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2021 WORLD WATCH LIST #18

MYANMAR

Country rank

18

Persecution score

74.07

Last year’s rank

19

Region

Asia

Persecution Type

Religious nationalism (Very strong), Dictatorial paranoia (Strong), Ethno-religious hostility (Medium), Organized corruption and crime (Medium)

Persecution Level

Very High

Population

54,808,000

Christians

4,362,000 (8.0%) Data source: Johnson T M and Zurlo G A, eds., World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed February 2020).

Main Religion

Buddhism

Government

Parliamentary republic

Leader

President U Win Myint

 In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Myanmar through:

• Christian literature distribution
• Pastoral and leadership training
• Discipleship programs
• Livelihood support
• Children and youth training

ABOUT MYANMAR

What does persecution look like in Myanmar?

Religious nationalism is especially strong in Myanmar and drives much of the persecution of Christians. There is an increasing emphasis on Buddhism, to the exclusion of all other religions.

Converts to the Christian faith often 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. 

Well-established churches have been attacked, and in some instances, Buddhist monks have invaded church compounds and built Buddhist shrines inside. Non-traditional church groups experience opposition too, especially those located in rural areas and/or are known for evangelistic activity. The government tries to act against extremist Buddhist monks, but sends mixed signals, since it has become clear that extremist monks enjoy the support of the army.

Myanmar is the scene of the longest civil war in the world, which began in 1948. Although much media attention has been given to the plight of Rohingya Muslims, the ongoing war against insurgent groups – which affects, among others, the states of Kachin, Karen and Shan (all of which have a strong Christian minority) – have gone largely unnoticed. The predominantly Christian Chin State was also affected by fighting. Christians are vulnerable to persecution by insurgent groups and the army, and more than 100,000 Christians in the north live in Internal Displacement Camps (IDPs) where they are deprived of access to food and health care. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought added challenges, since many Christians are deliberately overlooked in the distribution of government aid. 

How women experience persecution

There is a law in Myanmar called the Buddhist Women Special Marriage Law. It was introduced in 2015 and stipulates that a non-Buddhist husband must respect his wife’s practice of Buddhism. However, no such protection applies to Christians, reinforcing the feeling among Christians that they are viewed as second-class citizens in Myanmar. Consequently, Christian women married to non-Christian men are pressured into following the husband’s religion. This hinders the growth of the church.

Additionally, the law – mainly aimed at the Muslim minority – also means that women who convert to Christianity are still regarded as Buddhists and treated as such. Even in mixed-religion marriages, where the mother is a Christian and the father a Buddhist, the father often arranges for their daughter to marry a Buddhist, and neither the mother nor daughter has power to prevent this. 

Younger female converts are vulnerable to house arrest, restricting access to the community and effectively making it impossible to have invaluable fellowship with other Christians. Disinheritance is sometimes used to apply additional pressure on women to return to Buddhism. 

Women, especially those belonging to ethnic or religious minorities, are at the mercy of military personnel, vulnerable to rape and physical assault. Unconfirmed reports indicate that military men are encouraged to marry Christian women and convert them to Buddhism, incentivized by the promise of money or a promotion in rank. Many women are reported to feel resigned to this fate and see entering such marriages as a way to escape dire poverty and insecurity.

There are also troubling reports that suggest that Christian women in Kachin State are being trafficked to China to become “brides,” where they are raped with the aim of impregnating them. “Some 130,000 Kachin, more than 90 percent of whom are Christian, have been displaced within their state” in the latter half of 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal in December 2018. Kachin Christians have been exposed to these atrocities for many years – they are even targeted within IDP camps where the army inflicts further torturous acts.  

How men experience persecution

Men in Myanmar are the main breadwinners. If they lose their job or are forced from their village because of their faith in Jesus, the financial impact on a whole family can be crippling. This is the harsh reality for many converts in the country.

Christian men can encounter intense persecution in the army, forcing many of them to lose their faith. The army has been known to impose forced labor on Christians, to prevent them from attending Sunday services and accessing Christian fellowship. Men are targeted for recruitment into militias; those who refuse face beatings and threats. 

Some male believers pay the ultimate price for following Jesus. While statistics are elusive, Christians have been abducted and killed, allegedly by the Arakan Army. 

An effective means of stopping Christianity crossing generations are the Na Ta La schools. The schools aim to convert Christian children by raising them to become Buddhist monks. On starting at the school, the boys’ heads are shaved, they’re given monks clothes, and they go around the local community begging for food. 

The authorities also target and put pressure on pastors. This is done with the intent of closing a church, or instilling fear and harm among the wider congregation. Like families without their husband or father, churches without their leaders feel helpless and vulnerable.  

What has changed this year?

Myanmar has jumped one place from last year, reflecting the ongoing severe persecution facing many Christians. Converts continue to encounter tremendous hostility from family and the local community, while believers remain caught up in the fighting plaguing the states of Kachin, Shan and Karen, all of which have a significant Christian population, as well as predominantly Christian Chin State. 

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

Christians in Kachin State, in the north of the country, are especially exposed to persecution. Due to the ongoing fighting, more than 100,000 people – mostly Christian – are living in IDP camps, most of them for years, and humanitarian access to them is blocked. Fighting continues as well in neighboring Shan State, which has a large minority of Christians, especially in the north. Chin State, which is predominantly Christian, has also been site of a great deal of conflict.  

How can I help Christians in Myanmar?

What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Myanmar?

Working with local partners, Open Doors strengthens persecuted believers in Myanmar through literature distribution, discipleship and leadership programs, livelihood support, family and marriage enrichment, and children and youth training. 

Your gift today will show our persecuted brothers and sisters in Myanmar, and other countries in the World Watch List they are loved and remembered by you.

Pray

– Pray for those who have left Buddhism to follow Jesus – that God will strengthen, encourage and protect them.
– Ask that all believers in Myanmar will receive and enjoy fruitful fellowship with other Christians.
– Pray that the Lord will intervene and bring a peaceful resolution to the ongoing civil war. 

A PRAYER FOR MYANMAR

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.