I usually do not strike up conversations in lobby restaurants.
However, the shortage of workers meant we were all waiting for the lone waitress and cook to get everyone served.
When my fellow diner asked if I was part of the craft show at the arena – I am still trying to figure out what this means – I broke the habit and started chatting.
It turns out that he is a retired Baptist pastor from Texas who spends his retirement working the crafting circuit. His interest in my mission work was tempered a bit by his curiosity about what Baptist group I serve with.
Still, since neither of us had anywhere to go, we stayed engaged in the conversation. I am glad we did.
The conversation took an abrupt turn when he commented in response to the situation in Burma/Myanmar, “We need here what their military did there. When they saw that the election was corrupt, they stepped in and made things right.”
I was stunned and, until my oatmeal arrived, spent my time educating a well-meaning, but woefully misinformed, retired Baptist pastor on the humanitarian situation in Burma/Myanmar and why we as Baptists should be informed and involved.
My recent interview with a reporter from the National Review had just been published, so I recounted the main points from that article.
I also shared about Khan, one of the participants in the Freedom of Religion or Belief Training Programme I facilitate through the International Baptist Theological Study Center in Amsterdam – the current iteration of IBTSC, formerly IBTS in Prague, formerly Ruschlikon outside of Zurich.
Khan is from the Kachin state in Burma. I reached out to him later for any insight he could provide for people outside of the conflict area. I have made minor grammatical changes to Khan’s responses in italics below.
What is happening in the Kachin state that you feel the world needs to know more about?
The world should know that both direct and structural violence are still going on, though the regime is talking about peace in Kachin State.
Recently, some faith leaders, including from the Kachin Baptist Convention and Catholics, had been invited by military leaders to gather in Naypyidaw. These religious leaders went to Naypyidaw and talked about peace. In fact, the “peace” they talked about is for the resettlement of Internally Displaced People (IDPs).
There are more than 100,000 IDPs in Kachin State, including women and children. However, the military regime wants the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) to sign the peace agreement even though there is no justice at all. There are still no international mediators allowed in nor mechanisms set up to ensure justice and peace.
The military always says that if you want to have peace, then the KIO should be disarmed even as the military continues to attack the Kachin, a majority of whom support the KIO.
How are people of faith (not only Baptists, but if you only speak of Baptists, then I would understand) coping with the military junta’s rule?
There exists here structural violence where the military backs religious extremists, and there is government favoritism towards the de facto state religion where Buddhists have legislative, financial or political advantages.
One example is the construction of a huge pagoda in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State. This is happening even though there are fewer Buddhist members to worship, but the project will demonstrate how Buddhism is the state religion/recognized religion/favored religion.
So, Christians in Myitkyina are really worried about it. They fear the establishment of Buddhism as a state religion and the impact on minority religious groups.
What is your personal source of hope these days?
I am afraid to say that I do not have my personal source of much hope about my state and my country unless we can stop the power of militarization in Burma.
However, we need to keep working on freedom of religion and belief and human rights. This includes awareness, research, advocacy both internally and externally, and networking with international communities.
This is my personal source of hope – if we continue to work on these issues then the world will know us, and they will work with us to free us all from authoritarianism.
How can believers in the U.S. pray for you, the Kachin state and all of Burma?
1) To have wisdom to overcome the twin crises: COVID-19 and the military coup.
2) To become united against all unjust systems by uniting both the majority and minority ethnic groups.
3) To be able to build-up a federal democratic country, which is the best solution to end one of the longest civil wars in the world and put a stop to all authoritarianism.
4) Kachin Baptist Convention still struggles to access justice in the case of two volunteers, Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, both 20 years old, both volunteer teachers who were raped and killed, but the world still doesn’t know.
When our breakfast finally arrived, my conversation partner thanked me for the chat.
He said that he thought the situation in Burma/Myanmar was the opposite of how things really were. He made a commitment to pray and to share with others what he knows.
For our sisters and brothers in Burma/Myanmar, I hope he does.
Baptist World Alliance representative to the UN in Geneva, chair of European Baptist Federation’s Freedom and Justice Commission, and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field Personnel serving among the Romani people in Slovakia and Czechia. When not serving in any of those capacities or preaching somewhere, you will find McNary with his camera hiking along the mountainous trails of Poland or Slovakia.