More than a year after a military coup in Burma (Myanmar), war is raging worse than ever, complicating local ministry efforts at a time when they are most needed.
The People’s Defense Force (PDF), armed wing of the National Unity Government (NUG) formed in May 2021 to counter the military coup the previous February, is putting up resistance in an increasingly lawless land where violence can hit without any apparent reason. Criminals add random killings to fighting by the PDF, the government military and the troops of decades-old independence movements.
“The fighting between the Junta and the People’s Defense Force is very severe everywhere,” a native ministry leader said. “Civilians’ villages are burned down, and everyday civilians are arrested and killed by torturing or shooting.”
Armed conflict was taking place in every state and region, he said. One town has been reduced to ashes after it was burned down eight times. In another town, 80 percent of the residents fled to forests and other sites seeking safety; they needed food, water and medicines for various illnesses.
“Somehow a pastor there was able to contact me by telephone,” the ministry leader said. “He told me that he was one of three pastors who fled to the forest with their families and stayed at a cave, trying to run to a village where they could stay temporarily. His son, who was 19 years old, was killed by the terrorists.”
Their homes were burned down, and the pastors have not received a salary since the coup as all the inhabitants have fled.
“They face extreme hardship,” the leader said. “Praise the Lord that we could find a way, and we sent some funds and other items to them.”
In another state, he said, unidentified militants not only destroyed civilians’ homes but robbed them of food and drink, killed their domestic animals and arrested and tortured the elderly; three village seniors were tortured to death.
Local missionaries in another town reported the arrival of 13 military trucks, the leader said.
“Every night, they hear gunshots and bomb explosions,” he said. “For some men it is not safe to stay at home at night. They hide somewhere and come back home in the daytime. It seems the situation is getting worse. Let’s continue to pray for our brethren there.”
Eight local missionaries in another area fled along with 98 percent of the inhabitants after jets and helicopters bombed their town. One missionary couple took refuge in the ministry’s training school and were serving there as Bible teachers.
“Some houses were burned down by the terrorists,” the leader said. “The people’s suffering is dreadful. Many were tortured to death, and some were burned to death, even children were killed.”
Reaching the Remote
With guns firing and church services in many areas shut down due to COVID-19, local missionaries have lost income but serve when circumstances allow, the ministry leader said.
“Only a few pastors and missionaries have been able to do soul-winning outreach,” he said. “We feel that it has been too long. We cry, when will there be freedom? Thank you for your concern and prayers.”
The leader of another ministry said that workers generally can no longer visit villages but go house to house once a week or month to share the gospel with Buddhists and worshippers of nature and spirits. One worker was able to reach a remote village where such animists live and led some of them to faith in Christ, he said.
“One missionary posts his gospel messages on Facebook for his people and some other Buddhist friends,” the leader said. “Another missionary accepted 39 animists and Buddhist young people and teaches them the gospel everyday.”
A native ministry’s Bible college was able to re-open for the first time in a year last September and welcomed seven new students. In a country where quality private schools are closed along with 99 percent of the public schools, workers were deeply grateful for its re-opening.
At the same time, kids at the ministry’s children’s home have received care, education and, most recently, music lessons thanks to a volunteer teacher who benefited from the shelter as a child.
Amid war and the pandemic, workers have provided aid where they were able. In one state, workers sent rice, clothing and financial help to victims who had fled to three camps for displaced persons.
Such aid has been distributed intermittently since the coup. In April 2021, a local worker was leading a worship service as a group of soldiers surrounded the house and began shooting at it.
“The missionaries and the believers had to run to the forest for safety,” the leader said. “They hid in the forest for several days. We were able to send them food and items for basic needs, including medicines.”
Workers also have maintained a children’s Bible correspondence course in both Burmese and Falam Chin languages. They were also able to provide Bible teacher training and plant a church amid the chaos.
“It is said that the night is darkest before the dawn,” the leader said. “The past months were as dark as it has ever been for us. Some of us suffered from COVID-19 and survived; we have lost some of our beloved and respected people along the way. As our prior director always said, ‘God is still on His throne. He knows and sees what we are going through. And He loves us enough by allowing us to go through it.’ We thank and praise the Lord for His sustaining grace.”
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