About 250 years ago, Tibeto-Burmese tribal groups settled in the hills where India, Bangladesh, and Burma meet. Since then, they have struggled to earn a living and maintain their cultural identity.
In Burma, they’re called the Chin. Since the turn of the twentieth century, they have been overwhelmingly Christian, around 90 percent. For many years, crosses dotted the mountaintops and villages in the Chins’ homeland.
Not anymore. According to Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, these crosses are being torn down and replaced by Buddhist pagodas by orders of the Burmese government. Just as the crosses once testified to the Christian faith of the Chin, their removal testifies to the persecution of these Christians.
As Rogers writes in the latest issue of Crisis magazine, to add insult to spiritual injury, the Chin are also forced to financially support Buddhist projects and festivals. And the Burmese government often denies privileges to faithful Christians that it extends to others, like education and exemption from forced labor. Often Christian children are removed forcibly from their homes never to be seen again.
Still, these practices pale before what some of the Chin and two other significantly Christian ethnic groups, the Lachin and Karen, suffer. The Burmese army tortures village leaders. Christian women are gang-raped by soldiers, killed, and their mutilated bodies placed on display as a warning to others.
But despite their suffering, Burmese Christians maintain what Crisis calls an “unbroken faith.” After the Burmese Army burnt down one village, the Christians returned, rebuilt the church, and gathered for worship under a sign quoting Revelation 2:10: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
Their extraordinary circumstances has led to some extraordinary assistance, none more so than by a former Special Forces officer who attended Fuller Theological Seminary. His group, the Free Burma Rangers, risks their lives by infiltrating Burmese territory to provide assistance to Burmese Christians.
Their missions, which sometimes bring them within inches of the Burmese Army, provide medical care and spiritual sustenance to thousands of Christians, and they cover hundreds of miles. They also document the persecution of our Burmese brethren.
But their valor will be for nothing if the documentation doesn’t produce action. And that’s where we come in. Christians in the West, especially in the United States, need to see the plight of Burmese Christians as a matter of the highest concern. While Burma is a pariah state, it is not immune to external pressure. This pressure is what has kept Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi alive.
The place to start, of course, is to get informed. Contact us here at BreakPoint (1-877-322-5527) for resources on the plight of Burmese Christians. Then share what you learn with others, and in your churches: We’ve got to build a public backlash. While few of us are called to be God’s commandos in the jungle, we’re all called to help our brethren bear their burdens, even if they are halfway around the world.
For further reading and information:
Benedict Rogers, “Faith Unbroken: Persecuting Christians in Burma,” Crisis, June 2004.
Learn more about the Free Burma Rangers.
Visit the Free Burma Coalition website.
Benedict Rogers, A Land without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma’s Karen People (Monarch Books, 2004).
BreakPoint Commentary No. 040503, “Touching the Untouchable: India Targets Christian Converts.”
“Paramilitary Hindu group to restrict Christian conversions,” AsiaNews, 26 May 2004.
Learn more about helping the persecuted Church at Stand Today’s website.
Kristin Wright, “Standing with the Persecuted Church,” BreakPoint Online, 6 November 2003.
Nina Shea, In the Lion’s Den (Broadman and Holman, 1997).