Mission of the Month: Rohingya refugees flee to Bangladesh

By Dietrich Gruen, with Lee Wanak

Persecution does not take a day off. Refugees seeking asylum from their murderous persecutors are always on the run. When not running for their life, they are crossing fortified borders and dangerous waters in search of a safe place. Here in the USA, the Church designates one day, First Sunday in November, as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP for the PC); that day Elder Mark Finley led us in prayer. Next month we extend our concern for persecuted believers as we allocate our year-end gifts in the Generosity Campaign, some of which will support one particular group of persecuted believers on the run—the Rohingya refugees.

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The plight of Rohingya people fleeing persecution in Myanmar is captured in several images from TIME magazine. See the photo essay here.

We promise more next month as we discuss the global portion of High Point’s Generosity Campaign. But now, concurrent with TIME magazine’s focus on their plight (see photo essay at the link above) and this week’s visit by Pope Francis, we call your attention to the Rohingya. Many of the facts cited below are adapted from the definitive global prayer handbook, Operation World, and from prayer alerts from the mission agency, Open Doors USA.

Who are they? They are persecuted Muslims fleeing Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority (80%) nation who has denied them citizenship and refused to recognize them as an ethnic group. Often called “stateless,” these Muslim refugees claim to be descendants of Arabs, Moors, Moghuls and Bengalis who settled in Arakan, a state in lower Burma (or Rakhine in what is now called Myanmar) 1000 years ago. The Rohingya are one of the most neglected and unwanted peoples on earth. This year these refugees have been overflowing further west into Bangladesh, a welcoming Muslim-dominate (90%) country.

Where are they? Rakhine (a.k.a. Arakan) is their home state (the city of Sittwe is the capital) on the west coast of Myanmar. The Rakhine or Arakan is a narrow coastal region that stretches north to south from the Naf River estuary (in Bangladesh) to the Gwa River (in Myanmar). See map below. Not only does the Rakhine state border Myanmar and Bangladesh, but this border area is in dispute as to which country it really belongs to.

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Why are 1 million Rohingya fleeing their homeland? This Muslim minority has suffered severe oppression for generations. Sometimes they push back. After a series of provocations this summer, Myanmar’s military retaliated with a ferocity never seen before. Their scorched-earth campaign began August 25 and targeted the Rohingya in the Rakhine state. With their homes and crops burned to the ground, the Rohingya had no choice but to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar has received harsh criticism from the United Nations, and a visit this week from Pope Francis trying to end this horrific ethnic cleansing. Ironically, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, won a Nobel Prize for peace, but has remained mystifyingly mum as the nation’s military continues this purge and oppression of civil rights.

What will likely happen to them? An estimated 1.1 million Rohingya have been displaced so far. And those arriving every day in Bangladesh are in desperate need. The International Research Committee says 40,000 Rohingya children currently need life-saving treatment for malnutrition. Three-quarters of Rohingya lack food, and 95 percent are drinking unclean water. There is some talk of resettling Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar.

How can we help? Embedded among the Muslim Rohingya are some Muslim Background Believers (MBB) who follow Jesus. These MBB seek to live out their Christian faith despite the extreme persecution that their entire people group is facing. We can certainly pray and give to High Point’s Generosity Campaign next month, a portion of which is earmarked for mission work and relief efforts by Open Doors and their indigenous partners among the Rohingya—both Muslim and Christian. More on where that money goes next month; for now, we consider these three prayer concerns shared by Open Doors USA:

  1. The Journey. Lord, we pray for You to grant the Rohingya people safe passage as they flee their homes and villages in search of refuge in Bangladesh. May You guide and sustain them as they search for basic necessities, such as food and shelter. We pray that aid would still reach them, despite the ban from the government.
  2. Myanmar’s Leader.We also pray for Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar. She has been under fire for her silence about these violations and overall treatment of the Rohingya. We pray for her heart to be softened. May she not have a hard heart as Pharaoh did (throughout the book of Exodus) when He saw the oppression of people, but rather, that she would have a genuine compassion towards these injustices. We pray for a change in her heart.
  3. Rohingya Believers.Our hearts are specifically for our brothers and sisters within the Rohingya people group today. There are Christians trying to live out their faith despite this extreme persecution that their entire people group is facing. May believers be given favor with those around them, to make the gospel beautiful despite the sorrow that surrounds them. May they be given opportunities to share of their hope to those around them walking in darkness and uncertainty.

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