A Story of Persecution from Burma (Myanmar)
A lot hinges on the village chief if a group of believers in Myanmar wants to worship on Sundays.
“The process should not take too much time if we have good relations with the village chief,” said Chit*, a pastor in his mid-50s. “We must secure his letter of recommendation, one of the required documents to start a church.”
In some communities, Christians enjoy good relations with their village chief, but more or often than not, the good will is short-lived, because the military regime can arbitrarily appoint a replacement. A village head oversees at least 50 households.
“The next step is getting clearance from the town officials,” explained Pastor Chit. “Sometimes, we have to give certain ‘fees’ to get the application going. We spend about five lakhs (US$ 22,400) to get township clearance. The amount will depend on what officials ask.
“After that, they will issue us a ‘temporary permit’. Getting this permit takes at least one year, no less. Once we get it, we can build a small thatched house and we are allowed to pray, sing, and have other religious events, but we are not considered a ‘church’. We call the place a ‘prayer house.’ To be recognized, we need to apply for a ‘permanent permit’ from officials at the district level and then at the Central Government,” he added.
But the cost of such a permit is beyond the capacity of most grassroots pastors in Myanmar. Even if they succeed in filing an application, it will take a decade before it is approved.
Chit and many village pastors like him settle with a temporary permit to gather church members on Sundays. In order to keep the church fellowship, though, they must keep their village chief “happy.”
“On special occasions, like Christmas, we send presents to the local officials,” said Pastor Chit. “Of course, there are no guarantees. They could close us down any day they want.”