Priest in Myanmar is supporting nation-building

The USPG reports on the work of the Anglican Church in Myanmar following the country’s return to democracy

The USPG reports Anglicans in Myanmar have made campaigning for social and political rights a mission priority as the country continues with the process of democratisation following the landslide election victory last year by Aung San Su Kyi (pictured) and the National League for Democracy. In northern and eastern Myanmar, the church is advocating on many social issues, including opposing the proposed Myitsone Dam that will displace thousands, tackling the work of drug lords, and working for reconciliation between the Burmese people and the Shan and Kachin people who were diplaced during civil war in the country.

Anglican priest the Rev David Brang Htan, in Myitkyina Diocese, explains:

The church is called to engage in the new socio-political space coming up with the democratisation of the country.

We need to construct the dynamic and relevant theology to drive the way of the church and truly response to meet the demands of the people.

We must respond to our calling in solidarity with the peoples of this country. Only through solidarity with the people of this country can the church be a true church, which is a church moving and living for the people defined and treated as non-persons.’

The proposed Myitsone Dam will affect millions of people who rely on the rivers and delta here for their agriculture and livelihoods [Myitsone is where the Irrawaddy River is formed out of the confluence of the Mali Hka and Nmai Hka rivers].

Water held by the dam will cover approximately 766 square kilometres, putting forests and many villages under water, and forcing thousands of villagers to leave their homes, farms and properties as they are relocated to the new Myin Thar village, which has been constructed by China Power Investment(CPI) and Asia World company.

Many who have already relocated to Myin Thar village are struggling to survive because there is limited land for livestock.

Remarkably, the dam construction was suspended by protests that started in 2011 led of local people, and supported by Anglicans.

I was one of the Anglicans who spoke and distributed fliers informing people about the dangers of the Myitsone Dam. We now hope the new government will bring a good resolution because Aung San Su Kyi has said she will do what the people want.

Tackling widespread drug addiction

The widespread availability of drugs is another serious concern. Many young students, mainly in northern and north-eastern parts of Myanmar, have become drug users. In 2012, rubbish bins on the campus of Myityina University were found to be full of syringes.

So the people and churches of all denominations formed an anti-drugs group, called Pat Ja San (PJS).

Many Anglican priests chaired their local PJS committees. Many churches were used as drug rehabilitation centres where both drug users and drug dealers were taught from the Bible and helped to remold their lives.

One PJS group rallied together hundreds of people to destroy thousands of acres of opium farms – something they have been doing since 2014.

In Myitkyina Diocese, the youth department has been running a drug awareness campaign which has reached 26 cities and villages, using concerts and dances to spread the message.

In February this year, for eight days, Anglicans joined anti-drug campaigners as they tried to block a bridge known to be part of the drug trafficking route.

I stood with them in my white Anglican cassock as we were attacked, with many injured, including one young Anglican.

Reconciling a divided nation

Another aim of the church is to support national reconciliation and the building of trust in our communities… especially among the young generations.

Our new democratically-elected government is trying to tackle unity as major concern for the country, and the church is supporting this. For example, I spoke at a local reconciliation programme to bring together Shan, Kachin and Burma youth. Indeed, many young Anglican have taken part at that programme. It is a process that I see as a reflection of God’s love.

I think all of these activities are important for the church. These challenges offer us a chance for to respond rightly and to rediscover the meaning of being church.

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