Myanmar

By Thang Suan Sum

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Thang Suan Sum (B.Th., M.A. Religion) was born on March 11, 1988, to Thang Za Tun and Dim Man Cing, in Anlangh Village, Tedim Township, Chin State, Myanmar. He pursued his undergraduate education at Spicer Memorial College, and graduate education at Andrew University (Spicer Memorial College-off Campus). Currently, he works at Myanmar Union Adventist Seminary as a Bible instructor in religion. 

First Published: February 28, 2021

Statistics

The territory of Myanmar (formerly Burma) constitutes the Myanmar Union Mission (MYUM), a part of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD), and is divided into five missions. For the respective territories, see Southern Asia-Pacific Division statistics (2014) for Myanmar: churches, 232; members, 31,439; ordained ministers, 73; licensed ministers, 63; schools, 57; teachers, 138; school enrollment, 2,170. Headquarters: Yangon. Statistics (2014) for the section missions- Ayeyarwaddy Mission: churches, 62; members, 7,470; ordained ministers, 9; licensed ministers, 17. Headquarters: Pathein. Central Myanmar Mission: churches, 30; members, 4,458; ordained ministers, 8; licensed ministers, 3. Headquarters: Taungngu. South East Mission: churches, 27; members, 4,855; ordained ministers, 11; licensed ministers, 7. Headquarters: Mawlamyine. Upper Myanmar Mission: churches, 75; members, 8,363; ordained ministers, 21; licensed ministers, 27. Headquarters: Pyinoolwin. Yangon Adventist mission: churches, 38; members, 5,293; ordained ministers, 7; licensed ministers, 8. Headquarters: Yangon. Myanmar Union Mission: ordained ministers, 17; licensed ministers, 1. Headquarters: Yangon.1

Overview of Country

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar in Southeast Asia is bordered on the northwest by Bangladesh and India, on the northeast by China, on the southeast by Laos and Thailand, and on the southwest by the Bay of Bengal. It has an area of 261,789 square miles (678,034 kilometers) and a population (2017) of 54 million. The Burmese, who are racially related to Tibetans, comprise sixty-eight percent of the country’s population.2 The remaining thirty-two percent is made up of Shans, Karens, Kachins, Chins, Kayahs, Rakhines, Mons, and immigrants from India, Thailand, and China. The state religion is Buddhism, although a minority practice Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, Animism, and Confucianism. Christianity (mostly Baptist and Roman Catholic) has the greatest number of adherents among the Chins, Karens, and Kachins.

Origins

The official language of the country is Burmese, which belongs to the Tibeto-Chinese group of languages; but, unlike Chinese, it is based on Pali, which is written with an alphabet of eleven vowels and thirty-two consonants. Myanmar was founded in the eleventh century AD, was later occupied by the Mongols. From the middle of the eighteenth to the second half of the nineteenth centuries, Myanmar was again independent until it was taken over by British India. Under the leadership of General Aungsan, it became a union with some tribal territorial areas, such as Chin, Kachin, and Shan, and became a sovereign independent country in 1948. Since then, it has been continuously troubled by the internal insurgency. The name of the country was changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989.3 Following the 2010 general election, a nominal civilian government was installed. In the 2015 general election, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party received a landslide victory, and the country became a quasi-democracy. Even though Suu Kyi’s party won the election in both houses, the Burmese military remains a powerful force in politics by reserving twenty-five percent of seats in both of the legislative houses.4

Pioneers

The Seventh-day Adventist work in Myanmar began in 1902, when Herbert B. Meyers, who had become an Adventist in Kolkata, India, entered the country along with A. G. Watson to sell Adventist books and take subscriptions for the Oriental Watchman Publishing house from Europeans and English-speaking Burmese people. The people showed much interest as Meyers began to give Bible studies, and that led them to hold regular meetings. Meyers worked in Myanmar for several years. Upon his arrival in Myanmar, Meyers met a Christian woman, Daw May, whose mother was baptized by Judson, a pioneer Christian missionary in Myanmar. By reading the Bible, she had decided two years earlier that the seventh-day Sabbath was the true day of worship. She converted her brother, Maung Maung. By becoming an Adventist member, Maung Maung gave up his position in government service and devoted himself to the gospel work among the Burmese people. For the next two years, he worked at his own expense, gathering groups of converts in the fold of God.5

Spread and Development of the Message

In 1904, the converts began to raise funds to support a permanent preacher, and Maung Maung travelled to the general meeting of the Adventist workers in India to plead for a worker. In response, Herber H. Votaw was sent from India, and the Burma mission was established in 1905.6 Votaw immediately began a program of evangelism with the help of Muang Maung, David Hpo Hla, and other national workers and dedicated laypersons, and church membership began to grow. Within a year, the first tract in Burmese, The commandments of God WrittenNot in Tablets of Stone, But in Fleshy Tablets of the Heart, written by Maung Maung, was published at the expense of the church members who made every effort to make the mission work self-supporting.7 L. F. Hansen, who pioneered Adventist medical work in Myanmar, was in Votaw’s mission party. It is probable that Hansen did not remain long in Myanmar. Nonetheless, permanent Adventist medical work was begun by Dr. Ollie Oberholtzer in 1907 at Mawlamyine. Later, she worked among the Shans in the interior part of Myanmar. In 1914, F. A. Wayman and his wife opened treatment rooms in Yangon.8

The first Seventh-day Adventist church in Myanmar was organized in 1907 in Yangon, with twenty-three members. Later, a group was formed at Meithila, where interest had been aroused by a telegraph operator who had been transferred there and who, knowing something about Adventists, spoke to his neighbors about their beliefs.9

It is noted that in 1910 Mary Gibbs began her Karen language study in order to work among them. The Karen mission station was established by G. A. Hamilton in 1915 at Ohndaw. A school was also established there. The success of the Ohndaw school led to the opening of Adventist schools in other Karen villages. The training given in these schools produced strong workers who later helped develop the work, so that Mary Gibbs, who had married A. J. Denoyer, established a girls’ school called Taikgyi Girls’ School in 1920. The girls’ school continued operation until 1929.10

In 1908, a plan to sell Burmese gospel literature, an innovation in Christian mission work in Myanmar, was inaugurated by R. A. Beckner, who took charge of this work. In 1912, the journal Kin Saung (The Watchman) was launched under Beckner’s editorship.11 The work was extended across the country of Myanmar.

In 1919, the Burma Union, composed of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta Mission, the Rangoon and Upper Burma Mission, and the Tenasserim Mission (now South East Mission) was organized. From then until World War II, the work grew gradually. In 1922, there were six churches, with 182 members. There were three stations outside of the city of Rangoon (now Yangon) and seven schools with a total attendance of about 420 students. There were also eleven Sabbath schools. In Rangoon, there were three churches: an English-speaking congregation with a membership of about fifty, a Burmese congregation with a membership of nineteen, and a Telegu congregation with a membership of seventeen. By 1922, the publishing department had produced a Burmese-language translation of Bible readings and two 100-page books. A songbook was ready for printers, and it was voted to publish Ellen G. White’s Steps to Christ in the Burmese language. In the Karen language, Eric B. Hare had published a history of the Sabbath and a large tract on the Second Coming of Christ, and had a manuscript nearly ready for a book entitled On the Other Side of Death. The Karen-language publishing work was done on a duplicator. In 1924, H. A. Skinner opened a station among the Taungthu tribal people. Another Karen station was established at Myaungmya by F. A. Wyman in 1927.12

In 1939, there were twenty-five schools with forty-three teachers and 949 students. Meikthila had 220 students, of whom ninety-three were Adventists. There were also seventy-five students at Myaungmya and seventy-four at Ohndaw. The publishing department was issuing in Burmese the magazine Kin Saung (“The Watchman”) and subscription books in Burmese and Karen. A nursing home was in operation in May Myo Brightlands with Mrs. Tarleton in charge. Eight Burmese students had gone to India, some to Spicer Memorial College, others to Nuzvid Nursing School. Four nurses were training in Shanghai. Early Writings by Ellen White was published, the first of her books to be published in that country. The following year, in 1940, Dr. L. S. Walker opened a small medical center in Rangoon. On December 31, 1941, Myanmar had 898 members and 1,441 Sabbath School members.13

During World War II, missionaries remained in country into early 1942 when government agencies closed and officials ordered them to leave. The last missionaries to leave Myanmar were E. M. Meleen, Sargent, Hare, Baird, Wyman, Walker, Christensen, Baldwin. Travelling in two parties, they retreated up country making their way, first by car and ferry, then through the jungle and over the mountains on foot to India.14

With the arrival of M. O. Manley and his family in late 1946 to superintend the rebuilding of the work in the Burma Union following the war, plans were made to build a strong evangelistic, publishing, educational, and medical work.15 In 1947, funds from a Thirteenth Sabbath Offering overflow, an old hotel was purchased in Yangon and converted into a sanitarium under the direction of Dr. J. C. Johannes. This developed into a 155-bedded hospital.16 Ngul Khaw Pau was the pioneer among the Zomi indigenous people in the Northern Chin Hills near India.17 Whilst serving in the British armed forces, he heard the Advent message in the city of Kolkata, India. Shortly after, a request for a missionary was made to the Burma Union. In response, A. E. Anderson arrived in April 1953. He worked in the Chin Hills and Kalay areas among the Zomi nationality. Zakhuma, Lalkhuma, and Rualchina assisted in opening the work among the Mizo villages in the Kalay areas. Evangelist Phung Kai was the first colporteur. He was the first ordained minister in the Chin Hills. By 1963, this area had sixteen churches with more than 400 members.18

The Advent message was proclaimed in the provincial state of Kachin in the town of Mitkyina in the early 1960s. E Dwe Tha and Elisha Paul conducted several evangelistic meetings in that town. In the 1970s, Pe Yee and Tember Chit travelled through an unfamiliar area called the Naga Hills, located in the northern part of the country. A mission station was open in 1970 in Homalin, and Thangpu was sent there to work among the Naga.19

The Kin Saung Publishing House resumed operation in Yangon on May 28, 1950. By 2014, it was printing material in many languages or dialect including Burmese, Mizo Chin, Pwo Karen (western), Jingpho (Kachin), Zomi, and S’gaw Karen.20 In 2014, there were 232 churches with 30,439 church members. In 2017, the Yangon Attached District was reorganized as the Yangon Adventist Mission, making five local missions within the Myanmar Union Mission (MYUM).21

Institutions

Adventist institutions in Myanmar include Kin Saung Publishing house and ten schools: Myanmar Union Adventist Seminary, Ayarwaddy Adventist Seminary, Central Myanmar Adventist Seminary, South-East Adventist Seminary, Upper Myanmar Adventist Seminary, Yangon Adventist Seminary, Anderson Adventist Seminary, Mangkhring Adventist Seminary, Pyidawtha Adventist Seminary, and Wuyan Adventist Seminary.22

Church Administrative Units

The Myanmar Union Mission (MYUM) is under the administrative unit of the Southern-Asia Pacific Division (SSD). It is comprised of five local missions: the Ayarwaddy Mission (AYM), the Central Myanmar Mission (CMM), the South-East Mission (SEM), the Upper Myanmar Mission (UMM), and the Yangon Adventist Mission (YAM). Each of the local missions has been moving forward by outreach to unentered areas. The education department is the most effective outreach to the non-Adventist as well as the non-Christian community; consequently, the SSD has provided much support for education in Myanmar. Scholarship funds are provided by the SSD for needy students, and priority is given to newly converted believers.23

In 2010 the 1000 Missionary Movement from the Korean Union Conference (KUC) sent workers to MYUM. The fruit of their work can still be seen in areas like Naga Hills, which is located in the northwest part of Myanmar. They also worked in the Palaung areas, located in the northeast part of Myanmar; however, the work of the 1000 Missionary Movement is no longer evident in the Palaung areas. The local missions could not conduct the follow-up work in the area, and membership has waned.24

Important Points in Membership

The work of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Myanmar was started with Herbert B. Meyers and A.G. Watson in 1902.25 The chart of the growth of the trending membership follows:

Year Number of Churches Membership Number of Ministers Duration
1907 1 23 1 6 year26
1948 23 1,052 4 46 years27
1960 36 2,138 7 12 years28
1965-66 54 3,258 9 6 years29
1983 (the last year with Southern-Asia Division) 105 8,353 11 17 years30
1987 (The first year with Far-Eastern Division) 122 10,223 21 86 years for 10,000 members31
1997 (Far-Eastern Division was divided into two divisions: Myanmar is with the Southern-Asia Pacific Division) 166 18,223 22 10 years
2000 176 20,750 21 13 years for another 10,00032
2017 233 30,920 17 17 years for another 10,000 members33

After the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Myanmar was organized in 1907 in Yangon with twenty-three members, Adventist membership grew particularly among ethnic minorities. In 1909, the union was organized with three local missions called the Ayeyarwaddy Delta Mission, the Rangoon and Upper Burma Mission, and the Tenasserin Mission. The totaled 182 members. Until the World War II, the mission work in Burma grew gradually as there were only 898 members in 1941. Post-World War II development led to the addition of more than 400 church members in 1963.34 The church continued to grow, reaching 14,867 members in 1993. By 1996, the church members in the MYUM numbered 15,129,35 and by 2015 the membership had reached 30,439 members.36 As of the 2nd Quarterly Report 2012, the ratio of Seventh-day Adventists to the population in the country of Myanmar is 1:18.37

Effect of Political Developments on Adventist Work

As World War II broke out, Burma became the meeting place where Allied and Japanese forces collided. Restive under British rule, the majority of the Buddhist Burmese were deceived by the slogan “Asia for the Asians.” Burmese Christians were suspected, by both Japanese invaders and the natives who sided with them, of being loyal to their white missionaries were considered traitors to the Burma Free campaign. Consequently, some of the believers became martyrs for Christ.38

Post-World War II, Myanmar’s continued to be plagued by unstable government and ethnic conflict, which has caused more problems for Christians in the country. Moreover, Buddhism was recognized as the state-sanctioned religion. Following a military coup in 1962,39 twenty-six overseas workers in the country were expelled. Myaungmya Middle School, Hpa-An Middle School, Rangoon Adventist Hospital, and Taungoo High School were nationalized at the same time.40 Since 2011, democratic reforms have led to general elections, and on March 15, 2016, Htin Kyaw was elected as the first non-military president since the military coup of 1962. On April 6, 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi took the newly created role of state counsellor, equal to the rank of prime minister,41 but freedom of religion for non-Buddhists has not been granted, as the responsibility of the minister of religion and cultural affairs is limited to Burman Buddhist.

Adventists’ Place in the Country

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has impacted the country of Myanmar mainly in the field of education. Since English language has become the lingua franca of the world, most educated people in Myanmar learn English. Adventist institutions have become synonymous with English-language instruction.42 In Christian majority areas like Chin Hills, Adventist medical ministry has played an important role, leading Christians of other denominations to associate medical doctors with Adventism.43

Challenges to Mission and What Remains to be Done

As in Asia in general, the minority animistic ethnic tribal peoples of Myanmar are more receptive to Christianity than are the majority Buddhists. Consequently, attempts to evangelize the Buddhist population are mostly neglected. In Myanmar, nationalism and Buddhism are closely connected; so much so that to be a good Burman is to be a good Buddhist.44 Research shows that Burman-Buddhists reject the gospel message because their social community is tightly woven into their nationalism and religion. In addition, Burman-Buddhists’ ethnocentrism always views foreign-born or non-Burman peoples as less civilized and inferior.45 Myanmar is home to several ethnic groups, such as the Palaung, the Rakhine, the Shan, and the Wa, who are as yet unreached by the gospel.

Sources

Andross, Matilda Erickson. Story of the Advent Message. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1926.

Annual Statistical Report of 2016: The 152nd Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for 2014 and 2015. Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2017. Accessed April 29, 2021. https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR2016.pdf.

Fernandez, G. G. “Pe Yee, Burma.” Light Dawns Over Asia: Adventism’s Story in the Far Eastern Division 1888-1988. Silang, Cavite, Philippines: Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies Publications, 1990.

Hoke, Donald E. The Church in Asia. Chicago: Moody Press, 1975.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. 2nd rev. ed. Vol. 2. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1987-2000.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1907-1983.

Southern Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Images 1893-1993: The Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Southern Asia. Pune, India: Oriental Watchman Publishing House, 1993.

Spalding, Arthur W. A History of Seventh-day Adventists Covering the Years of 1901-1948. Vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1949.

Wilson, J. O. Advent Angels in Burma. N. p.: Friends of Burma, 1971.

Wikipedia contributors. "Myanmar." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed April 29, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Myanmar&oldid=1020508614.

Zin, Kay Kay. “Meeting the Love of God.” Adventist Mission, Quarter 2, 2012. Accessed April 29, 2021. file:///Users/user/Downloads/aq-2nd-quarter-2012.pdf.

Notes

  1. 2016 Annual Statistical Report: 152nd Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for 2014 and 2015 (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2017), 26-27, accessed April 29, 2021, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR2016.pdf.

  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Myanmar," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed April 29, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Myanmar&oldid=1020508614.

  3. “Myanmar,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 142-145.

  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Myanmar," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed April 29, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Myanmar&oldid=1020508614.

  5. “Myanmar,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 142-145.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Matilda Erickson Andross, Story of the Advent Message (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1926), 320.

  8. Ibid, 321.

  9. “Myanmar,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 142-145.

  10. Arthur W. Spalding, A History of Seventh-day Adventists Covering the Years of 1901-1948, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1949), 559.

  11. “Myanmar,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 142-145.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Arthur W. Spalding, A History of Seventh-day Adventists Covering the Years of 1901-1948, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1949), 569.

  15. J. O. Wilson, Advent Angels in Burma (N. p.: Friends of Burma, 1971), 151.

  16. “Myanmar,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 142-145.

  17. Monument in front of Pangpi Seventh-day Adventist Church, Kalay, Sagaing Region, Myanmar.

  18. Southern Asia Division of Seventh-day Adventists, Images 1893-1993: The Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Southern Asia (Pune, India: Oriental Watchman Publishing House, 1993), 45.

  19. G. G. Fernandez, “Pe Yee,” Light Dawns Over Asia: Adventism’s Story in the Far Eastern Division 1888-1980 (Silang, Cavite, Philippines: Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies Publications, 1990), 278.

  20. 2016 Annual Statistical Report, 94.

  21. 2016 GC Annual Report, 26.

  22. Thang Suan Sum, personal knowledge from work in the Myanmar Union.

  23. Ibid.

  24. “Myanmar,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 142-145.

  25. Ibid.

  26. “India Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1907), 103.

  27. “Burma Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1948), 181-183.

  28. “Burma Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1960), 187-188.

  29. “Burma Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1965-1966), 214-215.

  30. “Burma Union,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1983), 316.

  31. “Burma Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1987), 109.

  32. “Myanmar Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1997), 314.

  33. “Myanmar Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2000), 330.

  34. Ibid.

  35. Ibid.

  36. 2016 Annual Statistical Report: 152nd Report of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for 2014 and 2015 (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2017), 26, accessed April 29, 2021, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR2016.pdf.

  37. Kay Kay Zin, “Meeting the Love of God,” Adventist Mission, Quarter 2, 2012, 16-17, accessed April 29, 2021, file:///Users/user/Downloads/aq-2nd-quarter-2012.pdf.

  38. Arthur W. Spalding, A History of Seventh-day Adventists Covering the Years of 1901-1948, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1949), 568.

  39. Wikipedia contributors, "Myanmar," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed April 29, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Myanmar&oldid=1020508614.

  40. “Myanmar,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 2nd rev. ed., vol. 2 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 142-145.

  41. Wikipedia contributors, "Myanmar," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed April 29, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Myanmar&oldid=1020508614.

  42. Ibid.

  43. Thang Suan Sum, personal knowledge from his native community.

  44. Donald E. Hoke, The Church in Asia (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), 34.

  45. Ibid., 125.

×

Sum, Thang Suan. "Myanmar." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 28, 2021. Accessed May 21, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=2DYA.

Sum, Thang Suan. "Myanmar." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. February 28, 2021. Date of access May 21, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=2DYA.

Sum, Thang Suan (2021, February 28). Myanmar. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 21, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=2DYA.