Myanmar or Burma?

By November 20, 2012

Myanmar (MNN) — "What's in a name?" The next phrase you would expect would be: "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the character Juliet claims that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention.

But in Burma, says Patrick Klein with Vision Beyond Borders, it carries far more weight. Name is identity. "As they go more toward a democracy, I think they will go back to the name of ‘Burma' because that's what the people really like, and that's what they've been known as for hundreds of years. They don't like the name ‘Myanmar.'"

Klein says the new name represents one thing to the Burmese people VBB assists. "It's just symbolic of the oppression of the government." Klein explains that in 1989, "The military government changed the name to ‘Myanmar' after the election when Aung San Suu Kyi was voted in unanimously." However, for those who did not recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government, it brought into question the authority to rename the country.

However, with the government changes and openness of the last year, international scrutiny brought some good news, says Klein. For example: an official visit from U.S. President Barak Obama. "President Obama in some cases calls it ‘Burma,' but when he met with the president of Myanmar, he called it ‘Myanmar.' So it's going to be kind of interesting to see how that plays out." Obama's use of that single word was warmly welcomed by top government officials who assigned significance to the protocol.

For its part, government officials appreciated the official "acknowledgement of Myanmar's government." It was a courtesy and an acknowledgement of the work done toward easing repression as the country continues its evolution to democracy.

Klein agrees. "As they go more toward a democracy, I think they will go back to the name ‘Burma' because that's what the people really like, and that's what they've been known as for hundreds of years. They don't like the name ‘Myanmar.'"

Klein notes that "we have to keep praying that it will open up more and more around the country, that they'll feel the effects of it. I think we will. I think now that a high leader like the president of the United States acknowledged the ethnic problems and said, ‘You need to work on this,' I think that's really good. And to promote democracy, it will really help."

The advent of a visit from a Head of State heralds a new face to Burma, says Klein. "We are told that if they said they were from Burma (inside Burma), they would go to prison for five years if they were caught by the military. They had to change the name to ‘Myanmar,' and I think for them, it just reminds them of when they had a lot more freedom and a lot more openness."

In fact, in his visit last week to VBB ministry partners, Klein says the main difference he saw in the country was hope. Since the election, there have been numerous stories about the changes taking place and questions about whether or not the change was permanent, or just for show. Klein says things are different enough now, that there's talk of closing the refugee camps in Thailand.

A repatriation of the ethnic groups who fled cleansing is part of serious discussion. What's more, says Klein, this has become an opportunity for believers to be peacemakers. "They've actually asked the Christians to come in and negotiate between the Muslims and the Buddhists, because they believe the Christians are a lot more neutral. So that's encouraging. I think that'll help open the doors and relieve some of the oppression for the people in Burma."

Christians have been marginalized for their faith as well as their ethnicity (because they often include the Karen and Chin). They wear the name of Christ openly, and says Klein, often take the opportunity to share the Gospel. To them, their identity is still wrapped up in a name, but this one gives them purpose.

Vision Beyond Borders provides them with the necessary tools and training for the local people to fulfill Christ's "Great Commission." This is done by supplying them with native language Bibles, training materials, seeds, clothing, medical supplies, prayer teams, and evangelism to children.

What their teams need now is prayer and wisdom. Klein clarifies: "This country has been under oppression for 50 or 60 years, and all of a sudden they're open. They don't really have much discernment because they've not been involved in the way the world works." As much as the name brings identity, it also brings its own conditioning to a brave new world, indeed.

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