A pastor abducted at gunpoint by a rebel group in Myanmar’s Rakhine State last January and later presumed to be dead has been released and is now with his family, according to a U.S.-based persecution watchdog.
Pastor U Tun Nu of Believers Church Myanmar was released earlier this month by his abductors from the Arakan Army after 14 months of detention, International Christian Concern reported, saying soldiers from the rebel group handed him over to the village elders.
Christian group Gospel for Asia had earlier confirmed his death. However, he has now been reunited with his wife and youngest daughter.
After his release, the pastor spoke to ICC and shared his harrowing experience.
“Those 14 months were the [most] hellish time of my life, be it spiritually, mentally and in particular physically,” he was quoted as saying. “Sometimes I even prayed to God that I could not stand any longer and asked God to just take my life.”
The rebel group comprises Rakhine Buddhists who are calling for greater autonomy in the Rakhine State, where the Rohingya people belong.
The pastor recalled that the rebels questioned faith and mocked him. “Ask your God to come and save you,” they would say. He said he was given a plate of plain rice and a liter of water each day.
U Tun Nu also narrated an incident where a rebel soldier carrying a gun behind him accidentally pulled the trigger. He got scared but heard a voice in his head saying, “You are protected by God, and no harm will come to you.” When he opened his eyes, he saw a big hole on his shirt under his arm, yet there was no wound on his body.
The Buddhist and Burman majoritarian military of Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, also routinely persecutes Christians due to the various ethnic conflicts in the country, especially along the borders with China, Thailand and India.
Open Doors ranks Myanmar 19th on its 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The group notes that due to ongoing fighting, more than 100,000 Christians have been forced to flee their homes and are living in camps where they have been denied access to food and healthcare.
Earlier this month, members of the predominantly Christian ethnic Chin group were among those killed in Myanmar army airstrikes, prompting some church leaders to speculate that Christians were targeted because of their faith.
In Paletwa Township, Chin State, the army struck Meiksa Wa village, killing 12 civilians, according to Morning Star News. Eight more died in attacks the next day on Wetma village, and one was killed in Pyaing Tain village. Among those killed was a 7-year-old child, locals said.
Another 28 civilians were wounded in the attacks, according to the outlet, and more than 1,500 villagers fled the areas as some of their houses were burned down.
Last year, Texas pastor Bob Roberts told The Christian Post that the military had bombed as many as 60 churches in the previous 18 months in the majority-Christian Kachin province. He added that about 20 of them were converted into Buddhist pagodas.
“[To] be clear, most of it is about ethnic cleansing,” Roberts told CP at the time.
At the U.S. State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last July, a Christian pastor from northern Myanmar spoke about the horrors he faced when jailed and tortured for over a year.
Pastor Langjaw Gam Seng, who was jailed in 2016 for helping journalists report on the bombing of Christian churches in the majority-Christian Kachin province, said that his hands were constantly tied behind his back and he passed out due to lack of food.
“I was detained, handcuffed and shackled for over one month with my eyes tied sealed and I was unable to see for an entire month,” Seng explained through a translator. “And they put me in something like a dungeon for an entire month and gave me minimal food. I was going in and out of consciousness for several weeks.”