Myanmar coup: What does it mean for Christians?

February 1, 2021 by Christopher Summers in Asia

On the morning of February 1, Christians around the world woke up to the news there had been a coup in Myanmar. The military has “detained” a number of opposition politicians, including the civilian leader of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Our sources on the ground tell us Myanmar’s new military takeover could lead to news blackouts, tightening restrictions on the church, and a resurgence of pro-Buddhist sentiment. Yet local believers in Myanmar, No. 18 on the 2021 World Watch List, are responding the best way they know how—through prayer.

“Military rule could mean reinforced power for the dominant religion,” says Open Doors local partner, Brother Lwin*. “The military government of the past has always been protective of their Buddhist culture and tradition. This may have serious implications to the church. We are expecting restrictions upon the church to happen once again, though we are unsure of the extent and the form it will take as of yet.”

The military of Myanmar ruled the country for several decades until 2010, when elections were held and power was partially given to Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party. But now, the military is holding Aung San Suu Kyi and 22 other members of the National League of Democracy (NLD) political party in retaliation for “fraudulent election practices.” The military has declared a one-year state of emergency to preserve the “stability of the state.”

Lwin describes this return to the military junta as possibly even more powerful than before, prior to a more open democracy in Myanmar. “The military’s inability to accept defeat at the polls was just the spark that was needed set the military back ablaze in power,” he says. “Once the military is in full control of the country, there can be a total news blackout. The immediate cutting of phone lines and internet connections this morning is just a preview of what may happen. The political and economic situation is very unstable and volatile right now. There is no telling how long the crisis will last.”

At the moment, Burmese locals are going on panic bank runs and grocery hoarding as a response to the government takeover. They can do it now, but Lwin says that very soon, money circulation may be restricted. “The military also has the track record of devaluing the local currency. It may happen again. This will [make] the country’s economy plummet. Financial support to the church coming from outside the country will be impossible to bring in [if] banks are closed down,” he adds.

Travel is also restricted in the country, with air travel halted and roadblocks and military checkpoints popping up. “Yangon residents have been restricted from traveling outside the city due to the pandemic but is even tighter now due to the crisis,” Lwin says. “There are now roadblocks and military checkpoints. Heavy monitoring will once again be enforced. This will restrict the movement of our local partners and ministry to the needy areas may cease. The borders will be closed.”

A church on its knees in prayer

As connectivity becomes slightly more viable, reports from Open Doors’ local church contacts have been trickling in. “Pastors are admonishing their members to pray and intercede for the country in their homes,” shares Daisy*, another Open Doors partner. “In less restricted areas, some pastors and believers have gathered for prayer meetings in their churches.

“The majority of our contacts across Myanmar are still out of reach, but despite the absence of communication, there is confidence that the Holy Spirit will give the church leaders wisdom for such a time as this.”

All of Open Doors’ field partners have been temporarily cut off from all forms of communication the whole morning, as the military cut phone and internet services. Only those situated along the borders were able to communicate and regroup to pray and discuss security matters. Towards the afternoon, partners residing in key cities across the country have been able to get online and discuss next steps.

We will continue to update you as we get additional news from the field.

Pray:

  • Pray for the situation for Christians in Myanmar. They have been targeted for their faith under civilian and military leadership, but there is a fear the coup could raise persecution even more.
  • One partner, Brother John, is currently stranded in the outskirts of Yangon due to a ministry trip. Travel restrictions have been implemented and public transport has been suspended. Pray that he is able to travel home.
  • Sister Dorcas, who lives in the northern part of the country reported that heavy military presence can be seen on the streets as checkpoints have been installed in every corner. Internet is down in that part of the country and only the military-owned telecom company is working, though the line is quite unreliable. Please pray for the restoration of Sister Dorcas’ connection.

(Top photo taken by Thein Zaw for the Associated Press. Used by permission, all rights reserved)

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