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Easter prayer service for Myanmar set for Saturday

Southeast Asian country continues to struggle three years after a coup d’état

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The PC(USA)’s Asia Pacific Office, part of World Mission ministry, and Burmese churches in diaspora have organized a recorded prayer service for Myanmar to air on the World Mission Facebook page on Saturday at 7:30 pm Eastern (U.S. & Canada), which is Sunday, March 31, at 6 a.m. in Myanmar. The Rev. Pek Muan Cuang, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Myanmar (PCM), will deliver a message and lead prayers and meditation during this Easter Service.

In a country where violence has been the norm since a 2021 coup d’état, an estimated 2.7 million people are displaced from their homes and more than 6,000 civilians have reportedly been killed. Prayers are requested for a population whose society and infrastructure have crumbled over the past three years due to armed conflict.

A United Nations Office for Coordination of Human Affairs report outlining the humanitarian needs of Myanmar states the “civilian population is living in fear for their lives … the situation is marked by surging displacement, a fragile security environment, profound protections threats, and escalating unmet needs.” The most recent March update notes ongoing airstrikes and artillery shelling have intensified in many townships, placing added stress on the affected communities. More than 78,000 civilian properties, including homes, religious structures, and education and health facilities have been destroyed since February 2021.

According to Hery Ramambasoa, World Mission’s area coordinator for Asia and the Pacific, the current status quo finds that Christian minorities have been assimilated to the opposition or became targets of persecution, churches have been burned down, and some religious leaders arrested. Religious services are canceled for security reasons. Shelling and shooting have become more frequent and closer, resulting in casualties and injuries, in Kalaymio, where the offices of the Presbyterian Church in Myanmar, a PC(USA) partner, are located.

Hery Ramambasoa serves as World Mission’s area coordinator for  Asia and the Pacific. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

“Kalaymio, in Northwest Myanmar, used to be a favorable city. But now almost half of its 400,000 population has fled to other regions, or across borders. The city is besieged,” said Ramambasoa. “The police are barricaded in their posts, but the influence of the opposition alliance, as well as armed ethnic groups, can be felt everywhere. The all-powerful Burmese army returned to power and hunts its opponents, going as far as to bomb and burn entire villages. Those who have the means move their family in less-affected regions and some will take refuge in neighboring India. But the other half of the population will not go anywhere and will wait for the situation to improve or deteriorate.”

In a recent update from the PCM, it notes that Kalaymio — one of the largest and most densely populated towns in the country and an important business hub for trading with India — is one of the first towns where civilians have taken up improvised weapons as arms to resist the police and military forces who used excessive and lethal forces against anti-coup protestors. The ruling military has instituted tactics that include air strikes and burning down pro- democracy People’s Defense Force villages. These incidents have caused panic migration, with many individuals crossing into the border state of India while others remain hiding in nearby villages.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra via Unsplash

“About three or four months ago, these ethnic armed groups caused setbacks to the Army resulting in further repression to everyone against the pro-coup military forces,” said Ramambasoa. “A conscription to the Army is now mandatory for males between 18 to 45 and females between 18 to 35. This is causing real disarray for young people and families.”

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar, a nation of about 54 million people, is a southeast Asian nation bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand. The Presbyterian Church in Myanmar has about 30,000 members and has been a global partner of the PC(USA) for several decades. The PC(USA) supports the work of the Agape Hospital and the Theological College in the northern part of the country.

“Alongside partners in Asia and Pacific, the PC(USA) is helping fund the upgrade of the Agape hospital in Kalaymio,” said Ramambasoa. “Myanmar has an important diaspora in the U.S. and different countries of the world. The association of Asian hospitals is also looking into ways in which they could help in the current crisis but because of the armed conflict, it is difficult for aid to reach the people in Myanmar.”

No registration is required to view the Easter prayer service for Myanmar on the World Mission Facebook page Saturday evening at 7:30 Eastern.

To support Presbyterian mission in Myanmar, click here. If you would like to donate toward Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s disaster response to Myanmar, click here.

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