A Letter from Hery Ramambasoa, Regional Liaison for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, based in Fiji
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Seven months after the change of power, the situation has worsened.
“We are taking care of ourselves.” “The international community has abandoned us.” These are the messages I got from Than Mint, a 22-year-old student, when I asked him about the kind of solidarity they receive from overseas. It has been seven months now that the military took power, claiming major frauds in the 2020 elections. The military imposed a state-of-emergency, originally set for one year, now extended until August 2023. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are about 200,000 internally displaced people across regions in Myanmar, fleeing clashes and conflicts between the Army and opponent groups. Thousands are in hiding, some in the jungle. An estimated 15,000 individuals have crossed the borders to the Northeastern part of India. There are several refugee settlements along the borders with Thailand.
ALL SMOKE, NO FIRE
I received unbearable footage of children and young people, as young as 13, shot dead in front of their parents and friends. It must be said that the repression was incredibly violent, especially during the first few months when the opposition was peaceful and non-violent. Public opinion abroad was in awe, seeing images of thousands of demonstrators who stood against the military take-over. They were mostly young people who had tasted some forms of freedom since 2011, after five decades of strict military rule. The psychological tactic of the military is to bend the mentality of the opponents by intensifying the use of violence, bombings and burning villages.
“At first, we were amazed to receive messages of solidarity from foreign groups and governments.” “But reactions are very slow to happen, and we are finally brought down to earth.” “Helpless and no future.” The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the regional entity that many expected to lead the mediation in Myanmar, but for people on the ground, it’s all smoke, no fire. A special envoy was indeed appointed last April, but he hasn’t been able to visit the country, and civil society organizations also objected to his appointment. Sanctions come from afar, like the U.S.A., the European Union or Australia, with limited impact.
While political talks are at a standstill, luckily, humanitarian actions continue. My interlocutors report that more people are on the verge of poverty. Displaced persons and recent flood victims depend on assistance from international organizations. So, is there any hope left?
I talked to church leaders in Myanmar, and it took courage for them to admit that, unfortunately, peace will not happen overnight. The crisis is here to last, maybe a few more years. No church service is yet conceivable because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Too many patients stay home because of insecurity and lack of medicines in public hospitals. The government said that four million people, out of the 54 million total population, have been vaccinated, but a resurgence of cases is to be feared due to internal displacement. Christian communities in Myanmar have lost dozens of ministers, all denominations combined. Agape Hospital, a service of the Presbyterian Church in Myanmar, remains open. Whenever possible, churches run campaigns to teach social distancing and distribute masks and disinfectants.
Unlike the general public, church leaders are convinced that solidarity expressed by fellow Christians worldwide brings hope and courage in this time of chaos and despair. “Your words of encouragement and prayers of intercession give us the strength to start again every morning.”
Many of the church leaders were born and raised under restrictive regimes. To know that they are supported across borders is a new and heartening feeling to them.
On the other hand, in July 2021, the Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Council on Human Rights and several international NGOs have stated that these attacks against the people of Myanmar “amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Procedures are, therefore, under development.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
Monitor, study and share news about Myanmar in your community and your mission group. Pray for peace, justice and reconciliation, for goodwill people and churches in Myanmar and the region. The Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM) is supported by a network of churches in Southeast Asia, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the United States. PCM is a global partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The population of Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist. Christians make up about 5% of the population. PCM has a membership of 30,000. PC(USA) supports Agape Hospital, Tahan Theological College and the Child Development Center.
Regional Liaison Southeast Asia and the Pacific
Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:
Dear partners in God’s mission,
I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.
God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.
How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.
We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.
In the light of hope,
Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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