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January 04
Myanmar Brief
Brief History
Myanmar (formerly Burma, renamed Myanmar in 1989) gained independence from the British in 1948. It is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia with an area of 678,500 sq km and an estimated population of 53 million.
Geographical Location
The country is bordered on the northwest by India and Bangladesh, on the northeast by Tibet and China, by Laos and Thailand to the southeast, and by the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the south.
Captial and Major Cities
The largest city and most important commercial centre is the former capital Yangon (formerly Rangoon) with a population of 6 million. In 2005, the government transferred many of its ministries to Naypyidaw, near Pyinmana, in central Myanmar and officially made it the new capital on 6 Nov 2005. The other large city is Mandalay (with population of 925,000).
Myanmar had been under military rule since 1962. A new political system came into effect after an election in November 2010. The military junta handed over governing power on 29 March 2011.
About 70% of the population works in agriculture and forestry (source of teak and hardwood) and rice accounts for about half of the agricultural output. Fishing is also important. It is also rich in minerals and gemstones. Most of the country’s factories and industries are operated and owned by the state.
The official language of Myanmar is Burmese. 90% of the population is primarily Theravada Buddhists and they treat monks with great respect.
Ethnic Groups
Bamar (68%), Shan (9%), Karen (7%), Rakhine (4%), Chinese (3%), Ethnic Indians (2%), Mon (2%), Others (5%, Kachin, Anglo-Indians and Chin).
Buddhist (89%), Christian (4%, with Baptist 3% and Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim (4%), Animism (1%), Others (2%).
Natural Hazards
Destructive earthquakes and cyclones, flooding and landslides are common during rainy seasons (June to September). There are periodic droughts.
Gospel Pioneering In Myanmar
The First Seed
The true church in Myanmar started amongst one of the smallest races in the country – the Chins. They number only about half a million in a nation of 53 million people. In fact, there are almost four times more Chin people in northern India and Bangladesh than within the political border of the Union of Myanmar.
Almost the entire Chin community (1.5mil) in Myanmar is Christian, at least nominally. Contact with the True Jesus Church was initiated by people from two villages – Sakhangyi and Pyndawoo situated just outside the border of the Chin State in northwest Myanmar.
Two separate religious waves amongst the Chins form the backdrop of our entry into the community. First, there was a surge in seventh-day Sabbath-keeping in the late 70s followed by the tide of charismatic movements that swept in the early 80s. They gave rise to numerous indigenous churches but there has been none that is both Sabbath-keeping and tongue-speaking.
Between 1987 and 1989, a man from Sakhangyi and two brothers from Pyndawoo were searching for a Sabbath-keeping church to associate with outside of Myanmar. They stumbled upon the name “True Jesus Church” listed in a booklet called the Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups published by The Bible Sabbath Association. Through a Singaporean who was then working in Yangon, the trio then wrote to the International Assembly . In October 1990, a preacher from the US accompanied by a deacon from Sabah made their maiden trip to Myanmar.
However, the regions inhabited by the Chins were closed to foreigners and our ministers had no alternative but to restrict their activities in the former capital city of Yangon using the residence of the Singaporean brother in Yangon. Subsequent visits were made in 1991, 1993 and 1994. Each time, the Chin villagers from the north would travel south to Yangon to hear the Word and a number were baptized.
In 1995, a brother in Taiwan migrated to Yangon with his wife and preached to several theological students of another denomination. One of them believed and was baptized. He is presently serving as a full-time preacher.
From Year 2000, IA entrusted the charge of the Myanmar ministry to the Singapore Co-Ordination Board (SCB). Subsequently, the Myanmar Ministry Committee (MMC) was formed as a sub-committee of the SCB. Since then, MMC has conducted training seminars, youth bible camps and theological courses, children RE camps (train RE teachers), spiritual meetings and a full-time preacher training course.
Full-Time Ministers and Church Workers
There are currently 2 full-time preachers, 2 deacons, a mission assistant, an administrative assistant and a day-care centre teacher.
Church Buildings and Congregations
The church in Yangon is situated in Insein. Besides Sabbath services, it also operates a day-care centre for children in the neighbourhood, offering free tuition classes daily. We have 2 churches and one prayer house in Kalay, NE Myanmar. Though several hundreds have been baptized over the years there are just slightly over 200 active members in Myanmar.
Poverty and constant poor health pose serious threats to our workers and members. The believers do not have stable jobs and live below poverty line. Most members who suffer from sicknesses self-diagnose and self-medicate (even injections and intravenous feeds) as they cannot afford doctor’s fees. Apart from the spiritual food to strengthen their faith and reliance on God through regular training and seminars, MMC has identified 2 main kinds of welfare to help the members in the livelihood – Medical and Education.
Current Situation
Faith and Membership
The church of Myanmar is still in its infancy. With low family incomes and poor education, most members find it a challenge to keep the Sabbath. Believers’ faith and knowledge of the truth has yet to be firmly established and membership is only beginning to stabilize.
Migration of members to neighbouring Countries
Mizoram – Aizawl
Since 2008, there has been a small exodus of members in the Chin states crossing over to Aizawl, the capital to Mizoram State in search of work and better livelihood. Mizoram ("land of the Mizo people") is in North Eastern India, sharing borders with the states of Tripura, Assam, Manipur and with the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Its capital is Aizawl.
Aizawl with its surrounding area and the rest of the state have been developed to meet the influx of domestic and foreign tourists. The largest city in the Indian states, but still very remote. Aizawl is located at 3,715 feet from the sea level, and is a religious and cultural centre of the Mizos. Aizawl is connected to Kolkata by air.
The majority (90.5%) of Mizos are Christians in various denominations, predominantly Presbyterian and the church forms an important part of Mizo culture. Sunday is a designated rest day for all and almost all will attend church services.
Most of the Chin state members in Aizawl work as casual labourers, or coffee stall assistants at the bazaar town centre. Members congregate weekly for Sabbath service. However, attendance on Sabbath day is lesser than Sundays as most will have to work on Saturdays. There are some potential truthseekers and MMC has been sending teams there 3-4 times a year to pastor the members and to evangelize the Word. Though alcohol is illegal in this Christian city, its society is not free from vice. The availability of alcohol in an underground distillery is an open secret. On Saturday nights and Sunday evenings when most church activities are over, one can see groups of youths engaged in drugs, revelry and heavy drinking. This is one main concern for members working in Aizawl.
West Malaysia
There is also a small migration of members to central West Malaysia (Sungei Long). GA Malaysia has been assisting to pastor these members.
Immediate Needs
Need more sincere and capable leaders to pastor the members and grow the church. Yangon church is seeing a steady growth in membership and truthseekers in recent years. As there is only 1 resident preacher and a deacon overseeing the entire church administration and ministry work, we need more workers to be trained in leadership roles to share the load of the preacher and deacon.
MMC to step up:
  • Training in RE teaching and children RE class syllabus, conduct more RE camps.
  • Basic doctrines’ course and bible seminars to reinforce members’ knowledge of TJC’s belief.
  • Conduct more workshops on faith building and spiritual nurture programs for members (especially the youths)
  • Pastoral care to all members in Yangon and the Chin states and Aizawl.
  • Help members towards financial independence by training and equipping them with simple self-employed skills to earn a living.
  • Identify members for leadership role training
  • Conduct English classes to improve communication between mission workers and members
  • Continue to improve children’s literacy rate by promoting education and maintaining educational welfare

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