A country’s military forces should be expected to assure peace and protection for all its citizens. We in America take this for granted and honor those who so serve. We assume our rights have a guarantee of protection, even if we belong to a minority.
Unspeakable horror descends upon a country when its military forces persecute rather than protect a despised ethnic and religious minority. Forces established to stabilize a country are devoted instead to evil purposes. Terror and torment rule over life rather than peace and prosperity.
This is the tragedy in Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma. In a country historically divided into incompatible ethnic enclaves, the military controlled by the Buddhist majority is on a murderous course to eliminate all whose beliefs and ethnicity differ from their own. Buddhism teaches that suffering is inherent in life and one finds liberation from it by cultivating wisdom, virtue and concentration. Yet violence and cruelty are systematically employed against the non-Buddhist minorities.
The world’s attention has focused on the plight of the Rohingya people. These are Muslims from the state of Rakhine where the Burmese military has committed unspeakable atrocities: burning hundreds of villages to the ground and driving more than 700,000 across the border into Bangladesh. Displaced Rohingyas occupy the largest refugee camp in the world in Bangladesh, where they have cut down all the trees — even digging up the roots — to gather fuel for cooking fires. Now the terrain is denuded and the monsoon season is certain to bring increased misery, starvation and death to tens of thousands.
Responding to the condemnation of the world, the military moved many of its troops out of Rakhine State into neighboring Kachin State, where 95 percent of the population is Christian, mostly Baptist. Military operations against this isolated northern state bordered by China, away from the world’s attention, have greatly increased. For the past 18 months, Kachin has faced the same horror experienced by the Rohingyas. Death rains from the skies as the attacks continue — 411 jet fighter and helicopter gunship attacks since June of last year.
The recent statistics from Kachin State are heartbreaking: 405 villages destroyed; 130,000 internally displaced: thousands hiding in jungles; 311 Christian churches destroyed, many replaced with Buddhist pagodas; 122 public schools destroyed; and 264 local medical clinics destroyed.
Being Muslim, Rohingya refugees have escaped to neighboring Muslim countries such as Bangladesh. But no nearby country welcomes Christian refugees. The Indian state of Mizoram has grudgingly allowed a few thousand to enter. Kachin Christians have been persecuted for decades, leading many to emigrate to places around the world. South Indianapolis, for instance, has a Kachin population of 20,000. The current tragedy is compounded by the increased difficulty of crossing the border.
The Kanchin Christians have been closely associated with the American Baptist Convention (ABC) since 1905. Strangely, the ABC has barely referred to the tragedy.
The response of our government is conflicted. The Trump administration has not spoken out. Legislation reimposing sanctions and trade restrictions on Myanmar has passed both houses of Congress, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not allow it to come to the floor for a vote. McConnell has supported Myanmar “First State Counselor” Aung San Suu Kyl for many years. This Nobel Peace Prize winner led the resistance to the military rulers, who held her under house arrest for years before allowing her to run for office. Many around the world are protesting her refusal to intervene in this ongoing genocide.
Of course, we can pray for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. We can also contact our senators and congressional leaders and the Trump administration urging action. Many organizations — Christian and secular — can speak out. Our voices of concern must be heard.
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