burman-dominated centre to ethnic minority periphery.
By Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge

Burma is hurtling towards a very risky, high-stakes, civil war. The junta is digging in and the toll of civilians killed, injured and arrested is soaring. Despite this, a defiant population steadfastly refuses to surrender to military rule. These are days of great danger and opportunity for Burma's long-persecuted ethnic Chin, Kachin and Karen who comprise most of Burma's nearly nine percent Christian minority.

On Saturday 13 March the appointed acting head of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw / Union Parliament (CRPH; a parallel government of elected MPs), Mahn Win Khaing Than, delivered a speech on Facebook in which he called for Burma's long-persecuted ethnic groups to join the 'revolution' to 'form a federal democracy' and 'end the dictatorship for good'. Few ethnic Burman have ever cared about the plight of Burma's ethnic-religious minorities as they suffered for decades under the Tatmadaw's (Burmese military's) jackboot. Yet, as Aljazeera notes, 'Public opinion appears to be changing. Apologies to ethnic minorities have proliferated on social media, while calls are growing for the establishment of a federal army to protect the people and overthrow the military regime.' While suspicions remain, 'In a sense,' as Burma expert Benedict Rogers notes, 'the coup is a leveller. Whether you are Burman or Rohingya, Karen or Kachin, you face the same enemy now.'

Two of the most powerful ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) - the mostly Christian and Christian-led Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) - have supported the pro-democracy protesters from the outset. Whilst stating their preference for 'peaceful negotiation', they have vowed to protect 'all the people of our country'. Not only are these EAOs stepping in to protect protesters, but ethnic states are providing sanctuary to imperilled activists - including members of the CRPH - and facilitating their escape into safe havens in Mizoram, India (via Chin State in the west) and in Thailand (via Karen and Karenni States in the east; renamed by the junta as Kayin and Kayah State respectively). Currently more than 1000 people - strike leaders, government officials and police deserters - are sheltering on the Thai border under the protection of the Karen National Union (KNU).

Karen Villagers on the Run 
Free Burma Rangers, 17 Feb 2021

In retaliation for the KNU's support for the resistance, the Tatmadaw has been shelling villages in Karen State. In recent weeks, some 8000 ethnic Karen have been driven from their homes, forced into the jungle without food, medical aid or shelter. Meanwhile, armed confrontations erupted on 11 March between the Tatmadaw and the KIA in resource-rich Kachin State (in the north, bordering China) as the junta moves to secure its economic assets, in particular its jade mines in Hpakant and amber mines in Tanai. Conflict has also erupted in N'Jang Yang (Injangyang; a township on the northern outskirts of the capital Myitkyina) and at the site of the suspended Myitsone Dam, a China-junta project which would dam the Irrawaddy to produce hydro-electric power for sale to China. Driven from their homes and farms, displaced Kachin civilians are taking refuge in churches, monasteries and church-run camps. A humanitarian crisis looms.

An ethnic Chin woman named Lianzuali (34)
 lies dead after soldiers raid the 6th floor office of charity
We Love Yangon, Sunday 21 March 2021.

A day after Mahn Win Khaing Than's Facebook speech, the worst violence seen so far erupted in Hlaing Tharyar (Hlaingthaya), a large and densely populated industrial township on the western edge of Yangon. Two Chinese-owned garment factories were torched with Chinese staff trapped inside. China responded, insisting the junta take 'effective measures' to restore order and threatening that 'China might be forced into taking more drastic action to protect its interests'. Between 14 and 18 March, at least 74 people were killed (40 on Sunday 14th alone) and multitudes wounded, many seriously, while a total of 32 Chinese-invested factories were vandalised or torched. Martial law has been declared; thousands have fled. The attacks on Chinese citizens and interests raises the stakes considerably, for it gives non-interfering China grounds to intervene in defence of its own citizens. Many are deeply suspicious, questioning how anyone could have torched a Chinese-invested factory when they are so heavily guarded. Many suspect a 'false flag', i.e., that Burmese soldiers may have torched the factories to draw China into the fray.


* YAHWEH SABAOTH (the Lord of Hosts, the commander of Heaven's angelic armies) will protect, preserve, sustain, vindicate and glorify his precious Church in Burma.

* JEHOVAH JIREH (God our provider) will provide the Church's needs (such as food, medicines, shelter, security) and fill every Christian leader with 'the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy ...' (excerpt from Colossians 1:9-14 ESV)

* GOD OUR REDEEMER will intervene to break the chains of military and spiritual oppression and pave the way for Burma to establish itself as a free, open and democratic federation ... for the sake of the Church and all Burma's 'harassed and helpless... sheep without a shepherd' (Matthew 9: 35-37).


Most of Burma's nine percent Christian minority hail from the long-persecuted Chin, Kachin and Karen ethnic minorities. From the outset, Kachin and Karen ethnic armies have been protecting protesters and providing sanctuary to Burman resistance leaders and elected MPs and facilitating their escape to India (via Chin State) and Thailand (via Karen State). The Burmese military is retaliating by shelling Karen villages, driving some 8000 Karen into the jungle. Furthermore, the Burmese military has opened a front in resource-rich Kachin State to protect its economic interests there. Thousands of displaced Kachin are now sheltering in churches, monasteries and church-run camps. A humanitarian crisis looms. Not only is the front-line moving outwards from the Burman-dominated centre to the ethnic minority periphery, but China is threatening 'drastic action to protect its interests'. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com