Myanmar’s Only Christian Tribe
Out of the eight major ethnic-nationalities in Myanmar, the Chin tribe is the only one that has embraced Christianity. Ninety percent of the Chins are believers, and they take pride in being the only Christian tribe in Myanmar.
The gospel spread among the Chin in the 19th century, due to the work of Western missionaries. For decades, their religious identity within a state-sanctioned Buddhist context, has caused them to endure forced labor, rape and violence at the hands of the Burmese army, the Tatmadaw. Countless times, the Chin people have been abused and pressured to recant their Christian faith.
When Prime Minister U Nu of Myanmar declared Theravada Buddhism the state religion in the 1960s, the Tatmadaw began trampling on the Chin Christians’ right to worship. Thousands of Chin took up arms in protest. The Burmese government still views them as agents of the West, deviants to the country’s goal of Buddhist unification.
Despite the end of military rule and the Burmese government’s transition to a democracy in 2011, the Chin remain overlooked – deprived of many modern conveniences, and still victimized for being a religious minority.
Chin pastors say that by 2020, everybody in the country must be Buddhist. Muan,* a local pastor shared with Open Doors, “Recently, the officials built a Buddhist temple beside our church. We were forced to contribute stones to build it. Officially, we are never allowed to build a church. We must resort to bribing local officials.”
All citizens are required to attend mandatory village meetings that conflict with their Sunday worship services. They believe that it is an attempt by the government to distract church members and continually decrease church attendance. “From my village, it takes two days to walk to the public meeting,” a pastor shared. “It’s difficult, but we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t go. Everyone is afraid of not going because we might receive a red mark on our government papers. Those papers are our lifeline.”
The Chin State is also the poorest region in Myanmar. According to UNICEF, 73% of Chin State residents live below the poverty line. “Extreme poverty is a major problem in our area,” says another pastor. “Poverty drives mothers to marry off their daughters to insurgents who are, of course, not believers.”
Open Doors continues to reach out to the Chin tribe; reminding them that God is sovereign despite persecution and poverty, and training them in areas such as marriage and family life, biblical discipleship, church growth and administration, biblical stewardship, livelihood and financial literacy. Open Doors works to assure them that believers around the world love, remember and pray for them.
Phyo,* a pastor for 17 years shared, “I didn’t know how to study the Bible. I never applied it to myself. I only applied it to others. After I started coming to this training, I realized that I must be the first to apply the Word. Now, I am able to guide others.”
“Whenever we pray, everything is so formal,” Phyo continues. “After the service, we go home and that’s it. When the Open Doors worker came, she taught us to pray while washing the dishes or cleaning the house. We are doing that now. I encourage the church to pray while they travel, while they work, and while they do other things.”
Thanga* says the Lay Leaders Training has changed their lives for the better, “If we didn’t have this training, we would have been totally destroyed. We were already destroying ourselves. Now, we have hope.”
Myanmar is ranked #28 on the World Watch List, and believers here are faced with the daily challenges of living in the land of Buddhists. Those around them are worshipping false idols, and they know they have the true source of life, found in Jesus Christ.
Visit our World Watch List | Myanmar to learn more about what believers are facing today and continue to pray with us for the Chin tribe and other Christians living in Myanmar.
*Names changed for security reasons