Persistent Persecution

It has been almost two years since Cyclone Nargis battered Myanmar. As I think back to the events that occurred during that time I have to marvel at the Lord’s hand at work as well as grieve for the struggles of the people.

Harvesters International Ministries had made a survey trip to Myanmar in February of 2008 to visit with “Pastor Benjamin” to learn more about his ministry, needs and suitability for partnership with Harvesters. Our director and J Lucarelli were preparing to present Fellowship Bible Church of Myanmar to the Board of Directors at the June meeting. On May 2nd we received news of the devastation that the cyclone had caused to Myanmar and made efforts to try to contact the pastor to no avail. Prayer was our strongest recourse and we waited patiently watching the news and the headlines regarding the destruction. On May 6th we were blessed to hear from the pastor that all were safe with no loss of life, but that the church and the orphanage had been destroyed. We know it was by divine intervention that this message got through to us as there were no phone lines in the city according to the news.

With the Board’s approval, Harvesters started raising support to help in the relief efforts. We were concerned about the safety of the funds as the military junta was arresting even their own celebrities for attempting to offer relief to those in need, especially those of the Irrawaddy Delta where the cyclone hit full force destroying rice crops and killing tens of thousands of people. By the last week of May the Lord had touched the hearts of His people and opened a gateway to send the support that had been raised to the Pastor. Once back in Myanmar relief efforts began swiftly. The Pastor continued to find ways to communicate the efforts of the Lord’s people in Myanmar to us and to send up pictures of supplies, construction and outreach.

By the third week of June, with repairs started in Yangon to the orphanage, the pastor left for the forbidden turf of the Irrawaddy where he had been shepherding a young church plant. Again, prayer was all we had to offer – we knew the risks were great to bring any sort of relief to the ailing people of this area, but Pastor Benjamin knew the Lord was calling him to go and we prayed for protection, for evangelism opportunities and for encouragement for the people. We didn’t hear anything for over a week – there was zero communication in the Irrawaddy. Thankfully, on July 9th we heard from the Pastor that he was safely back in the city. He reported great devastation, hundreds of orphaned children and great need. On the bright side, however, he was able to supply some basic provisions to the believers, encourage them through the Word and even hold a baptism for five new believers – the Lord had called him and he answered.

This is all past history, and because of Pastor Benjamin’s faithfulness and accountability he was readily accepted by the Board of Directors as a partner at the September Board meeting and faithfully continues to report of many outreach and evangelism activities. Over the next twelve months the orphanage and church were rebuilt, major youth outreaches occurred during the Water Festival and the people of southern Chin State were blessed with the pastor’s teaching. Things were looking up, but as so often happens, someone wanted to turn off the Light! That someone was the government. In the fall of 2009, many Christian churches were mandated to close in the Yangon area and several pastors were hauled into the government offices to sign documents stating that they would no longer preach. Pastor Benjamin was not among those who were forced to sign, but shortly after the church was rebuilt the government said that they could not hold services there. To the Lord’s glory, the temporary church behind the orphanage was still standing and continues to hold services to this day.

Last November Harvesters International, in conjunction with Face 2 Faith Ministries brought evangelism training to the pastors working with Pastor Benjamin. The people were very excited and so enthusiastic, but Buddhist neighbors near one of the house churches started making problems when they saw several Americans visiting the facility. By the time Ed Hirshman and Ed Gillespie arrived and went to visit trouble was getting out of control. Passports were reviewed, and the pastor had to sign paperwork that he would no longer entertain Westerners or hold church services at the church building or the government would destroy the orphanages.

Within the past couple of weeks we have received communication from the pastor that the Irrawaddy is under severe persecution. It seems to be the area where the government executes the greatest control, primarily because it is the largest supplier of rice in the country. Below is the testimony that was sent to us by Pastor Benjamin:

“I am a church planter and pastor of two small churches in Labutta township, Ayerawaddy Division in Myanmar, the place where the Naggis cyclone occurred last two years.

By the grace of God the two small churches in Gongdoh and Padockgone villages are founded and we built a temporary temple building by ourselves and it is almost finished. Unfortunately, last 10 April the local authorities stop us and on April 11 they took the building and closed it. They warned us not to gather together for even on Sunday worship.

So please remember us in your prayer.”

We would ask that you would join us in prayer for these people who have suffered so much and yet keep the light shining even through the persecution. We are thankful that throughout history when the persecution increases so does the church. We pray for protection for God’s people and we pray for strength as they endure the persecution and continue to grow in His love and strength.

We are thankful that we live in a country, where at least for now, we have relative religious freedom. We pray that none of us ever takes that for granted.