Thousands flee violence in Myanmar

Amos Chin, left, and two Mennonite colleagues baptize young people in rural Myanmar. — Amos Chin Amos Chin, left, and two Mennonite colleagues baptize young people in rural Myanmar. — Amos Chin

Roughly half the members of the Bible Missionary Church, a Mennonite denomination in Myanmar, are displaced. An estimated 415 families, or 2,000 people, have fled to the jungle or elsewhere near the border with India to escape escalating civil unrest.

BMC President Amos Thang Chin said July 24 via video call from Yangon, Myanmar, that food shortages and lack of medical supplies were the most urgent needs of displaced church members. With the rainy season has come an increase in malaria and other diseases. The area is largely cut off from the rest of the country, with access only via India.

“They are the forgotten people,” Chin said, noting the inadequacy of international aid efforts.

BMC families are among about 1 million displaced people, Chin said.

Formerly known as Burma, the Southeast Asian country of 55 million has barely had a break from civil war in 70 years. A violent military coup on Feb. 1, 2021, started the latest round of conflict between the military and various regional and ethnic armed groups.

While most of the displaced BMC members are in western Myanmar, Chin said there was “killing and bombing” in the southern capital, where he lives, the previous night.

Chin and BMC are reaching out to the world. BMC joined Mennonite World Conference in 2009 and recently signed a joint ministry agreement with Mennonite Church Canada, establishing a formal relationship. Building on past connections with MC Canada and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Chin met with MC Canada executive minister Doug Klassen at the MWC assembly in Indonesia in July.

Chin emphasized the importance of the partnership, the sort of relationship they have been praying about for years. Despite being a member of MWC, BMC has had limited contact with Mennonites elsewhere. For Chin, that broader foundation is essential to BMC’s ambitious vision.

In addition to caring for its displaced members, the other focus of BMC is evangelism, discipleship and church planting, largely focused in areas nearer to Yangon.

Klassen said Chin’s energy for the church is infectious.

“He’s an apostle,” Klassen said, noting that Chin is the sort of person who asks of the church: “What can we do, where can we go, how can the witness be extended?” And he does so from a deep connection to a prayer life and community.

Chin’s Facebook postings show videos of village churches, river baptisms and boat travel on jungle waterways.

The turmoil in his country has people hungry for hope.

“People feel they have no future,” Chin said. “Now is the time to evangelize. . . . We preach that there is hope: Jesus.” He reported 182 converts in the past two years because of BMC work.

Chin is concerned Myanmar is deteriorating into a failed state. A particular challenge is that some church members are joining armed groups. While church leaders urge members not to enlist, Chin said people whose homes and property have been destroyed and whose family members have been killed feel deep tension and may give in to a desire for revenge.

“We are Anabaptist Mennonite people,” he said. “We don’t support armed groups. . . . This is not the will of God.”

BMC’s Mennonite roots go back to 1989, when Chin began two years of study at Mennonite Brethren Centenary Bible College in Shamshabad, India. He founded the first BMC church in 2002. His vision now is that Mennonites would have a strong presence.

“We would like to show we are Mennonites in Myanmar,” he said.

Chin is eager to see partnerships develop. “Alone we cannot do this,” he said of attaining the BMC vision.

At this point on the path of partnership, he pleads for prayer for those forced to scatter from their homes: “Prayer can make a difference.”

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