A Closed Country Begins to Open

One of the world’s most repressive governments is changing. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, resumed diplomatic relations with the U.S. last month after its military-led regime freed hundreds of political prisoners and announced a cease-fire in its war against a major ethnic group, the Karen.

That move appears to end one of the longest-running civil wars in recent times, more than 60 years. The military has controlled the country since 1962. It drew global condemnation for refusing to turn power over to civilian rule when an opposition party won an 80% landslide election for Parliament in 1990.

The ruling junta has been staunchly anti-Christian, deriding the faith as the “C-virus.” The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Report regularly included Burma in its short list of countries, which “engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.” Estimates published by CNN are that 4,000 predominantly Christian villages were burned during the past decade. Foreign Christian workers were expelled in 1996. Still, despite the government’s harsh restrictions on Christian activities, David C Cook managed to work there quietly, distributing nearly 40,000 books in three languages for pastors and children through various creative avenues. The picture above shows one shipment of books as they were about to be distributed.

Burmese Christians are now cautiously optimistic that the new openness also means an end to persecution among the Karen and other ethnic groups which represent most of the country’s Christ followers. The oppressive regime renamed Burma “Myanmar” in 1989. The secretive military elite imprisoned pro-democracy leaders, including Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and displaced tens of thousands of civilians in a campaign to stifle dissent. 30,000 Karen people took refuge in the United States. Recent weeks seem to signal a major shift to a more positive direction

Close on the announcement of resumed diplomatic relations with the U.S., David C Cook began assessing how we might step up support to the Burmese Church. First, tens of thousands of copies of the Story of Jesus in local languages will pass through the widened pipeline soon, so local believers have an appealing way to share their faith.

David C Cook is also making plans to increase shipments of leadership and other training materials for church leaders ministering in this rapidly changing social environment, one in which they may no longer need to meet in secret or risk imprisonment. We are currently working with a large network of 20,000 churches across the country. We need to raise substantial funds to support their requests.

Crushing poverty compounds other hardships in Myanmar. The majority of people lives on the equivalent of less than $1 per day. This drives large numbers of children to life on the streets. Shelters and orphanages are not well widely available. If Christians are permitted, under the new rules, to care for children-at-risk, Cook will support them with the J127 Orphan Initiative materials that help children cope with trauma and fear resulting from persecution, loss of their homes and family members.

Wholeness for the people of Myanmar requires more than just political representation. They also need spiritual and emotional health. Your giving can support the Church in Myanmar during this hopeful time of social and political change. Simply designate “Burma” or “Myanmar” when you donate. Be part of this historic event.

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