Thank you for your prayers for Myanmar following the military coup on Monday (1 February). In another troubling development, access to Facebook has been blocked by the military, prompting concerns over the impact a long-term ban will have on the church. Meanwhile, as protests and anger rise in response to the political upheaval, Christians are facing the challenge of how best to respond.
Christians in Myanmar gather in prayer following the military coup on Monday (1 February)
In a move that adds to the fears of Christians in Myanmar following the military coup on Monday (1 February), the military yesterday blocked access to Facebook to ‘prevent spreading false information that provokes misconceptions that could destabilise the country and harm the public good’.
It comes after a “Civil Disobedience Movement” (CDM) group appeared on the platform and gained 150,000 followers overnight. It’s led to street demonstrations, including a flashlight protest by supporters of the National League of Democracy (NLD), the group led by detained figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi.
“This could be a return to the dark ages for the church in Myanmar,” Brother Lwin*, an Open Doors local partner in Myanmar, shares. “We’ve seen totalitarian regimes blocking access to information before – we’ve seen it for decades in North Korea and China, and now with this move, Myanmar is following suit. It’s unthinkable that this is happening in Myanmar, especially after all the progress the country has made towards gaining greater freedoms. But here we are.”
"This could be a return to the dark ages for the church in Myanmar" Brother Lwin*
The ban is expected to last until 7 February, but there are fears that it could last longer – and this could have a huge impact on Christians reliant on the platform for services, fellowship and news.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, many churches unable to gather for fellowship have started online worship services using Facebook,” Daisy*, another local partner, explains. “If Facebook is banned in the country for the longer term, then online worship services will no longer be possible.”
"Banning Facebook has significantly affected the ministry," Pastor Zaw* says. "I am worried that my contact with church members will be weakened. I am unable to upload to Facebook, so the files will be uploaded abroad. People who know internet technology and only people who know how to use a VPN can watch it.”
The impact is more acute for people living in remote areas, who also use the social network site to keep abreast of the latest news and events from the main cities.
The popularity of the anti-military protests have left some Christians facing a difficult dilemma. Nurse Mary* is one of them. Despite pressure from colleagues to join the CDM, she is one of only a few doctors and nurses at the hospital working to take care of patients. She — along with other nurses — is overworked, tired and scared.
“I told my close friends that I am going to work because of my patients," she explains. "Our head nurse advised us to be discreet when coming to work, to wear civilian clothes and not to tell others. She also advises us to keep coming. I am scared and concerned because I don't participate in the CDM.”
“Please pray for safety for Mary as she continues to go to work," Daisy adds. "Pray that no harm will come upon her and God’s protection will be on her and the other nurses and doctors who are on duty. Pray for timely wisdom and strength.”
Doctor Jane* is also a Christian, but she has joined the CDM. Like many doctors, she has refused to work. There is notice from authorities that licences of the doctors who joined the CDM will be cancelled. Despite the threats, she is keen to continue her support for the movement.
In response to the protests, pro-military supporters have gathered to rally behind the new incumbents of power. These include hardline Buddhist Ma Ba Tha monks.
“One Ma Ba Tha monk spoke at the gathering and said the army forces and the Buddhist religion is very important for the country of Myanmar, and that the army forces are the ones most responsible for rescuing the country in times of trouble,” Daisy shares.
It’s here that there is concern over what the military coup could mean for Myanmar’s minority Christian population.
The decades of military in rule, ending in 2011, witnessed systemic persecution against Christians by the army. This has persisted in the years since, notably in the Christian majority states of Chin, Kachin and Shan. Now the military is back in power — and with extremist monks often enjoying the support of the army — Buddhism's place in Myanmar could strengthen, which could result in worsening persecution against Christians.
On 3 February, the Kachin Baptist Convention issued a press release demanding a government ‘in favour of fairness and justice.’
But in the anger, hurt, fear and confusion, there is hope and faith in God. “While everything in the country is unstable and nothing is certain, one thing we can be sure of is that God's love remains steadfast and He will never leave nor forsake His people,” says Brother Lwin. “As things stand, we have prepared everyone on the ground for the worst-case scenario and our partners have made contingency plans. While we hope for the best, we are also preparing for the worst.”
"One thing we can be sure of is that God's love remains steadfast and He will never leave nor forsake His people" Brother Lwin*
“While things look grim, we are also hopeful because we are confident that the Lord has accomplished His work of preparing the church for persecution,” Brother Lwin continues. “In fact, we are receiving reports that the church leaders and their members who have attended our persecution-preparedness trainings are responding to the situation biblically and peacefully. They are not keen to taking arms and rebelling against the government unlike before.”
This includes Pastor Barnabas*. “All the events and scenarios that you told us about in the training are happening now,” he says. “Yesterday, I had to go to a bank in our nearby township, but the soldiers barricaded the entry to the town. I was very angry – you know I am not scared of these military people. If I had acted upon my human ego and anger, I would have caused trouble and still entered the town. But in the training, we learned that when we face persecution, we should respond in a gentle and humble manner. I remembered that, and I left and went back home.”
*name changed for security reasons
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