Myanmar’s Displaced Christians Rebuild Their Lives in a Village Called ‘Bethel’ on the Outskirts of Yangon

A man and a child from a Christian family look out from their home in a slum in the industrial suburbs of Yangon on April 14, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Hammering at bamboo poles to erect a stilt house, minority Christians who have fled conflict in northern Myanmar are building a sanctuary on the outskirts of Yangon.

The small Christian community in the Buddhist-majority nation is part of 200,000 people displaced since 2018 by fierce fighting in northern Rakhine state.

The conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, a militant group agitating for more autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people, has left hundreds dead or injured.

It has spilled over into neighbouring Chin state, forcing ethnic Chin, who are predominantly Christian, out of their villages and into temporary camps.

“We were the hosts of this war from two sides and we saw a lot of trouble,” says Kan Lwat, who remembers artillery shelling on his town in Chin state.

The 36-year-old is the leader of about 80 Chin people who travelled more than 600 kilometres (370 miles) from the remote town of Paletwa to Myanmar’s sprawling commercial capital, where they spent brief stints in temporary camps.

They settled last month on a small plot of land in Yangon’s Hmawbi Township and decided to christen their village Baythala — or “Bethel” — the biblical town that served as a refuge for those in need, says Kan Lwat.

“It means Jesus was blessing and helping people in trouble with this place, which will be peaceful.”

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