What We Face
When we are forced as people into choosing war over nonviolence, it is a terrible line we cross.
Myanmar (Burma) is crossing such a line in its civil conflict with the army. Buddhists (most of the Burmese) and Christians (many of the indigenous ethnics) who lived against violence now are making hard choices. I do not envy them.
Many people find evil in the world as an argument against God. I find it an argument for God. Who wants to live in a world where there is no redemption of evil…where terrible evil brings more terrible evil as history repeats without end? Study history and you will eventually learn that humans always fall into misuse of one of the big three: money, sex or power.
These abuses culminate in all sorts of horrific evils that we have no good answer for. Many say: if God were good, this would not have happened. My thought is: since this does happen with faithful historicity, we better hope that there is a good God who has a redemptive strategy.
Sharp birth pains are evident in Myanmar these days. Judson—the early American Baptist missionary—spoke of Burma’s golden shores. Today, the blood of resistors colors her land. May we seek and find redemption in this too.
Family History in Myanmar
William Marcus Young, my great grandad, arrived in Burma somewhere around 1890 as an American Baptist missionary. Marcus Vincent, my grandad, and great uncle Harold as well as their third generation (including my father) grew up in Myanmar’s Shan state, northern Thailand, and the neighboring Yunnan province in China. My grandad and father were deeply integrated into the Lahu tribal culture. I have spent 27 years working among the ethnic peoples of that land. Much of the focus of my work has been with the Wa. My childhood roots though, are in the Philippines—a country I dearly love.
Great Uncle Harold served in some capacity with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during and following WWII. The OSS later became the CIA. Bill Young, his son, became a famous operative in the CIA, working in Laos and the secret war during the Vietnam area. I knew him as Uncle Bill, and developed a relationship with him when he was in his early 60’s, while he was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He had network of upwards to 400 informants throughout Burma and worked independently. He was very connected to the pro democracy movement and was known as a foremost expert on the region.
Being part of the missions and NGO world, my relationship with Uncle Bill was somewhat awkward, but I learned to cautiously navigate it. Like one of my good friends says, “I will never turn in a member of the cartel.” This is because we as the church on the ground have a different role to play, and being cop or soldier is not it. Being transformative peacemakers is our role.
Regardless of the tensions between Bill’s world and mine, he guided me as best he could regarding navigating local culture and the various ethnic groups he cherished. He passed a decade ago and there is still an ache in me when I think of him.
I think it is safe to say: an affinity for Myanmar beats in my heart, even if it is not in directly my blood. Great change is in the wind for this country. In our work, we developed relationships over the years in the Shan State of Burma. The brave Wa people are folks we have served and learned to love the most, though we have work among other ethnic groups too.
The Wa were headhunters into the late 1980’s. They became notorious as drug traffickers in the 1990’s building a large army and they govern a small state that borders Yunnan, China between the Saween and Mekong rivers. The Wa have developed a strategic relationship with China and have many business interests in Myanmar. They are power players in Myanmar and should not be ignored.
We grieve over the situation in Myanmar but see rays of hope as ethnic peoples and Bamar people unite against injustice. As followers of Jesus our highest priority is service, not war. We should be blessing enemies, before ever considering killing them. This is a hard time for the church as it treads between standing up against injustice and valuing every human life that crosses its path.
There are many great organizations that work in Myanmar and along its borders. We also have a crises response team both externally and at ground zero! You can assist them by donating to INfire and stating “Myanmar Relief” in the comments box.