Introducing Myanmar

You may know of Myanmar by its previous name of Burma, or as the country the famous missionary Adoniram Judson traveled to, or possibly as ‘the golden land’, a reference to the thousands of glittering pagodas scattered across the landscape.


What you may not know is that Myanmar is a vibrant, multicolored mosaic of over 100 different people groups. It was also one of the first Southeast Asian countries to embrace Buddhism in the 3rd century B.C. The country went on to become the center of the Theravada Buddhist practice and flourished through trade thanks to its position as a gateway to Southeast Asia and through the agricultural innovation of its time.

Change undone
After decades of isolation from the world, Myanmar underwent a steady transition toward a more open, globalized future. Elections in 2011 enabled a pseudo-civilian government to replace the direct military rule, and in 2016 the long-standing opposition party, the National League for Democracy, assumed office. However, in February 2021 amid lockdowns implemented globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar returned to military only rule. After this change in government the country has seemed to be in a continuous downward spiral, undoing years of progress. 

Deep-rooted challenges
Beyond the headlines of 2021, a number of other significant challenges continue to face the country. Myanmar is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change-induced disasters. Long-standing ethnic tensions continue to spill over into violence. The peace process, while at times has showed small signs of progress, remains in tatters. The conflict between religious communities remains an ongoing challenge for national development. Poverty, particularly in rural areas, affects at least a quarter of all households and likely has increased in recent years. There is plenty to be despairing about, but these realities are fortunately not the whole picture. 

Long-standing faithful witness
Christian witness in Myanmar dates back over 400 years, with the first martyr, Nat Shin Naung, killed in 1612. Protestant missions arrived in 1807 with American missionaries James Chater and Richard Mardon. Another early missionary was Felix Carey, the son of William Carey, the founder of the British Baptist Missionary Society. Adoniram Judson, an American Baptist, followed a few years later in 1813. He translated and produced a Bible in Burmese.  While church growth was initially slow, today there are over 3 million Christians in Myanmar (6 percent of the population). Several senior members of the recently deposed section of the government, including one of two vice-presidents, are professing Christians.
While the Church in Myanmar has a remarkable history of mission endeavor, efforts to reach those yet to hear of Jesus, particularly in rural areas, remain modest. Church growth among the Bamar, Mon, Shan, Rakhine, and Pa-O, as well as other ethnic groups, remains slow. Yet the testimonies of those who have come to Christ from these groups are powerful.  The majority of Christians and churches are typically from ethnic minorities. Our prayer is that there would be a compelling mission movement in Myanmar fueled by followers of Jesus obeying the Great Commission — fulfilling Adoniram Judson’s dream of ‘Myanmar for Christ.’

Next steps

Pray for Myanmar with our free download 5x5x5 prayer guide taking you through 5 topics for 5 days for 5 minutes. 
 

Sign up for our weekly prayer emails for Myanmar and get a free copy of our prayer guide ‘Stories from Myanmar’.

 

This article originally appeared in Billions magazine May-August 2020. It was updated in March 2022.

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