The Foursquare Church’s work in Myanmar continues to expand, even in the face of ongoing persecution. Despite jailings, physical threats and community pressure, the church is growing in the predominantly Buddhist nation.
Although official religious persecution has eased in the country since the end of long-term military rule in the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, opposition to Christianity among the populace remains strong in many parts.
Such antagonism was behind the arrest and imprisonment of six Foursquare ministers last year for alleged human trafficking, though the leaders were simply taking new students from villages to Bible college; they were released recently when charges were dropped. Another pastor, who has led many young men to Christ, has been accused of teaching them a foreign religion. And in some places, locals pelted church members with stones as they arrived for services.
Recent outright opposition has been the worst in years, says Jason, who with his wife, Victoria, serves as a Foursquare Missions International (FMI) church-funded missionary to Myanmar. Together, Jason and Victoria support the work of almost 250 Foursquare churches in Myanmar that total nearly 7,000 members.
“While the government is allowing greater freedom of speech and religion, we’ve seen people at a grassroots level opposing such freedom of religion, wanting to hold firm to Buddhism,” says Jason. “Yet everywhere I travel, I’m met with absolute excitement and enthusiasm from leaders about what God is doing. There are so many with a pure passion to serve God and see the Great Commission accomplished.”
Much of Foursquare’s growth in the past few years has occurred in Myanmar’s eastern Shan State, in part of the region known as the Golden Triangle, the location of Southeast Asia’s main poppy harvests for producing opium. Church-planting efforts have been twinned effectively with literacy programs, preventive health programs and basic medical care, and agricultural projects.
“The harvest is ripe and workers are being trained,” Jason affirms. “However, limited resources, transportation and communication restrictions, along with outright opposition to Christianity, are major factors.”
Myanmar is one of the region’s most populous countries, with around 55 million people. Overwhelmingly Buddhist, the country also has strong animist roots. Christians make up about six percent of the population.
Foursquare’s presence in Myanmar dates back more than 25 years. The current national leader (name withheld for security reasons) himself was beaten and imprisoned in 2005, before being released.
The latest pressures have forced some ministry changes. Jason says that one Myanmar pastor told him that some church members had stopped attending services, and were uncomfortable when he visited them at their homes because it identified them to others in the community. Some evangelists have stopped going out to share the gospel, focusing instead on prayer, he adds.
Jason appeals for prayer from Foursquare members for those in Myanmar, for “perseverance in the face of persecution.” He adds: “Pray for open doors and hearts to share the gospel interpersonally, instead of in larger groups.
“Pray for the Holy Spirit to remove the veil of unbelief and draw people into the kingdom,” he continues. “Pray for the fruit of the Spirit to be evident in believers’ lives in such a way that it would naturally draw Buddhists, Muslims, animists and Hindus to Christianity.”
Go here for more information and to support FMI’s work in Myanmar.
By: Andy Butcher, a freelance writer in the Orlando, Fla., area