Myanmar (No. 18 on the 2021 World Watch List) was ruled by the military—as a military junta—from 1962 until 2011, and the rule was marked by brutal atrocities and human rights abuses. Many observers fear the coup this week will mean a return to the junta.
“It feels like our hope has been taken away,” Pastor Zay from Rakhine State tells Open Doors, “I couldn’t sleep and I cried out to God more than three times that night. Our dreams, hopes, vision and freedom are taken away. Our lifetime has been full of grief, fear and trouble under the military regime. People are suffering because of the war. Job opportunities are also difficult at the moment, and we are depressed by the military coup because we had hoped for a ceasefire.”
On February 1, Myanmar’s military detained pro-democracy leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint along with 22 high-ranking officials to protest alleged election fraud, raising international and local alarm and increasing worries for the country’s persecuted church. Aung San Suu Kyi has been accused of ignoring genocide in the country, but her rise to power was greeted by many as a hopeful development after decades of military dictatorship. Her rule was marked by continued abuse of Christians in Myanmar, but believers are fearful things could grow ever worse under military rule.
In a move to further solidify their power, the Burmese Army installed ex-generals and military party members into 11 key positions in their new government, controlling finance and border departments, cultural affairs, and religion.
“It’s like a new year for the military government,” shares Brother Daniel, an Open Doors partner from Yangon. “The central government, the high-ranking officers have been changed and it’s very sad. The COVID-19 vaccination schedule also could not be implemented as planned because of yesterday’s events.”
New suffering for Christians
Amidst the political turmoil, Open Doors local partner Daisy* also expresses concern for the 4,000 internally displaced Christians fleeing in the jungles of Karen State, who have now been further trapped by the political developments. “Among the displaced are more than 500 believers including missionaries trapped in Kyaukkyi, Bago region,” she shares. “The trapped believers cannot move forward or go back to their homes. They need food, medicine and clothes, but access and communication are very difficult.”
Open Doors partner Min Naing also expressed his concerns for the believers living on conflict areas and internally displaced camps. “They are suffering because of the civil war, they lost their jobs because of the war and the pandemic. The believers were hoping for a ceasefire between the military and the insurgent group, but the future is uncertain, and we are now in an even more depressing situation.”
‘We are calm, but scared at the same time’
After phone lines and internet connections were restored in the country, Open Doors partners have been able to get in touch with more local contacts. They say some contacts are calm, some have panicked, some are scared.
“The army is stationed in our area and we are very sad. The churches are very sad and are praying for the situation,” Min, a believer from Sagaing District shares.
Maung* a pastor from Mandalay says: “The churches are praying. We are calm, but scared at the same time.”
“It is very quiet,” adds Yangon partner Brother Daniel. “The public is panicking, and it is a time of confusion.”
Aung Tun*, a believer from from Myanmar’s mostly Christian Chin State shares that after the coup, more officers in civil uniforms have guarded his city. Historically, believers from the Chin State have experienced human rights abuses from Myanmar’s Buddhist military, with crosses being desecrated and believers facing constant threats. “Nothing has happened yet, but the churches are praying for the situation,” he shares.
“As communication remains unreliable and the situation remains volatile, let’s be one with our brothers and sisters in Myanmar through prayer,” says Open Doors Communications Director for Asia, Jan Vermeer. “While our partners do their best to respond on the ground, let’s trust God to be their strength and shield. Our prayers go where we cannot.”
How you can pray:
- Please pray for peace in Myanmar. Pray for peace to prevail and reconciliation between the military and the insurgent groups.
- Please pray specifically for internally displaced persons who are facing difficult times.
- Pray for the political situation. Pray for the safety of leaders who are detained and for the believers to be strong, calm, wise and careful.
- Please pray for the security of Open Doors partners in the country. It is expected that security will tighten and monitoring will be intensified in the coming days.
*All names changed for security of the believers