Some months back I begin to hear news reports of persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority, somewhere in Myanmar.
Where is Myanmar? Who are these people? Why have I never heard this word Rohingya before? Why is this in the news?
The Rohingya, I learn, are the despised and suffering Muslims of Rakhine state in Myanmar, a small Buddhist majority nation wedged between southern China, Thailand, Laos, and Bangladesh. It borders the Bay of Bengal. A part of the world I’ve never really thought about before.
I cannot get the suffering of the Rohingya people out of my mind. Their plight is in the news daily, now. And their plight is not going away.
Nor can I wrap my mind around the unspeakable atrocities committed, especially against women, in Rakhine state.
As I listen to the news today I am sickened by a reporter’s account of ethnic cleansing there. Genocide. The systematic eradication of a powerless people. His narrative provides the sharp and shocking particulars.
In one village, the reporter says, he unearthed stories of “savagery beyond description.”
“Can you relate something of that description?” the interviewer asks, with hesitation in his voice.
On August 30th, the reporter says, the military arrived in the village with a plan to set fire to all the houses.
The people are told to go down to the riverbank, where they’re assured they’ll be safe.
The homes now afire, the military comes to the riverbank and massacres the people.
I do not know where to go with my grief. I do not have words precise enough, or honest enough, to express the horror of this unspeakable cruelty.
The reporter relates the scene in another village: Women rounded up in groups of five and taken to huts, raped by members of the military, then locked in the huts, which are then torched. The women are burned alive.
Rape, an openly acknowledged tactic of war. Women, such easy targets.
Where can I go with this anguish in my heart? this anguish in my soul?
I set aside my work, rise from my desk, and go into my prayer space. The only honest thing I can do is drop to my knees and put my heart with the heart of the crucified Lord.
This anguish is his anguish, too. I weep—not my tears but the burning tears of God.
I turn to Psalm 88 and pray these lines through eyes blurred with tears:
Lord my God, I call for help by day;
I cry at night before you. …
O turn your ear to my cry.
For my soul is filled with evils;
my life is on the brink of the grave.
I am reckoned as one in the tomb:
I have reached the end of my strength,
like one alone among the dead;
like the slain lying in their graves.
Rape in any form is mean-spirited “power over.” For the Christian community the violence of rape is the antithesis, the complete hollowing, out of “communion with.”
Did these Rohingya women know, in their time of torture, that they were not alone? That people a world away were holding them in prayer? That the Lord himself, who also underwent torture, was holding them?
I believe that divine love is the sovereign power that flows from Jesus’ Resurrection. And I believe that sparks of divine love reside within the human spirit. Love powerful enough to break the will to violence and violation of every unspeakable sort—if the human spirit is willing.
And because I believe, I stand firm in my prayer that the light of Jesus’ Resurrection will seek out and penetrate into the most hidden and anguished places.
I stand with faithful others to affirm that divine merciful love will hold and accompany these Rohingya women, these sisters of mine.
Loving in this way, I discover, is an invitation to solidarity which I cannot ignore.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on
the nature of God’s calling in our times.