The dull rhythmic thud of the sledgehammer echoed through the walls of the shed. The children, women, and men huddled inside listened intently to the voices calling outside as they watched the guns of the soldiers guarding them. They wondered what it all means.
An officer entered and looked them over.
“This is a cleansing time for the Wa region,” he announced. “Because of one bad fish all the fish in the boat start stinking.”
Christians, he went on, are dividing the people and soiling the reputation of the community. So the churches must come down. The Christians have to go.
A sudden crackdown
ANM’s local partner reports that in the last week at least 12 churches in Shan State, Myanmar (also known as Burma), were demolished, severely damaged, or closed by the United Wa State Army, a rebel group. Soldiers arrested Christians, specifically targeting pastors in an attempt to remove the leadership and break up congregations.
The Wa Army, previously at war with the national Myanmar military, signed a peace agreement in 2013 that gave it de facto control over a large part of eastern Myanmar. It’s well financed by its major role in the region’s illegal drugs and weapons trade.
While Myanmar tries to secure other ethnic minority regions (see “Who Are the Rohingya?” for one example), the Wa Army last week turned its attention to the Christians within its territory. Even though Myanmar is almost 90% Buddhist, the Burmese who live along the Chinese and Thai borders largely maintain traditional animist beliefs. The Wa Army wants to keep it that way: the officer bluntly told his captives in the shed that there is only room for one religion in their domain.
ANM’s local partner has six missionaries among the Wa people, and they oversee work among about 300 new believers. These missionaries know the Christians whose churches were destroyed, and they have acted to help. “[One of the churches] was Mr. ——’s church,” the director said. “He was taken by one of our missionaries in a safe place. Today our ministry sent some support for buying clothes and food and towels.”
Another pastor was arrested. His wife was taken to safety by a missionary, along with one of their five children. The other four children were separated from them but presumed to be in hiding. Army officers are sentencing pastors to three years in prison, or five for some.
Responding to persecution in Myanmar
Outside in the courtyard the sledgehammer rhythm falters. Another soldier steps carefully to the edge of the roof to take over the work from his exhausted comrade. Minutes later, finally, the heavy wooden cross drops from the roof of the church building. The Wa soldiers will use this building as a new local headquarters.
Pray with us for the believers in this region of Myanmar. Persecution continues, and the outcome is uncertain. Our partner put it this way: “This is the worst I’ve seen…”