Today is the one-year anniversary of a military coup in the country of Burma (Myanmar).

In the last year, the country has been in a civil war. Civilian casualties mount. Hunger is rampant. Democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to prison.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners  as of Jan. 28, 2022, 1,500 citizens have been killed, 8,798 people are under detention, and 45 people have been sentenced to death (including two children!) by the junta.

When I scan the international headlines that are filled with such misery, I feel helpless. What could I possibly do? And yet I try to be hopeful, for surely someone else will do something.

But what if I have that all wrong? What if I’m not helpless? And what if this version of hoping for another to “do something” is just an emotional coping mechanism alleviating me of a burden of responsibility?

From the Russian troops at Ukraine’s border, to the heartless blood-thirsty military rulers of Burma, to the organized and orchestrated genocide of an entire generation of Uyghur people in the Northwest of China – the world seems bent on misery.

What can we do?

We certainly can’t provide a silver bullet that will take out all the bad guys. Even presidents and prime ministers share some of our helplessness in the face of these issues. However, we can do something.

And I know it sounds sermonic. It may seem trivial, even elementary. But what if every person belonging to a free society were to take up this trifold mantle: learn, pray, act. Learn what you can, pray as you can and act within your capacity.

For example, there’s a lot to learn about our 1.7 million Burmese Baptists sisters and brothers, and their fellow citizens.

In this traditionally Buddhist country, religious and ethnic minorities are under heavy pressure. Several years ago, the military committed genocide against the Muslim Rohingya people. Many of those that lived fled to Bangladesh.

To many of the Chin ethnic minority (which is largely Baptist), it looks as if the military is gearing up to do something similar to Christians. Many of the people in the Chin northern state have crossed into India.

There are also many from the Kachin, Karen, Kayah and Barmar minorities who are currently displaced. Some have fled to Thailand and Malaysia.

We know that no country has ever had an easy and linear path to democracy. But after several years of progress, it is tragic that the military has annulled the recent elections and, against the clear will of the people, have determined to rule without legitimacy.

After learning about this place of crisis (and there is much more to learn) we should seek to crawl out of our myopic self-obsession and pray. Pray for, and with, the Burmese people as they fight systemic efforts of violence.

In December 2021, I invited some leaders in the Burmese American community to meet with the New York Director of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York City. These friends were able to share first-hand accounts of what was happening in the country.

As a consequence, I’ve gotten to know more Burmese Americans. The stories they tell are horrific, but their energy to fight for change is inspiring. Among their prayer requests are these:

  • Pray for Gen. Min Aung Hliang and his administrative team to have compassion on the people of Burma and that they will come to realize that the will of the people of Burma should be respected.
  • Pray for Aung San Suu Kyi, political leaders and political prisoners who are detained in prison by the junta, for their health and release, and for their families.
  • Pray for the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG) for wisdom in leading the nation.
  • Pray for unity in Burma: unity among ethnic groups as they fight for the freedom of the people of Burma.

I would add to this list: pray for Noeleen Heyzer, the newly appointed U.N. envoy to Burma. You can read about her good work here. She’s off to an energetic start – pray she makes progress.

Churches related to the American Baptist Churches USA will be asked to dedicate part of their service on Feb. 6 to praying along these lines. If you have leadership in a faith community, possibly you could do the same.

After you learn and pray, how, in this case, does one “act”?

Here is a small, but potentially powerful act that you can take. Call your U.S. representatives and senators. Let them know that you support the Burma Bill of 2021. You can find their contact information here.

I’ve written about this effort. It will continue until something is done to bring about a strong response from the U.S. government. I will have meetings with Senate staff today to continue to press for movement on the bill.

The Burma Advocacy Group of the American Baptist Churches (with whom I’ve been meeting) will be introducing a signature campaign in mid-February. Look out for that and other means of adding pressure on Congress to act.

It may not mean global transformation, but I’m committed to not be helpless or hopeless, but to learn what I can, pray as I can and act within my capacity.

Working together – learning, praying, taking action – may our sense of helplessness be as false as our hope proves to be true.

Share This