VALLEY FORGE, PA (8/14/19)—On behalf of the Burma Refugee Commission, American Baptist Churches USA General Secretary Lee B. Spitzer, Rev. Sharon Koh, executive director/CEO of International Ministries, and Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies, sent letters this week to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as to officials of the government of the United States, expressing urgent concern for the safety of the two Baptist Kachin leaders who returned home to Myanmar on Tuesday.
American Baptists are called to be in prayer for Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, President of the Kachin Baptist Convention, and Pastor Lanjaw Gam Seng, who returned to Myanmar Tuesday following their recent attendance at the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, where Gam Seng testified about atrocities faced while in custody. The two leaders, who were a part of a meeting of the American Baptist Churches Burma Refugee Commission on Friday, August 9, return to an environment where their safety is not guaranteed. American Baptists are asked to pray for the safety of our brothers in Christ, and to keep the people of Myanmar in their prayers as they deal with ongoing conflict within the nation.
As of Wednesday morning, we learned that Rev. Samson and Pastor Gam Seng have safely arrived the Yangon airport, and were greeted by the UN Deputy Chief of Mission at the airport. After a church service, they will meet with the US Ambassador to Burma and then return to Kachin State.
The Burma Refugee Commission, which met August 9 at the Leadership and Mission Building of American Baptist Home Mission Societies, included participants:
- Mr. M Tu Aung, Kachin Baptist Convention, Burma
- Rev. Langjaw Gam Seng, Pastor, Munggu Kachin Baptist Church, Northern Shan State, Burma
- Mr. Nsang Gum San, President, Kachin Alliance of the USA
- Ms. Susan Gottshall, Associate Executive Director, Communications, ABHMS
- Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, Executive Director, ABHMS
- Rev. Dr. Pat Hernandez, Associate General Secretary, American Baptist Women in Ministry and Transition Ministries, ABCUSA
- Rev. Florence Li (Facilitator), National Coordinator for Asian Ministries, Intercultural Ministries, ABHMS; Burma Refugees Commission member
- Rev. Dr. Roy Medley, General Secretary Emeritus, ABCUSA
- Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, Former General Secretary, Kachin Baptist Convention, Burma
- Rev. Dr. Marsha Scipio, Associate General Secretary, Missional Initiatives and Partnerships
- Mr. James William, Administrative Assistant for East Asia, India, Southeast Asia & Japan
Prayer was a theme of the meeting: Gum San, the USA Kachin Alliance president, shared stories of atrocities against Christians in Myanmar: “People in Christ need to be very aware of this,” he said. “Prayer intervention is needed.” Also lifting up the need for prayer was the pastor Gam Seng, who has experienced imprisonment and torture. “I only ask that you would continue to pray for us and that we have continual communications and that you continue to be engaged with us,” he said. The former general secretary of Burma’s Kachin Baptist Convention, the Rev. Dr. Samson, affirmed his colleagues, saying, “We are always empowered by your prayers and that you are always with us.”
The letter sent by Spitzer was drafted by Dr. A. Roy Medley in his role as General Secretary Emeritus and member of the Burma Refugee Commission. View the full text of the letter and responses from the White House, below.
Read the letter sent by Dr. Jeffrey Haggray here.
August 11, 2019
Dear UN Secretary-General António Guterres,
We write as the American Baptist Churches USA to express our urgent concern for the safety of two Baptist Kachin leaders who will return home to Myanmar this Tuesday following their recent attendance at the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. Both of these Christian leaders were present during the press conference highlighting those who have endured religious persecution.
The Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, President of the Kachin Baptist Convention, has long been a critic of policies of the Myanmar government and military which have led to over 100,000 Kachins being driven from their homes and lands by military conflict and becoming Internally Displaced Persons. He has consistently requested that elements of the military responsible for the destruction of over 200 churches in the Kachin State and those who have used rape as a weapon of war and terror be brought to justice. During the recent Ministerial he dared to publicly support the sanctions imposed upon some of the military leaders by the U.S. government as a step toward accountability to the standards of justice.
Pastor Lanjaw Gam Seng has served in a remote village in the Kachin State. He was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for reporting on the bombing of St. Francis Xavier Church to journalists. For 16 months he languished in prison before he was released. His story has been reported in The Christian Post (https://www.christianpost.com/news/eyes-tied-sealed-kachin-pastor-details-torture-in-burmese-prison.html).
It has been reported to us and widely shared on Burmese social media that the military has ordered the arrest of both Dr. Samson and Pastor Gam Seng upon their arrival at the Yangon International Airport on Tuesday. We know that since their appearance on US television there has been an increase in official rhetoric against “traitors against Myanmar” within the country, and a mass rally was held against such traitors on Aug 3, 2019.
Therefore, we believe that these two Christian leaders are in imminent danger and we call upon the United Nations, the U.S. Government and other concerned powers, and human rights advocacy groups to add your voice to ours and speak strongly against any possible action against Pastor Gam Seng and Dr. Samson upon their return.
In response to the letter from Dr. Spitzer, Nicholas J.C. Snyder, Special Advisor for Asia in the Office of the Vice President wrote:
Thank you for this. Please know that the White House is well aware of the situation and tracking closely, as is the US Embassy in Rangoon who should have someone at the airport to meet the Reverend and the Pastor. At this time, we have not seen evidence that they will actually be arrested on their arrival but we will continue to have the US Embassy check in with them.
In addition, Ambassadors Brownback and Currie met with both men (as did Sarah Makin and I for the VP’s office and Julie Turner the NSC Director for SE Asia) and put out photos of these meetings on social media of the military’s awareness.
On behalf of Ambassador Sam Brownback, his office replied:
On behalf of Ambassador Brownback, thank you for your email and concern. We are tracking this situation closely. On Friday, representatives from the NSC, the Office of the Vice President, and State (chaired by Amb. Brownback and Amb. Currie in the Office of Global Criminal Justice), met with Rev. Samson and Pastor Seng (see here). We remain in contact with the delegation and will make every effort to urge the Burmese government to respect their fundamental freedoms upon return to Burma.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.