Change is likely to be a keyword in 2016 for Myanmar. The election on November 8, 2015 saw a landslide win for the opposition under Aung San Suu Kyi with the election of Htin Kyaw, a close ally of Kyi, as President. Most ethnic minority parties did not win seats in the new parliament, so it will likely include less Christians than before.
Ms. Suu Kyi is barred from the post by the constitution, but has said she will lead the country anyway. Since the election in November, the former pro-democracy campaigner has avoided the media and made no public comment.
During the campaign and elections, the Burmese army continued its attacks against ethnic minorities in Kachin and Shan State. Christians are strongly affected by such attacks and the level of violence is high. Additionally, an organization of Buddhist radical monks (Ma Ba Tha) increased their campaigns against religious minorities and successfully helped introduce four laws for the “Protection of Race and Religion” in August 2015, building insurmountable hurdles for conversions and religiously mixed marriages.
Sang and Chuai, members of the Chin minority group, tell their story of marriage in this strained political and religious environment. They have never been married, but they’ve been together for almost three decades. Though they belong to the largest Christian tribe in Myanmar, many couples like them have eloped due to tradition, poverty, and lack of sound biblical teaching. After attending Open Doors’ Family Enrichment Seminar, Sang and Chuai have finally declared their marriage vows, pledging to love one another for better and for worse before Love Himself, Jesus Christ.
Sang and Chuai had been living together for 27 years. Theirs, they say, was a forbidden love. “We met in 1985,” Sang shares. “I would drop my daily catch by my wife’s village in northern Myanmar, always hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lady living by the roadside. I would sneak looks in her direction day by day, and in between fish crate deliveries and friendly conversations, our friendship grew. We fell in love.”
They celebrated their love with 19 other Chin couples in the culmination ceremony of the three-day marriage seminar. “We consider this our real wedding,” says Chuai. “We’ve never had anything like this before. We don’t really say we love one another. Not ever. Not like this.”
“But my father told me about his plans,” Chuai says, “that I was to marry a 57-year-old government official. He said it would make my life simpler and my future better. I was inconsolable. I told him I’d much rather be with a fisherman. So I packed my bags and traveled seven miles to where my husband was. I remember my father saying, ‘If you leave, you cease being my daughter.’”
Time has passed. They now have three grown children—two daughters who stay with them and a son who does odd jobs in Malaysia. They’ve had 27 years of learning to love, even during hardships.
“There were days that have been so depressed,” Chuai shares. “We’ve had so many difficulties. There was a time when Sang couldn’t earn. In 2011, he got into a fishing accident and his right hand was cut off. He was paralyzed for a time. I had to step up and start selling household items.”
“Of course we would fight,” Sang shares. “I know my temper is short sometimes. Traditionally, we men are proud. We think of ladies as lower. After the training, I’ve learned that we’re equal. This is a good realization.”
“Expressing affection is a struggle among many Chin couples because their culture inhibits them. Physical abuse is also prevalent because of the domineering, patriarchal setup of the Chin household,” shares an OD worker. “After the seminar and the mass wedding, one participant told me, ‘Thank you for letting us know the things we have neglected.’”
Thank You, Father, for Your work of change to couples in Myanmar through Open Doors marriage seminars. We pray Your hand of protection over as they seek to implement this biblical teaching in the midst of the hardships of life. Strengthen their trust in You for their marriages and give them a hunger for Your Word—and for You Yourself—that You might be the center of their lives. We do not know what the near future will hold for Christians in Myanmar amid political change but we pray that You will daily grant them courage, strength, joy, and hope as they travel this unknown path. We give thanks that their future hope of glory is secure in Christ. In the name of Jesus, our sure anchor of hope in this storm-tossed life. Amen.