Christians are called to work for justice in a world where the weak are often oppressed by the wealthy and powerful. However, while it is easy to see the outworking of injustice, sometimes the underlying causes are hard to detect.
Share examples where the church and others have campaigned successfully against an injustice. Can you identify any ingredients that seem to make for a successful campaign?
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
This passage – part of the Beatitudes – paints a picture of God’s ‘upside down’ world in which the poor and hungry are exalted over the rich and powerful.
When the army came to our village they entered our houses to torture and kill. They also looted our clothes and other things. We no longer dared to stay.’
The 25-year-old woman speaking is from the Karen ethnic group. Since Myanmar won independence from the British in 1947, the Burmese Army had been targeting the Karen people and other non-Burmese ethnic groups in the country.
Up to one million people fled for their lives – becoming Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs). Many thousands sought shelter, living in the jungle on the edge of the Burmese-Thai border, creating their own fragile settlements, always fearful of ambush and unable to put down roots.
During these difficult years, the people would often go hungry because there was no land to grow food. Make-shift schools were set up. Healthcare was scarce at best. The Anglican Church – and other agencies – worked discreetly to provide food and a fledgling health service (supported by USPG).
Then, in 2011, Myanmar’s political environment changed dramatically. There was a shift from military rule to a civilian government. During by-elections in 2012, the National League for Democracy Opposition – the party led by Aung San Suu Kyi – won 43 out of 45 seats. USA and the European Union responded by lifting or suspending economic sanctions that had been imposed in response to human rights abuses.
The IDPs have started returning to the villages they fled years before. What sort of a life can they expect?
Rachel Parry, USPG Programme Manager for Asia, explains: ‘For the IDPs, there is an enormous challenge to re-learn livelihood skills and agricultural processes, as well as a fundamental need to regain a basic sense of trust and self-confidence. In addition, there is the serious issue of statelessness: thousands of people do not have official documents.’
The church in Myanmar is assisting IDPs with re-homing, access to clean water, sanitation, health and education, and pastoral support.
In the south-east of Myanmar, there are up to half a million IDPs. The Diocese of Hpa’an has 200 families on its books who will need practical support for years to come.
God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
The courage to change the things we can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.