Adoniram Judson and his wife landed at Yangon in 1813. The first convert was gained in 1819. His name was U Naw and, as he witnessed to his family and others, several more were converted.
This tiny foothold was obtained in the face of social and religious hostility. The Burmese were so strongly entrenched in traditional Buddhism that Judson once said, ‘It is easier to take out the tooth of a living lion than convert a Burmese!’
Judson and his converts suffered greatly for the gospel. But through their suffering, and diligent work in reaching out to the people, the nation soon became familiar with the term ‘Christian’; and more were won for Christ.
Other expatriate missionaries arrived; and began to work in different parts of Burma.
The first convert among the Karen tribe came through the ministry of George Boardman, at Tavay, in 1806. From that time Christian work amongst the Karen has grown steadily.
In 1827 Adoniram Judson moved to Mawlamyine, close to the territory of the Mon tribe. Many of his converts were from the Mon, and, again, Christian work has carried on amongst them down to the present day.
Work amongst the Chin (Zomi) tribe began with the establishment of a mission station at Hakha by Rev. and Mrs A. E. Carson, in 1899. The Chin worshipped the spirits of their ancestors and proved difficult to reach with the gospel.
But, by the grace of God, the first Chin converts were registered as Christians by Carson in 1904, and baptised during 1905 and 1906. Among them were Thuam Hau and his wife; Pau Suan and his wife; Shia Khaw, Tsong Kham and Thang Tsi.
Indigenous Karen Christian missionaries from lower Burma took the gospel to the Kachin hills and were later followed by American Baptist missionaries. The first missionary station for work in Kachin was opened in 1877 at Bhamo.
One of the outstanding Baptist pioneers among the Shan people was Dr Josiah Cushing who translated the Bible into the Shan language. By 1892 three centres of Shan mission work were established in the Shan state – at Nam Kham in the north, Taungyi in the south and Kentung in the east.
When Burma gained independence in 1948, it became more open to missionaries, and new expatriate missionaries from different denominations established further churches in Burma.
Once more, they found that the animistic, tribal people were more easily won to Christ than the Buddhist Burmese. Today there are more tribal than Burmese Christians.
Myanmar has mainline denominational churches, as well as para-church organisations and Bible schools. But, sadly, much of the professing Christian community has strayed away from the truth of the gospel.
It is hard to find faithful believers in Myanmar who are bravely preaching the truth of the Bible without the trappings of ecumenical or other false teachings. The Pentecostal and Charismatic movements are very popular everywhere.
Only a few denominations, such as the Bible Presbyterian, Evangelical Baptist and Gospel Baptist churches are holding to the truth of the Word of God. Today we need to defend the Christian faith in Myanmar against false Christs and false prophets.
Christians in Myanmar are free to engage in personal witness to unbelievers but are not allowed to conduct large open-air meetings.
If they say anything which is (even mistakenly) taken as criticism of the government, they can end up in chains in prison. This makes many Christians timid and not as courageous as they should be.
God has provided the radio station of the Far East Broadcasting Company in Manila, Philippines. This can reach Myanmar (as well as other countries), so we are able both to preach and to hear the true gospel of Christ across its airwaves. We praise God for touching many souls through its messages.
Many preachers are not supported full time, and must earn their daily bread in other work. This can be a diversion from evangelism and the work of the ministry.
But whatever the current problems may be, Christ’s faithful servants continue to work in Myanmar against its background of hardship and hindrance.
We must diligently share the gospel with those outside the churches and, at the same time, ‘contend earnestly for the faith’ inside the churches.