Burmese Baptist Church Holds Fundraiser

(Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

(Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

Several hundred members of the Myanmar Baptist Church in Glendale, New York, attended the 20th annual fundraising party at the Sunnyside Community Hall in Sunnyside, New York, on Saturday, Aug. 8. The Baptist Church, established at the current location in 1995, has a membership of approximately 500.

While the majority of Burmese – 89 percent out of a total population of 56 million – are Theravada Buddhists, other religions coexist in the country. Christians account for 4 percent of the population (Baptists 3 percent and Catholics 1 percent) while Muslims account for 4 percent, animists account for 1 percent, and the remainder belong to other religions. Each religion sends representatives to the Burmese parliament, explained Rev. U Myo Maw, the church pastor. He was sent here from Myanmar (formerly Burma) by his denomination in 2001 to lead the congregation. “Baptist churches were established in Myanmar since 1813 during the days of British colonization,” the pastor added.

Re. U Myo Maw (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

Rev. U Myo Maw (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

According to the pastor, animist Burmese ethnic groups, such as those in the Karen and Chin states, are the ones who became Christians during the past two centuries. “When missionaries approached them, if the leader agreed to convert, the rest of the village members converted to Christianity,” Rev. U Myo Maw said. While Burmese national law prohibits the construction of churches, in reality, it has been up to local authorities whether to allow churches to be built. “How Christian minorities are treated by the government, depends on each local authority,” explains the pastor. “But there is no big problem for us today,” he says.

While some congregation members came to the U.S. as refugees and were unable to return to their homeland, Rev. U Myo Maw notes that the current Burmese government has eased travel restrictions and many of his congregation members are now able to visit Myanmar. While he acknowledges that the political situation in Myanmar is showing some signs of improvement, it is too early to draw any conclusions, he believes.

Raising money for flood victims (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

Raising money for flood victims (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

In addition to members of the church, Buddhists and Muslims came to support the event. Nearly 20 food stands all sold the same Burmese food that can be seen at other festive occasions run by Burmese Buddhists. “We are all Burmese and help each other,” says Ma Sandar, who helps out at many other Burmese events by preparing food for sale. This time she contributed Shan Style Tofu Salad. She indicated that everyone is Burmese first with religious affiliation coming second, a sentiment voiced by other attendees. “My family is third-generation Muslim and has lived in Yangon (the capital of the country),” she said.

The fundraising was successful and at the end of the day, the event raised approximately $12,000, according to Rev. U Myo Maw, which will go toward covering church expenses. There was a separate donation box to assist victims of the recent flood in Chin and Rakhine states, and at another table, representatives of the NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Health were on hand to ask attendees to take part in a health survey.

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