You may know of Myanmar by its previous name of Burma, as the country the famous missionary Adoniram Judson travelled 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, multicoloured 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 centre of the Theravada Buddhist practice and flourished through trade thanks to its position as a gateway to Southeast Asia.
Today, after decades of isolation from the world, Myanmar is undergoing a steady transition toward a more open, globalised future. Elections in 2011 enabled a pseudo-civilian government to replace direct military rule, and in 2016 the long-standing opposition party, the National League for Democracy, finally assumed office.
However, significant challenges remain. Myanmar is one of the countries
most vulnerable to climate change-induced disasters. Long-standing ethnic tensions continue to spill over into violence. The long-stagnated peace process, while showing small signs of progress, remains fragile. The conflict between religious communities remain an ongoing challenge for national development. Poverty, particularly in rural areas, affects at least a quarter of all households.
Christian witness in Myanmar dates back over 400 years, with the first martyr, Nat Shin Naung, killed in 1612. Protestant missions arrived in 1806 in the form of 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. While church growth was initially slow, today there are over 3 million Christians in Myanmar (6 per cent of the population). Several senior members of the new government, including one of two vice-presidents, are professing Christians.
While the Church in Myanmar has a remarkable history of mission endeavour, 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. The majority of Christians and churches remain comprised of ethnic minorities. Our prayer is that there would be a compelling mission movement in Myanmar, fuelled by followers of Jesus obeying the Great Commission — fulfilling Adoniram Judson’s dream of “Myanmar for Christ.”
Find out more about Myanmar in our infographic.