On Christmas Eve of 2016, the military of Myanmar detained two Baptist pastors. We’ve reported updates about their story in various issues of Word&Way. I’ll briefly review the story, but please stay with this column because I have a special request on how we can encourage our brothers who remain in prison.
Nearly a month after Langjaw Gam Seng, 36, and Dumdaw Nawng Latt, 67, disappeared, the military of Myanmar finally admitted on Facebook on Jan. 19, 2017 that it had detained the two men. Despite Myanmar’s law allowing suspects to be held for only 28 days without a trial, they did not receive a trial hearing until May 3. Dumdaw began suffering serious health issues from asthma and diarrhea.
On July 14, the pastors were charged with various offenses, including unlawful association. On Oct. 27, Langjaw was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, while his uncle Dumdaw was sentenced to four years and three months. Dumdaw received an extra two years for public statements on the case that the military called defamation. Leaders in the Kachin Baptist Convention continue to advocate for their release.
What did Langjaw and Dumdaw do that upset the military? They assisted journalists in documenting the destruction of a Catholic church and other civilian structures allegedly damaged by military airstrikes in November of 2016. As a Baptist minister and journalist, I’m particularly alarmed by the treatment of these two pastors for helping journalists document the destruction of a church.
Langjaw and Dumdaw are hardly the only people suffering persecution in Myanmar for religious beliefs or journalistic efforts. Hundreds of thousands of people from ethnic minorities in Myanmar — like the Kachin — have fled the country in recent decades, with many living in refugee camps just across the border in Thailand.
More recently, the Myanmar military began a genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims — and more than 650,000 have fled and now live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Two Reuters journalists have been in prison since December of 2017 for investigative reporting documenting the Myanmar military’s destruction of a Rohingya village. The two journalists face 14 years in prison. Their case has sparked global media attention far beyond that of the case of Langjaw and Dumdaw.
As Baptists, we believe in religious liberty for all. We have a responsibility to speak out for all, which is part of why Word&Way ran a special five-page package in the March issue that featured photos by Francisco Miguel Litardo of Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh.
But I believe we have an extra responsibility to speak out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. A psalmist wrote that God continues “to hear the groans of the prisoners” (102:20). Jesus taught us in Matthew 25 that when we visit “the least of these” in prison, we visit him. And the writer of Hebrews praised the faith of believers who faced “chains and imprisonment” (11:36) and then urged us to “continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison” (13:3).
Those of us in the U.S. will not be able to visit Langjaw and Dumdaw in prison. But we can remember them. We can speak out for them. We can pray for them. And we can write letters to encourage them.
I hope you’ll pray for these two pastors imprisoned for their faith and their support of truth-telling journalism. But I also want to ask you to write them.
I recently learned it’s possible to send letters to Langjaw and Dumdaw in prison. So, I have a special request: Write a letter of encouragement — or really two letters so you can give one to each of them — and mail it to Word&Way. The two letters can be the same other than the name in the salutation. Send us the letters by May 15 and we’ll bundle them together and ship them to Langjaw and Dumdaw.
Please don’t mention politics or war in your letters since they will be read by others. Let’s instead encourage them by telling them we are praying for them and maybe by sharing a Bible verse. It might not seem like much, but I think it will be a great blessing for them to receive letters and know that Baptists in the U.S. are praying for them. Together, we can bring a bit of hope to our brothers in prison.
Brian Kaylor is editor & president of Word&Way.