Burma

A land strongly Buddhist, but with various animistic hill tribes who number some five or six millions. It is one of the few countries that have recently excluded all foreign missionaries. Yet the Protestant Christian church is stronger there than in any other country of the southern Asiatic mainland in proportion to the population. It has roughly 800,000 adherents, nearly three per cent of the population, though principally among the tribes.

British Baptists, including William Carey's eldest son Felix, entered Burma first from India, but did not long continue. The most important ongoing work was that of the American Baptists, begun in 1814 by Adoniram Judson* and his wife Ann. Judson was one of the first party of missionaries sent out by the American Board.* Shortly after his arrival in India, he changed his affiliation from Congregational to Baptist and severed his connection with the sending society. Unable to remain as a missionary in East India Company territory, he finally made his way across to Burma. There in spite of great suffering and severe opposition he laid the foundation of a flourishing Baptist work.

Judson worked primarily with the Burmese, who have never responded to the Gospel in large numbers. It was seven years before the first converts were baptized. But when George Dana Boardman was sent to Tavoy, he helped begin there a great movement among the Karen tribes that soon spread to other areas. Some groups of Karens became largely Christian and developed a strong, indigenous church. Later other tribes, such as the Chins, Kachins, and Shans, were also effectively reached. Other works, such as that of the Bible Churchmen's Missionary Society (Anglican), have made a significant contribution, but have been overshadowed by the Baptist achievement.

World War II and the independence of Burma in 1948 failed to open up new opportunities. Internal strife forced the Buddhist government to make a few concessions to the Christian minority, but increasing restrictions on foreign missionary activity culminated in the exclusion of all missionaries in 1966. The church has continued to grow, however. In addition, some tribal Christians, such as the Lisu, have fled from Communist China to N Burma, where conditions are still unsettled.

A. McLeish, Christian Progress in Burma (1929); R.L. Howard, Baptists in Burma (1931); G.A. Sword, Light in the Jungle (c.1954); C. Anderson, To the Golden Shore (1956); Tegenfeldt, Through Deep Waters (c.1968); H.R. Cook, Historic Patterns of Church Growth (1971).