Baptists Meet U.S. Officials, Seek Ways to Help Burmese Refugees

(Kachin News Group)A Kachin state woman searches for shelter after fleeing fighting between Burmese soliders and insurgents.

U.S. Baptists meeting with federal officials this week sought ways to help Burmese refugees as their country undergoes historic political changes.

On Tuesday, representatives affiliated with American Baptists Churches USA met with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's Sub-Working Group on International Religious Freedom, Stability, and Democracy.

The meeting at ABC USA's Valley Forge, PA headquarters included participation by the denomination's general secretary, the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley. He welcomed the visitors saying "you are among friends and fellow advocates for religious liberty."

The working group's chair, Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, also participated. She is an ABCUSA minister.

In a letter to American Baptists after Cook was confirmed to her ambassador position, Medley said he had spoken to various State Department officials "about our concerns for human rights abuses against Baptist Christians in Burma."

Among specific items revealed in a released statement on Friday was a request by several leaders to address the issue of Burma "immigrants" in other Southeast Asian countries.

Leaders present included American Baptists Rev. Saw Ler Htoo, pastor of Calvary Baptist Christian Fellowship in Washington DC, Rev. Florence Li, director of Asian Ministries at American Baptist Home Mission Societies, and Rev. Rotahn Chhangte, ABHMS Liaison for Burma refugees.

"They urged the committee to consider the question, 'How can we work on this issue, and work together to make changes for the immigrants?'" the group asked.

The first elections in Burma in more than twenty years of military rule took place in 2010 and high profile political prisoner Ang San Suu Kyi was released late that year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country in 2011, saying the country's reforms are just at a starting point.

Meanwhile, thousands of ethnic minorities have left the country, with many accusing the government of oppression. The situation has created a refugee crisis in neighboring countries.

Compass Direct, a persecution news site, reported last December 5 that as Secretary of State Clinton arrived in Burma's capital, Naypyidaw, government troops killed civilians and burned houses in the Christian-majority state Kachin. The group cited a report by Kachin News Group.

Chris Seiple, Working Group Senior Advisor and president of the Institute for Global Engagement, says developing a model for dialog across various organizations is needed.

"We have a couple of practical recommendations right now, but I think it would be wise to look at specific additional recommendation," he said.

"We need to establish a model for how it might be done across the agency, society, the world…We should develop robust toolkits for enabling governments, religious leaders and communities to engage in a dialog.

The co-chairs of the committee will take recommendations to a future Federal Advisory Committee Act meeting.

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