“THRESHOLD OF HOPE”
The southeast Asian country of
Myanmar is finally on “a threshold of
hope” now that it has a democratically
elected government, according to the
Archbishop of Yangon Charles Maung Bo.
The Roman Catholic cardinal
celebrated the potential of increased
freedoms and internal reconciliation
in a speech to the UN’s Human Rights
Council in Geneva in March.
Myanmar’s new democratic leader,
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, took office
recently after more than 60 years of civil
war and oppressive military regimes.
One of her first policy changes in April
was the release of dozens of imprisoned
student activists. The release is more
than symbolic – Suu Kyi herself was
under house arrest for 15 years, and
over a hundred of her pro-democratic
colleagues spent time in prison.
Bo says a new freedom of the media
and expression, and a “vibrant civil
society” have given the country a “chance
of making progress towards freedom.”
However, significant challenges
remain. Myanmar includes at least five
ethnic groups and several religions,
primarily Buddhism (89 per cent) with
some Christianity ( 3 per cent Protestant
plus 1 per cent Catholic) and Islam ( 4 per
cent). These fault lines have given rise
to conflict in Myanmar’s recent history.
The new government’s primary
task, according to Bo, is to “work to
defend rights without discrimination,
to establish equal rights for all people
of every ethnicity and religion.” – W W W.
FULANI A CHALLENGE
“Worse than Boko Haram!” claims
one of Nigeria’s governors, Samuel
Ortom. He is referring to the Fulani
people, a staunchly traditional tribe of
Islamic nomads who in recent years
have taken to violence in opposition to
modernization and Christianity.
When the terrorist group Boko
Haram captures a town, Ortom says,
“They kill some people, recruit some
people and occupy the town. But the
[Fulani] herdsmen spare no one. My
own house was burned. Kids haven’t
been to school in two years.”
The comparison is striking – similar
numbers of people displaced ( 50,000) in
the last few years, and the target being
Christians and Western-style schools.
However, Fulani groups reportedly
leave no survivors, unlike Boko
Haram whose intent is to occupy and
administer towns. Peacemaking is
also difficult because the Fulani are
not a terrorist group with identifiable
boundaries and headquarters. They
are nomads who wander freely across
the breadth of Nigeria, which means
governments can’t simply declare
them illegal and treat them as a
terrorist criminal organization.
MINE CLEARING NEAR
Seven ancient churches near the
Jordan River are closed to visitors
because the land surrounding them
contains an estimated 2,600 antitank
mines, 1,200 antipersonnel mines and
an unknown number of booby traps
and unexploded bombs left behind
after the 1967 fighting.
The Halo Trust, a British-based
organization dedicated to removal
of postwar debris, is embarking on a
20-month project to clear the danger
from this single square kilometre so the
historically important churches from the
4th to 6th centuries can be preserved.
Since efforts to restore and maintain
ancient religious sites in the Middle East
often lead to conflict, the Halo Trust
has needed to make its credentials as a
humanitarian organization extra clear.
They have official support from the Israeli
government and the Palestinian Authority.
The churches are near Qasr El-Yahud,
said to be where Joshua crossed
the Jordan River, and where John
the Baptist baptized Jesus. It’s the
destination of some 300,000 annual
pilgrims since it reopened in 2011.
C. DAVID DONALDSON
and spiritual needs.
midst of all
Young people pray with their coach before their daily soccer training with
SportsFriends, a ministry in Thailand supported by SIM (Serving in Mission) Canada.
C. David Donaldson of Guelph, Ont., is a writer
and missionary, dividing his time between
Kenya and Canada. For more of these columns, see