BY RYAN MORGAN
A Pitched Battle against Evil
Their guns are held together with duct tape. Unlike their enemy, they have no attack helicopters, no fighter aircraft. Their survival as an independent people hangs by a thread. Most of their mountainous homeland in Northern Burma has long ago fallen into the hands of the enemy. The few pockets of resistance that remain hold valiantly onto the hope that victory, however distant it may seem, is somehow still attainable. They are the Kachin, and for more than half a century they have fought for freedom and the right to govern themselves. They are also overwhelmingly believers in Jesus Christ, and it is in God that they now place their trust for ultimate deliverance.
Tha Dah Der church, burned to the ground in 2010. Photo courtesy Free Burma Rangers.
For 17 years, from 1994 until the summer of 2011, a cease-fire was held between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese military. Then, suddenly, the Burmese military attacked with renewed ferocity. For the first time in the history of the conflict attack helicopters and fighter jets were used to bombard the Kachin. An estimated 100,000 Kachin have been forced to run for their lives and leave their homes behind. Yet the conflict is not only political. A report last month revealed that 66 churches have been burned to the groundin the year and a half since the fighting began again. A dimension of religious persecution has always been a part of this war.
Buddhist Army, Christian Rebellion
Few, if any, would say that the Kachin’s struggle for independence is all about religious freedom, but it is impossible to deny that religious persecution is very much an element in that struggle. Burma long ago declared Theravada Buddhism to be the State religion. The vast majority of soldiers in the very large Burmese army (one of the largest in the world per capita) are Buddhist and all officers are required to subscribe to the Buddhist faith.
For decades this, along with other factors, has led to a military that openly commits religious persecution against Christians. According to one Kachin source, “When the Burma army come to the villages, they torch the churches but don’t touch the [Buddhist] pagodas. They want us to be Burman, to be Buddhist, and to follow their orders.”
For ethnic Christians already living under the thumb of the Burmese government, religious persecution is an accepted fact. Last year an organization working with the Chin, an ethnic group in west Burma that is 90 percent Christian, published a report documenting 40 separate incidents of “torture or ill-treatment” based on their faith and ethnicity. The report went on to say that 13 Christian crosses had been destroyed in Chin areas and that Chin Christians had been forced to help construct over a dozen Buddhist monasteries and pagodas during the eight years covered by the report.
Is a future of religious persecution what faces the Christian Kachin if their independence fighters fall to the Burmese army’s next offensive? Possibly, but hope dies hard and reports from the front lines indicate that the Kachin have placed their trust in perhaps the only one left who can save them, God.
The Coming Battle
In January, Burma’s President Thein Sein declared a cease-fire between Burma and the Kachin. Such cease-fires have been declared before and few among the Kachin believe it will really hold. If anything it gives the Burmese military a chance to entrench themselves in newly captured territory; to resupply and reinforce.
A source visiting the conflict area reported last week, “We see here that although now there is sporadic fighting and shelling, but the Burma army is strengthening its positions and for the IDPs (internally displaced persons) there is constant displacement. The Burma army is resupplying after two months of airstrikes and ground assaults. On this mission the Burma army has been close all the time and have built more camps and crept closer to Kachin positions and communities since we have been here. We have reconned them in many places and they look well supplied, well fed, well-armed and motivated. They look like they are ready to attack again. In spite of this God is our hope and we feel reinforced by your prayers and help.”
Another source told ICC on Tuesday that Kachin churches are holding prayer around the clock, seven days a week, and fasting regularly. If a new offensive is coming, the Kachin will be as prepared as possible, both physically and spiritually.
ICC is also doing what it can to assist. In February donors to our “Suffering Wives and Children” fund provided enough in donations to sponsor seven small relief missions directed at bringing medical relief and spiritual encouragement to the most vulnerable of the Kachin. With your help we can continue to aid not only the Kachin, but thousands more Christians around the world who are victims of religious persecution. The battle is a constant one, but like the Kachin, we put our faith in God that ultimately He will be victorious.
A recent photo provided to ICC shows one of several IDP (Internally Displaced Person’s) camps setup to provide shelter for the tens of thousands of Kachin displaced by the Burmese military offensive.