Buddhism has a strong hold on the Burmese majority, as well as over the Shan, the Rakhine, and the Mon peoples. Most children receive education in Buddhist monasteries. Burmese Buddhism mixes in occult beliefs, superstition, and fear of the spirits. The Church must learn to understand the Buddhist mindset, and must also minister in spiritual power, in order to see a breakthrough among the majority. Reportedly, thousands of Buddhist monks have quietly become believers and many study the gospel and listen to Christian radio. Pray for this quiet movement of Buddhists to Christ to keep spreading, growing, and deepening.
The Church faces many challenges in Myanmar. Pray about these issues:
- Limitations on the freedom to function as the Church, since many restrictions exist. Authorities generally disallow new church buildings from being constructed. The importation of Christian literature is severely limited. In many cases Christians are pressured or forced to convert to Buddhism.
- Nominalism and revival are simultaneous dynamics. Several generations after the arrival of Christianity through Adoniram Judson and others, it is to some more a tradition with irrelevant forms than a living faith. In some circles, Western humanism erodes the Bible's authority. But at the same time, many mainline and traditional denominations find themselves in the midst of revival and renewal, which is happening across previously entrenched denominational lines.
- Most Christians are from minority groups that are embroiled in military actions against the central government. Pray that this may not cause bitterness, hatred of other peoples, compromise of their faith or blunting of a missions vision. Isolation, poverty and lack of training hamper the ability of these groups to be a witness, but this is changing.
Buddhism is strongly entrenched among the Burmese majority as well as the Shan, the Rakhine and the Mon, and has deep influence among more animistic peoples. Burmese Buddhism incorporates much pre-Buddhist spiritism, occult beliefs, astrology and superstition, and devotion is strong. Most children are educated in monasteries, so the influence of Buddhist thought is pervasive. The Church must learn to understand and address the Buddhist mindset as well as minister in spiritual power if it is to see a harvest among this majority. But positive signs are there including a growing openness to Jesus, especially among the 700,000 monks. Many study the gospel and listen to Christian radio. Reportedly, thousands have quietly become believers; no doubt many more would also believe were there not such powerful cultural, social and spiritual constraints against leaving Buddhism. The government crackdown against the monks' political demonstration reduced their influence to a degree.
The least evangelized peoples. There are still many millions of unreached, and the need for bold but sensitive outreach and church planting persists. There is a young but encouraging movement to Christ that expresses the gospel in a framework sensible to Buddhists. It began among the Rakhine and moved to Burmese and Karen Buddhists. Pray for:
- The Bama (Burmese) peoples, staunchly Buddhist (only 0.1% Christian). It is not easy for tribal believers to witness to them due to years of mistrust; nor is it easy for the politically dominant Bama to receive the gospel from them without prejudice. Pray for conversions among this staunchly Buddhist people.
- The Shan are related to the Thai and live in the Golden Triangle area. Despite being primarily Buddhist, they suffered much in the wars with the military regime. Only 0.9% are Christian, and few have Bibles. The new Shan Bible translation was published in 2003.
- Other Buddhist minorities have few Christians - Arakanese/Rakhine (0.1%), the Palaung (0.2%), Mon (0.9%), Lu (0.2%), Yangbye (0.5%) and several smaller groups.
- The dozens of animistic peoples, many of whom are proving responsive to loving outreach. Pray for the emergence of vital church planting movements among all of them.
- The Chinese number over one million, but only about 2.5% are Christian. Long holding significant influence in Myanmar, a recent and massive influx of Chinese over the Yunnan border has caused resentment. The recent arrivals are less evangelized than Burmese-born Chinese. Mandalay is over one-third Chinese.
- The Rohingya of Arakan, Muslim descendants of Arabs, Moors, Moghuls and Bengalis who settled in Arakan 1,000 years ago. They are one of the most neglected and unwanted peoples on earth. They are denied citizenship and face numerous restrictions in their basic rights. Many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh or emigrated illegally to other countries. There is little outreach to them. Pray for the few scattered believers.
- The nine Hindu peoples were long neglected. In 1928 the first church was planted among them, but they still are only around 1% Christian.
Pray for the vast number of refugees/IDPs. In Thailand alone there are over two million Burmese (mainly for economic rather than political reasons), and more in Malaysia, Singapore and Western nations. Another one million are internally displaced, mostly from Christian areas. Both within Myanmar and among the diaspora there is increasing ministry and spiritual fruit, with many Burmese churches being planted. But many remain without the gospel, uprooted and far from home.
The missionary vision of the Myanmar Church continues to grow and mature. A number of nationals serve the Lord cross-culturally. There are many Bible schools in Yangon, accounting for at least 1,000 students; most of these include mission as a key part of the curriculum. Pray for a willingness to serve in the rural villages and not just the cities, for genuine love across deep ethnic divides, and for good training so that the indigenous church is well equipped to evangelize the nation.
Christian support ministries are coming into their own. The maturing of indigenous missions and the country's desperate plight create many new opportunities to demonstrate Christ's compassion. Prayer needs include:
- Drug addicts. Intravenous drug use is widespread (given the proximity to the Golden Triangle Area) and, unsurprisingly, closely linked to HIV/AIDS. The Myanmar Young Crusaders is one of several groups with effective ministry seeing the lives of addicts transformed through Christ's power.
- AIDS victims. Myanmar has one of the most severe AIDS crises in the region, with about 1.5% of the population infected, sadly much of it in the "Christian" areas. Inadequate prevention measures by the government, combined with large-scale prostitution (often involuntarily trafficked rural girls), destroy the lives of many. ATEM, Tearfund and the Presbyterians are a few of the key groups working to prevent the further spread of HIV and to minister to those impacted by this disease.
- The aftermath of cyclone Nargis, while tragic, created an open door for the practical ministry of providing food, water, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities as well as meeting the deeper economic, spiritual and psychological needs of the survivors. The response by many Christians and the openness of many Buddhists led to the cyclone being referred to as "the blessed storm". Since foreign agencies are banned or heavily restricted in operating locally, indigenous ministries and international partnerships are rising to the challenge.
- Children at risk are a populous group (more than 750,000), given the civil conflicts and the destruction by Nargis. Increasing numbers of local churches and missions run orphanages or work with street children, usually on quite a small and local scale. Pray for financial provision for these grassroots ministries, for the freedom to operate and for the children to meet Jesus in these difficult circumstances.
Christian media ministry:
- Bibles and Christian literature are in desperately short supply due to import and printing restrictions. More Christian bookshops are opening in the cities (The Evangelical Literature Centre, CLC, others), but they are far from enough to meet the need. Too much unhelpful Christian literature from abroad only complicates matters. Pray for more culturally appropriate, well-translated, biblically faithful writings and that God would raise up Burmese writers to meet this need.
- Christian radio is very effective due to its mobility and privacy, with broadcasting in 35 languages. Major radio agencies and their broadcasting languages include FEBC (28 languages, including Bama/Burmese, totalling 76 hours/week) and TWR (Burmese, Karen, 11 hours/week). Also broadcasting are Adventist World Radio, Gospel for Asia and Radio Veritas Asia. Several others broadcast primarily in English. Pray for the production of programmes and the provision of equipment.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.