MCC partners in Myanmar work for peace, provide food amid conflict

Food parcels are prepared for distribution to internally displaced people in Myanmar. This person is not named for their protection. They are not the person named Mr. Khong in the story. — Mennonite Central Committee Food parcels are prepared for distribution to internally displaced people in Myanmar. This person is not named for their protection. They are not the person named Mr. Khong in the story. — Mennonite Central Committee

Every day, when Mr. Khong awakens in Myanmar, he has two challenges: 1) avoid being captured, conscripted or killed by the military junta struggling to hold onto power; and 2) get food to people who have fled to remote mountainous areas to avoid the junta.

Khong, who asked that his real name not be used, described the insecurity and desperation he and many others feel today in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. He spoke on a Mennonite Central Committee podcast about the violence and hunger that have become pervasive since the military took control in 2021.

“Whenever there is engagement between the military and civilian people, how the military treats the people is very violent,” said Khong, who works with one of MCC’s partner organizations. “You know, they will slash, they will punch, they will even kill.

“We have already experienced unlawful arrest. Everyone can be arrested, and the military can shoot anyone, anytime, even in the largest city. They don’t need justification. There’s no rule of law anymore.”

In February, the military reinstated conscription for all men ages 18-35 and women ages 18-27. People are lining up for passports to leave the country, hiding in remote areas and slipping out of the country to avoid conscription. The military sometimes will use people who can’t fight to clear a field of land mines ahead of the troops, Khong said.

He said he is especially at risk because he does human rights and peacebuilding work and provides ­humanitarian assistance.

The military has outlawed distribution of humanitarian goods because they believe humanitarian workers are supporting the resistance, he said. Yet as a Christian and as a peacemaker, Khong feels he has no choice but to help people in need.

MCC supports its partners who provide food, medical supplies, child education and income-generation assistance. The partners also use the education MCC has provided to work for peace and teach peacebuilding.

“The people of Myanmar cry out for peace,” said Charles Conklin, MCC representative for Myanmar and Cambodia, “but often feel that their cries go unheard. MCC has been a witness to the suffering and hopes of the people of Myanmar — hearing their cry for peace, supporting them and advocating for them.”

Khong learned through peace training that feeding people is one way to bring peace.

“The whole population, millions of people, [are] getting hungry,” he said.

His mother and grandparents are among the people who have moved to remote areas to get away from air strikes and other violence, making a stable income unlikely. Farming is unsafe because of land mines. People are in debt to each other to be able to pay for necessities.

Food recipients get a little relief from the physical and mental stress of war. Families who didn’t have enough rice for a week now have enough for a month. They can eat more than once a day. Although he doesn’t have statistics to prove it, Khong believes having food decreases domestic violence.

Church leaders organize humanitarian support teams in each village. They use electronic funds MCC’s partner sends to buy food from a local market and distribute it. When no market is available, support teams distribute cash so displaced people can buy food from those who have it.

“We need to do humanitarian [distributions] very secretly, telling no one,” Khong said. He and other pastors believe that “being riskless is not always the will of God.”

Conklin admires the commitment of MCC’s partners who put their lives on the line to care for people in need and teach how to end cycles of trauma, violence and hatred.

“Our partners have been resisting the call to violence ever since the military coup in 2021, despite pressure from neighbors to take up arms against the junta,” Conklin said. “They have been preaching peace as the only viable path forward for their society.

“Now they, their families, and their communities are at risk of being drafted to fight on the other side of the conflict. In response, they have asked us for resources on conscientious objection. We are once again humbled by their bravery and conviction, that even now they plan to stand up and say no to war despite the extreme personal risks.”

Linda Espenshade

Linda Espenshade is Mennonite Central Committee U.S. news coordinator.

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