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Report on the China-Myanmar border refugees: A call to Chinese churches and the church worldwide to be concerned about the Kachin (Jingpo) Christian refugees

Saturday, March 31, 2012

image[2]Recently, a group of Christians from a house church in Guangzhou, in south China’s Guangdong province, went to Yunnan to visit the Kachin (Jingpo) refugees and to bring relief supplies.

On March 16, the two men and four women flew from Guangzhou to Tengchong, Yunnan province, with a change of planes in the Yunnan capital of Kunming. They then drove about 200 kilometers (125 miles) to the town of Nabang in the county of Jingjiang on the China-Myanmar border, where they conducted three days of interviews and looked into the situation at two refugee camps of Christians of the Jingpo minority group. They delivered a total of 10 tons of Christian-donated humanitarian aid supplies, including clothing, potatoes and rice, directly into the hands of the Jingpo Christians at the refugee camps.
The Myanmar junta’s policy of war has resulted in at least 50,000 Kachins (Jingpo) fleeing their homes and becoming refugees. They have flooded to the China-Myanmar border, which now has more than 40 refugee camps. The two camps we visited were in the best condition compared with other camps located in the forests where transportation is difficult and conditions more adverse. The sporadic humanitarian aid the refugees have received from some Christian individuals is far from sufficient to meet the massive needs of these refugees who are struggling to survive. Nine months have passed since the war broke out last June and peace is nowhere in sight. It will soon be the rainy season, and the makeshift plastic structures of the refugee camps are already worn out. Some Christian refugees told us that when it rains, their entire family is unable to lie down to sleep at night. They can only pass the night either standing or squatting.

We hope China’s Christian house churches, which are estimated to have more than 10 million members, and the urban house churches in particular, will show their concern for the plight of the Christians in the Jingpo refugee camps. Below is a report of our observations from this trip. 

History of the Kachin (Jingpo) people
The Kachins are of the same ethnic group as the Jingpo people in China’s Yunnan province. From the time of China’s Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods until the Republican era, they have been under the jurisdiction of China’s central government. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, when General Zhung Qiao of the state of Chu sacked Kunming and Dali [in Yunnan], these areas became part of the territory of the state of Chu. After the Chu state fell, the Chu solders, un able to return to their homelands, dispersed and settled in [Yunnan’s] Kunming, Dali, Mangshi, and Longchuan, and [Myanmar’s] Myitkyina area. 

During the Western Han Dynasty, the Han Emperor quelled the rebellion of the Southern Yue and stabilized that area. The tribes in southwest China submitted to the authority of the Han Dynasty one after another, and the Han government established Yongchang county.

During the Three Kingdoms period, Zhu Geliang, premier of Shu Han Kingdom, captured tribal leader Menghuo, seven times and released him each time. His virtue won over the southern and central tribes, who submitted to the authority of Shu Han out of gratitude, taking an oath that “they would never betray the Han government and would guard southwest China for the Han emperors forever.”

During the Tang and Song dynasties, the local authorities of Nanzhao and Dali received the titles conferred on them by the central government over a long period of time. 

When the Mongolians launched their massive invasions, Kublai Khan, the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, overthrew the reign of the Duan family in Dali. The King of Liang was appointed by the Yuan to govern this region.

When the Yuan Dynasty fell and was succeeded by the Ming Dynasty, the Ming generals Fu Youde, Lan Yu, and Mu Ying led 500,000 well-trained soldiers recruited from the areas along Yangtze and Huai rivers and launched a long-distance military campaign into southwest China. After three years of fierce fighting, they conquered this area and incorporated it into the Ming empire.

When Qing dynasty Emperor Kangxi put down the Revolt of the Three Feudatories, he appointed local tribal chiefs to govern the area and Burma [today’s Myanmar] became a vassal state of the mighty Qing empire.

After the 1911Revolution, the government of the Republic of China exercised jurisdiction over this area. The Chinese Expeditionary Army and the U.S. and British allied forces fought the Japanese army here and, assisted by Kachin soldiers in the mountainous area, they defeated the Japanese. It is not overstating the facts to say that the Kachin army contributed greatly to the World War II military success of the Allied Forces in Southeast Asia.

In 1947, the various states in Burma sought independence from Britain. That same year, General Aung San, honored as the founding father of Burma, granted autonomous region status to the states of Kachin and Shan and others in the “Panglong Agreement”.

After independence in 1948, the Burmese government officially demarcated the prefectures of Myitkyina and Bhamo as the newly established state of Kachin, with Myitkyina the capital city, in accordance with the resolution of the 1947 Panglong Meeting.

But the murder of Gen. Aung San by warlords a year later resulted in the Kachins and the Burmese being governed independently from each other for a long period of time.

Since the 18th century, the area north of Kachin was Chinese territory, including the regions of Jiangxinpo, Kandi and Hukang. In the 1960s, however, China’s Communist government announced that, for the sake of China-Burma friendship, it was making a generous gift of a parcel of land totaling 18,000 square kilometers and abdicated its jurisdiction over this region, ceding it to Burma. The elderly people living in this area tearfully said to Premier Zhou [Enlai], “For generations my family has always been Chinese. We want to continue to be Chinese.”

In 1962, the Kachin army and Kachin government came into being. In 1966, the Burmese turned against China and slaughtered the Chinese living in Burma, leading to a deterioration of Sino-Burmese relations. China then “exported” revolution by sending 100,000 educated youths across the border to join the Burmese Communist Party.  The Kachin people formed an alliance with the Chinese Communist government and for many years resisted Burmese occupation. 

In 1980, the Chinese government stopped supporting the Burmese Communist Party. In May 1987, the Burmese junta launched a historically unprecedented, massive military offensive against the Kachin army. Because the Kachin leaders had a policy of non-resistance, its “central government” was forced to retreat to “Lexin”, just a few hundred meters (yards) from Yingjiang, Yunnan province, and many Kachins crossed the border into China and became refugees. Amazingly, a sudden summer rainstorm in the jungle stopped the advance of the Burmese government army; only thus was the Kachin “central government” spared from destruction.

In March 1989, the Burmese Communist People’s Army, the largest anti-government force in Burma, dissolved, and the Kachin army lost their main source of weapons and other resources. In a disadvantaged position, they decided to enter into ceasefire negotiations with the Burmese government army. In 1994, the two sides reached a ceasefire agreement, in which the Myanmar government [now known as Myanmar in English] recognized Kachin as the “No. 2 Special Zone of the Kachin State” with jurisdiction over 12 subordinate counties in northeast Kachin. The Myanmar military government allowed the Kachin government to rule Kachin and to maintain an army of 20,000-30,000 people.

In April 2011, the Myanmar military government announced the closure of checkpoints on the route to Lazan, saying Lazan was an “illegal port” controlled by the Kachin army, a local autonomous militia in Myanmar.

On June 9, 2011, the Myanmar government army used the excuse of safeguarding the construction of a hydropower plant and opened fire on the Kachin army, then engaged in an armed invasion against the Kachins, who were forced to fight back. On June 13, the Kachin State declared a nationwide state of war against the Myanmar army.

The conclusion we Christians have reached based on our survey and interviews is the following: this war is in essence an attempt by the much stronger Myanmar people, who account for 60% of the nation’s population, to seize the land and property of the Kachins, a small and marginalized ethnic minority group in the hills who make up only 2% of the nation’s population. It is truly a war of ethnic cleansing. For the disproportionately disadvantaged Kachins, it is a war of self-defense against a much more powerful enemy, and yet another massive life-or-death crisis facing the Jingpo people in their history! It is not at all the civil war or war by the Kachins to split from Myanmar that the Chinese media has reported! We hope the church in China and the global church will discern right and wrong, come to conduct a personal investigation if necessary, and not be misled by some in the Chinese media!

History of the Christianization of the Kachin (Jingpo) people
The Kachin people originally feared and revered ghosts. In 1882, the first western missionary reached the Kachin region and converted seven Kachin people to Christianity. In 1887, American missionary Lyon reached Bhamo and started a school there for the Kachin (Jingpo) people. In 1892, another American missionary named Geis arrived in Bhamo. The following year, he travelled to Myitkyina area to evangelize and started schools for Jingpo people.  In 1890, American missionary O. Hanson and his wife arrived in Bhamo and started working on a written language for Jingpo people. They completed the task in 1893, and the language was officially put into use and popularized in 1895. The emergence of Jingpo language set the stage for the spread and development of Christianity in Jingpo region. The widespread use of the Jingpo language in church-run schools in Bhamo and Myitkyina led to the rapid development of Christian churches. Missionaries translated and compiled large quantities of Jingpo Bible, hymns and books, which resulted in many becoming Christians. This was the basis for the founding of the the Burma Baptist Convention in Bhamo, which later established six divisions in Myitkyina, Luokong, Sunbulabang, Guikai, Leizhe, Mengbaba. In 1894, an American missionary sent by China Inland Missions named Gorman travelled from Liuku to Muchengpo in Luxi-Zhongshanxiang to do missionary work. In 1903, China Inland Missions sent a French missionary to Nongqiu village of Dongshan County to evangelize. In 1914, the Mubaba Church of Burma sent British pastor Engram and Burmese Kachin pastor Demaonuo to Manjia village, Nongdao County, Ruili city, to do missionary work. After 1915, China Inland Missions and churches overseas have been continuously sending pastors to the counties in Dehong, Yunnan Province, to evangelize.

Since the 19th century, Christianity has been spreading and developing for over a century in the Jingpo area of Myanmar. Churches have been growing and expanding and church schools have expanded into various levels of education, i.e. elementary school, middle school and advanced seminaries. Missionaries have been faithfully committed to the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. To date, Christianity has become the “state religion” of the Jingpo people in Myanmar who, as an ethnic group, have been Christianized. Among the Kachins (Jingpo) more than 90% are Christians, and among the Lisu people more than 80%. 

Our observations of the Jingpo Christian refugee camps
image[5]During our several days’ visit, we experienced the pure faith, godliness, and commitment to God of the Kachin (Jingpo) Christians. Although the repeated foreign invasions and the outbreak of war have caused separation, death and injury in many families, as well as the loss of the beautiful homeland that they inherited from their ancestors, and even though they were forced to flee their homes empty-handed to a foreign and far-away place, nonetheless everyone we saw in the refugee camps, whether elderly or children, all had beaming smiles on their faces. This deeply touched us and showed us that in the midst of a multitude of trials, they were full of joy and peace in their hearts. We interviewed many individuals, including women, the elderly, the principal of the refugee school, people of Chinese descent, the Minister of Public Health, the person in charge of the Refugee Commission, and soldiers protecting the refugees, and yet we did not hear one single complaint nor see a single teardrop from anyone. We asked each person we interviewed if they lived in fear since just on the other side of the mountain was the frontlines of the battles with the Myanmar military. Each person gave us the same answer, “We’re not afraid because we trust in Jesus.”

Every morning, they start the day at 4 a.m., getting up for morning prayer and worshipping the one true God. On Sundays, they all dress up, adults and children alike, and go to a makeshift sanctuary built with bamboo sticks to worship God. Whether it was day or at night, from dawn to dusk, we could always hear praise songs, earnest prayers and the beautiful sound of little children reading their texts aloud.

Led by their pastors, the refugees have also started their own relief projects. They grow vegetables in the limited arable soil on mountain slopes and by brooks. God also gave them the wisdom to build dams in the river to generate hydro-power for electricity. Despite the shortage of supplies, the entire refugee camp was orderly, organized, with good sanitation, and the refugees enjoyed peace and stability. They reminded us of the Israelites in the mountainous area who fought the invading Philistines under the leadership of Saul and David. No force is strong enough to crush a God-fearing people!

According to the person in charge of the Refugee Reception Commission, the humanitarian aid donated by the international society through the Myanmar government has not reached the Kachins because they were intercepted by the Myanmar militia. So the 50,000 refugees on the China-Myanmar border are facing a massive survival crisis.

We feel guilty that we have been so slow in responding to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have struggled with hunger and cold weather in miserable conditions for nine months. We call on more Christians from all over the world, especially from neighboring China, to earnestly pray for the Jingpo Christians at the border refugee camps. Raise your hands in prayer and pray for blessings upon them. We earnestly hope that they will survive the trials and tribulations, return to their homes and rebuild their homeland. It is also our desire that the international society will closely monitor the situation of the hundreds and thousands of refugees in this place. 

“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

We propose that Christians all over the world who feel so burdened to set aside every Friday as a day of fasting and prayer, for the end of the war, the arrival of peace and the return of Jingpo refugees to their homes. We desire for more members of the body of Christ to join this mighty army of prayer warriors. Meanwhile we will donate the food saved on this day of fasting to Christian refugees, showing that we share in the sufferings of our Jingpo brothers and sisters because we are one family in Christ! We call on more churches to join this action as soon as they can, reaching out to the members of the body of Christ in the Jingpo refugee camps.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

(reported by Wang Dao from Guangzhou, China, March 3, 2012)

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Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
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