The goal of this week’s “Myanmar Red Ribbon Solidarity Weekend” is to combine prayer with activism to tangibly support the oppressed people of the Asian nation formerly known as Burma, a Baptist World Alliance official said.
“It’s important as Baptists that we exercise our faith within our community, which in this instance is the global Baptist family,” said Marsha Scipio, director of Baptist World Aid, BWA’s worldwide relief agency. “We want the people of Myanmar to know they are not forgotten and to continue to live in hope.”
But being forgotten is just what the people of Myanmar, including refugees in the U.S., say is happening since the country’s military staged a coup Feb. 1 and began a brutal crackdown on ethnic minorities and pro-democracy supporters. At least 750 civilians have been killed during the past three months, and that violence is now spreading to border areas with other nations.
“The situation is actually getting worse,” said Chan Hnin Thui, pastor of Agape Baptist Church, a Burmese congregation in Dallas. “We don’t hear from our contacts back home anymore because the government has cut off the internet. If a person posts on Facebook, they can get arrested. If they are part of the civil disobedience movement, they get arrested.”
That information crackdown, which includes a ban on foreign media coverage, keeps most of the world in the dark about what is happening in the country, and that is why the BWA solidarity effort is so important, he said.
“Whatever we can do to help is important because it lets the world know what is going on. This is definitely a big step,” Thui said.
The first steps of the April 28-May 2 solidarity emphasis include days devoted to study, advocacy and prayer. The weekend themes focus on social media advocacy and showing unity in worship. The BWA has provided online resources for each day, including fact sheets about Myanmar, petitions to legislators and Myanmar embassies, and prayers written by and for their people.
Another of the campaign’s aims is to educate young people about their counterparts in Myanmar who are among the leaders of anti-military protests, Scipio said. “This is to encourage youth and young adults of the Baptist faith to stand in solidarity with those young people who are on the front lines fighting for democracy and paying for that with their very lives.”
Many of the 1.6 million Baptists in Myanmar also are among the victims of the repression, she said. BWA has received reports of Baptist leaders going underground after being targeted by military forces, while others have suffered violence or become displaced by fighting.
BWA continues to send financial assistance to the religion, but what the situation in Myanmar also needs is awareness, Scipio added. “They realize that money is not going to solve the issue. It is going to be the advocacy that puts pressure on the military junta. They need those of us in the international community to raise our voices on their behalf.”
The Red Ribbon Weekend is designed to do that by marshalling BWA’s practice of combining social justice with integral mission to meet the needs of those it serves.
“That’s why we are calling people not only to pray, but to act,” Scipio said. “And it’s important that we act because a lot of people still don’t know what’s going on in Myanmar. This is a way we can touch people’s lives.”