Myanmar: An Interview With Dr. Franklin Ishida and Dr. May May Latt
On February 1, the Myanmar military seized power in a coup d’etat. Since that time, they have imprisoned civilian leaders as well as pro-democracy and human rights advocates. Many have been killed in the streets, and many remain inside for fear of being murdered. While some journalists have been given access to report on the events in Myanmar, some of those they interviewed were subsequently detained. One Japanese journalist has been detained and faces possible trial.
The Metropolitan Chicago Synod (MCS) and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) reached out to the Rev. Dr. Franklin Ishida, ELCA Director for Asia and the Pacific, and LSTC Alum, Dr. May May Latt, who has dedicated much of her life to working with the Burmese community in Milwaukee, Wis. In this interview, they share the ELCA’s response and concrete actions you and your church communities can take right now to respond to this situation in God’s love and God’s love for justice.
MCS & LSTC: Dr. Ishida, thank you for taking time to speak with us about the situation in Myanmar. In the Metropolitan Chicago Synod there are three churches where Myanmar congregations gather for worship and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago has five PhD students from Myanmar. We feel particular concern for these siblings in Christ who are living through the current moment in Myanmar and who are at risk. Could you give us your perspective on what is happening in Myanmar?
Ishida: This question is timely in that not just the whole ELCA, but the whole world is looking to Myanmar right now.
I have been in contact with the leadership of the four Lutheran churches in Myanmar since the beginning of the crisis. These are all dear friends, and all that is happening is very concerning. My last work trip before we ended travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic was to Myanmar. I was there in Chin State when things were shutting down everywhere last year in March, when I was ordered home.
MCS & LSTC: The friends we have spoken with have asked us to get the word out about the deadly and dangerous situation in Myanmar. How can the ELCA help amplify the voices of those who are daily at risk? How has the ELCA and Bishop Eaton responded to the situation?
Ishida: In response to the coup d’etat and the ensuing violence and crisis in Myanmar, the ELCA, with Bishop Eaton’s signature, issued a pastoral letter on February 17. This was more of a private letter at the time, as we were concerned that speaking publicly might jeopardize the safety of our companions and staff of the Lutheran World Federation – Myanmar offices. Since that time, however, in consultation with the same church leaders, we were invited to speak more openly and a second letter, this time addressed to the US Secretary of State, was issued on March 22.
As you have noted, there are three ELCA congregations in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod that host Myanmar worshipping communities: Faith and Grace in Glen Ellyn; and Trinity, Warrenville. I have sent these letters to those ELCA congregations so they may share this with those groups meeting in their churches. There are also about a dozen congregations of the Mara Evangelical Church, one of the Myanmar LWF member churches, spread throughout the US. These have also been contacted. And finally, these letters have been shared with the Myanmar students at Luther Seminary.
I hope that in sharing these concerns of the ELCA more broadly and with our Myanmar friends and colleagues, we will foster some hope and create pathways for the ELCA to accompany, as invited, in this time of crisis, knowing we are called to speak and work for justice and peace.
MCS & LSTC: Dr. Latt, you are regularly in direct contact with the people of Myanmar and have worked to advocate for and amplify the voices of people there. What would you add, and what would you suggest as the best route of action for those who are concerned?
Latt: The death toll rises every day due to the military crackdown. As of April 14, more than 700 peaceful civilians have been killed. With the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), Mr. Kyaw Moe Tun, the Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the United Nations, requested five things in the UN on the 9th of April 2021. The people of Myanmar unanimously request these five things everywhere these days, in your prayers or anywhere you can spread these requests:
- The military has been using airstrikes against the ethnic minority areas to crack down on the ethnic armies, which have protected civilians. We ask that the UN and international communities help limit the “no-fly zone” in Myanmar.
- All international communities condemn the acts of the Military and put out more statements to condemn their actions.
- The internet has been cut off so that there is no communication in many parts of the country. The UN and international communities can apply pressure to open up internet access again.
- Widening humanitarian aid from the UN and international communities for refugees, such as the LWF.
- Condemn the military coup, to never consider them as a legitimate governing body, and not to issue visas for diplomats to enter other countries. Instead, we ask that the UN and international communities must recognize the CRPH as Myanmar’s legitimate governing body now.
These are two recent petitions that I invite your readers and members to sign: