WASHINGTON — Kachin Christians in Myanmar are facing an "existential threat" and "will not be able to continue" in the next one or two generations amid an ongoing civil war between Kachin rebels and the Myanmar military, an activist has warned.
Gum San Nsang, president of the United States-based international advocacy group Kachin Alliance, is calling on international governments to place targeted sanctions on the Myanmar military as over 130,000 Christians in the Kachin state have been forced to flee from their homes in the past seven years thanks to the military attacks on numerous civilian villages.
"We have an existential threat. We as a people believe that we will not be able to continue within one to two generations," Gum told believers gathered for the fifth annual Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church hosted by the nonprofit One Body in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. "That is an imminent threat to our identity. Because I can't practice my own language, my children will not have the capacity or ability to learn their own language. We are not able to construct a sanctuary or a church."
Gum was one of several Christians speaking about the persecution in their homelands at D.C.'s Chinese Community Church, which is just a few blocks away from D.C.'s Calvary Baptist Church.
According to Gum, it was the offerings from Calvary Baptist Church that sponsored a missionary to travel to Kachin to spread the gospel during the 19th century.
As Burma is a predominantly Buddhist nation, Kachins are a small Christian minority in Burma's northern Kachin state that borders China. In Kachin, a majority of the population is Christian thanks to the impact of 19th century missionary work by American Baptist Adoniram Judson and other Western missionaries.
"We came to the Lord because of the missionary work from the United States and just a few blocks from here. The offerings from the Calvary Baptist Church sent a missionary from our land and took us from bondage of animism to a newfound freedom," Gum explained. "This place is very sacred to us as a Kachin."
But now the Christian community that American missionaries once harvested is in much need of humanitarian assistance as thousands are living as internally displaced people in Baptist churches throughout the Kachin state.
While much attention has been given to military's assault on the majority-Muslim Rohingya communities in the Rakhine state last August that drove over 700,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, Gum told The Christian Post that the Myanmar military tried to do the same thing with the Christian Kachin civilian population but China would not let Kachin people enter into the country so they were forced to find refuge within the Kachin state.
"Same case with the Karen [minorities] too. Back in the 90s, [Karen minorities] all fled to Thailand. This is a repetition, I would say it is like a Russian roulette," Gum said of the Myanmar military assault on ethnic and religious minority communities in the northern part of the country. "It has been for a seven decades of this kind of misery."
But in the last seven years since the end of a ceasefire between the Myanmar military and Kachin ethnic rebels, Gum said over 400 villages have been destroyed.
"The military is attacking non-combatants and the civilian population is not spared but used as a retribution and as a collective punishment for supporting these nonstate actors," Gum said. "This is more of a deliberate attempt to oppress and to persecute people. This is along ethnic and religious line. So, the state itself manifests itself through ethnic and religious-based violence."
Gum said that in many cases, villages and churches are destroyed through aerial bombardment.
"We have had systematically reporting of where you see destruction, ransacking, pillaging of our churches and desecration of our sanctuaries," he detailed, adding there have been reports of rape as well. "These are deliberate attempts to suppress the indigenous populations and Christian minorities."
Gum added that the Myanmar military attacks on the Kachin Christians are more than just ethnically motivated because there have been cases where military troops have defecated on church altars or desecrated sacred objects. For Catholic churches, Gum said, troops have destroyed statues of Mary.
"It is a reminder of second-class citizen sentiment," he told CP. "That is more of an attack against a spirituality."
"These are all deliberate intents," he told CP. "You don't see that with the [Buddhist] pagodas. The Kachin population makes about 30 or 40 percent of the total state's population. However, the displaced population, meaning the people that have to flee because of war are predominantly Christians. That casts a state intent to drive out, displace or persecute people of a different religion."
With over 130,000 displaced, Gum added that the government won't provide aid to the displaced communities and is blocking aid from United Nations and other international providers from reaching the troubled population.
Although Myanmar has a civilian-led government headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the government doesn't express much control over the military.
Gum, though, said many had hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi would do more to "stand up" to the brutal actions of the Myanmar military. He wishes that she would use her platform to call to foster a "genuine reconciliation."
"Reconciliation does not mean appeasement to the army," he stressed.
Gum warned that the United States government has over the past several years taken a false view that there is a transition going on in Myanmar.
"Around 2010, 2011, when Burma reported itself as a transition to Democracy, the U.S. literally opened its arms hoping that people had changed or rebuked a past of barbarism," he explained. "When Obama administration began its pivot to Asia, it said, 'If you unclench your fists, we will extend our hand.' It was under that premise that we began engagement. Then, the mill-to-mill training of human rights were taught because they wanted to transition and it was understood that they were going to transition to a better place and a better-standing army. After six, seven years of engagement, because they do not have a genuine desire to change, still they are committing these barbaric acts after these many years."
Gum contended that the U.S. has a "moral duty to stand up to this regime and call this regime atrocity an atrocity."
"If it is a genocide, [call it] a genocide and not erect a facade as if there is a transition going on," he stressed.
"At the core itself, it is still a very repressive regime that still has the audacity to burn 700 children under six into a bonfire," he added. "We propose that the U.S. government support a mechanism to archive a dossier for all these atrocities and we have to seize mill-to-mill engagement until certain benchmarks are met. We can't be shaking hands with the rapists and the army that acts like an ISIS. There is countless evidence to show that many actions done by the Burma army is only replicated by ISIS."