Rohingya Muslims: Among the most persecuted groups

Source: NPR.  Click on the picture for original link and photo.

Source: NPR. Click on the picture for original link and photo.

By Joe LaGuardia

For all of its bad ratings, the movie Waterworld with Kevin Costner had a creative premise.

Costner plays the Mariner who fights for survival within a (literal) sea of villains and mercenaries.  The story takes place in the near future, when melting polar ice caps result in all of earth’s existing land being covered by water.

What might life be like at sea for that length of time?  Just ask one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar.

The Rohingya represents an ethnic minority group who migrated to Myanmar around the eighth century.  Through a history of infighting, war, and eventual persecution, this small group found itself without any place to settle within a nation made up of 90% Buddhists.

The Myanmar government denied them citizenship in the 1990s, and conflicts came to a head in 2012 when ethnic violence erupted between Muslim and Buddhist gangs in the Rakhine province.

Since then, Buddhist nationalists have incited further violence against the Rohingya, forcing the group to live in ghettos or refugee camps.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled the country on makeshift boats, while others sought refuge with human smugglers.

Nearly 25,000 people made it safely to other countries; an undocumented number of people have been kidnapped into human trafficking rings (139 graves containing refugees were found, believed to be the result of smugglers killing people that families could not afford to ransom).

Nearly 1,000 refugees have settled in the United States since 2006, according to NPR.

Recent voyages from Myanmar’s coast have not been so fortunate.  Many countries, including those that are majority Muslim in the region, want nothing to do with the refugees.  A reported 3000 – 6000 people are currently stranded at sea with no place to go.

Some reports claim that United Nations humanitarian aid is on its way; but, like a scene right out of Waterworld, many refugees are running out of food and water.   The U. S. State Department is encouraging Myanmar to grant citizenship and access to food, shelter, and water to remaining Rohingya people groups.

The migration to surrounding nations is only the beginning of a threat they fear will worsen:  Government officials in New Dehli surmise that the combination of persecution and poverty make the Rohingya people prime candidates for radical terrorist recruitment.

As Baptist minister without a political science degree, I do not have answers, but I do agree with this assessment.

Earlier this year, Trinity Baptist Church hosted an interfaith dialogue with a Muslim activist, Kemal Korucu, who stated that terrorists, no matter the religion, are not born but bred.  The poor, uneducated, and displaced are susceptible to aggressive recruitment strategies perpetuated by ISIS, Boko Haram, and other terrorist organizations.

The Rohingya fit this caricature.  As people without citizenship, Rohingya children have been denied formal education.

Poverty is an every-day reality that many U. S. citizens cannot comprehend.  And lack of “place”– no more pronounced than ever as some are abandoned at sea — will only lead to people trying to find belonging.

If countries cannot band together to save these people now, I fear that young Rohingya men in particular will find belonging with our nation’s fiercest enemies rather than with friends.

For a people so far removed from this conflict, we cannot do much in turning the political tides of this crisis, but we can pray that governments and agencies will aid these lost people.  Pray that humanitarian relief efforts will meet those in need.

We can also pray for our missionaries who are laying deep roots in changing hearts for Christ, that many will not become susceptible to terrorism but, rather, bear witness to the Gospel that has the power to change all our lives for the better.

Church is a Collaborative Project

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By Joe LaGuardia

Christianity is a collaborative faith.

In a letter to churches in Corinth, the apostle Paul confronted several congregations that were arguing with each other.  No two churches were alike and each one served a purpose in the Body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12:27, he wrote, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

Fortunately for us — 2000 years removed from Paul’s situation — collaboration is still highly valued in our society.  Businesses, organizations, and individuals that value collaboration succeed.  We have sent men to the moon and rovers to Mars all because of the cooperation of thousands of individuals.

Non-profit and governmental agencies that promote teamwork are able to combat social ills that have long plagued society.  Churches that cooperate in the public sector not only fulfill part of Jesus’ Great Commission, but thrive in a marketplace in which the lines between secular and sacred often blur.

Rockdale County enjoys a great deal of collaboration on multiple levels.  The Rockdale Coalition for Children and Families, for instance, hosts a free networking lunch monthly for non-profits in the area.

I’ve attended several of these lunches, and I’ve met so many different leaders, laborers, and clergy who also cherish the value of partnering together to resolve some local issues that need tackling.

Without this network, we would have to go it alone; and, for a church as small as Trinity Baptist, going it alone means not being able to reach out as effectively as we hope.

For far too many Christians and churches, however, collaboration still brings with it a sense of fear and anxiety.  Some churches believe that they cannot collaborate with organizations that do not share their exact political or theological beliefs.  They would rather “reinvent the wheel” than partner with another organization that is already making a difference in the local community.

Such churches feel that in order to collaborate they must compromise their convictions.

This approach brings with it more issues than one might initially guess. For one, a church that refuses to collaborate assumes that it has all of the answers and knows exactly what a community needs.  This is not always the case.

Sometimes, Christians can be so brazen about their theology that it actually works against the impact their church can make in the community.  It may also exacerbate needs rather than resolve them.

In other situations, a church that assumes it has “all the answers” can sometimes fail to ask the right questions.  Where social economic justice is concerned, this can mean the difference between a church enabling dysfunction instead of empowering a community to become economically sustainable.

Failing to assess needs can lead to dependence rather than interdependence or, better, synergy that utilizes all of the creative gifts that can benefit an entire spiritual ecosystem.

Such differences of opinion within Christ’s Church is not new.  Paul’s admonishment to churches in his own era prove that divisions and squabbles will always pervade church and society.

Yet, we must be passionate about reaching out, communicating what we have to offer, and seeing ourselves not as lone rangers in a threatening prairie of dry spiritual barrenness, but part of a much larger Body of Christ working within a vibrant oasis of plenty in which God’s Spirit is already present.

May we be ever mindful of our neighbors and the partnerships we share, for we have more in common than we know.

Next week, we will continue this conversation about collaboration as it relates to racial reconciliation in our community.

Reconciliation (part 2): The Beloved Community

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Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged Christians to build a Beloved Community marked by God’s reconciliation with humankind and peace between one another.

By Joe LaGuardia and Karen Woods

Several weeks ago, Trinity’s associate pastor, Karen Woods, and I wrote an article on the art of reconciliation and truth-telling to improve race relations.  This is the second of two articles.

In the book of Genesis, God created Eden, a place where God and humans communed together (Genesis 2).  There, a man and a woman were equal partners in having dominion over the earth.

In Genesis 3, however, a crafty serpent exploited that one nagging feeling we humans have: That if we step out on our own and be like gods, then we can live independently from God.

By listening to the serpent, Adam and Eve sinned.  Division resulted:  Humans were cast out of the garden, hid from God, and were ashamed of one another.

Part of God’s punishment affirmed that division: men and women would live in a hierarchy from then on (Genesis 3:16).

People experience that division throughout the Bible until, at the appointed time, God sent Jesus the Messiah to die on the cross for Adam and Eve’s (and our) sins.  Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death reversed the disharmony between God and humans, and humans one to another.

In Christ, all barriers fell away.

Jesus said that the greatest commandments was love for God and for neighbor.  Paul argued that “in Christ” divisions do not define people (Galatians 3:28).  Rather, people are brought into harmony with God and with one another.

Paul echoed this miraculous act in Ephesians 2:13-16, which states that Jesus’ blood brings us near to God and breaks down walls of division and hostility between people.  We become a “new humanity” that makes up God’s family.

In Christ, there is no slave or free, male or female, Gentile or Jew.  Christ rebuilds Eden 2.0.

No one cannot guarantee that all people will make a decision to follow Christ in order to benefit from that peace and reconciliation.  But that is between individuals and God.

Our concern relates to those who call Christ “Lord.”  Christians are obliged to live in this new humanity and model a household of God that invites people–regardless of differences–into what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the Beloved Community.”

Jesus created this community before America was discovered, before slavery, before we were born, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Acts Rights of 1965, 1970, 1975, and 1982.

No amount of legislation makes us equal.  Only living into God’s “new humanity” does.  In that sense, Martin L. King, Jr.’s dream was not far from the Jesus’ vision for how the Kingdom of God plays out in every day life.

There is another thing about Jesus’ act of reconciliation: it never ends.

For far too long, we Christians have ignored what Jesus did on the cross, and many churches remain segregated, stagnate, lost, and aloof.   In some cases, churches adhere more to the partisan politics of the state than the reconciling politics of Christ’s cross.

The major thrust of responsibility falls on Christians because the church is to be a space where co-existence and peace flourish.  If Christians do not discuss these important matters of justice, trust, reconciliation, then who will discuss these matters?

Our concluding questions are important ones for our readers to ponder: What would America look like if Christians practiced a true spirit of peace and co-existence in a fully-realized Beloved Community?  How would our churches, faith, and our very lives change if we adhered to the truths set forth in Paul’s second chapter to the churches in Ephesus?

How would we spread that Beloved Community beyond the walls of the church in order to bring about just communities in which racial profiling, economic inequality, and discrimination no longer have strongholds over the institutions our nation holds most dear?

May God bless us with a Christ-centered vision that overcomes the many divides that create hostility.  May God bless us with renewed hope that the Beloved Community is still our inheritance, a blank check ready to be cashed.