From left to right:The IRLA/Liberty team met with the minister of religion for Myanmar. - Tsunami destruction in Sri Lanka. - Editor Steed and Dr John Graz meet with the woman who directs the Bible Society in Sri Lanka. - Children at an orphanage in Colombo, Sri Lanka, run by a Buddhist monk. Some of them recently orphaned by the tsunami. - The team met with this senior Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. An advisor to the government, he is a vigorous proponent of the anti-conversion law. - For many the tsunami changed nothing. This scene just beyond the waters in Columbo remains untouched and desperate.

Only weeks after the ravages of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Liberty editor Lincoln Steed visited Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, countries with significant damage and loss of life. While he did see some of the devastation firsthand, and heard eyewitness reports of running from a wall of water, the trip was more concerned with projecting religious freedom values to Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Myanmar is ruled by a repressive and secretive military regime that looks with disfavor on all outside influence—including religion. The indigenous Buddhist faith is naturally strongly supported by the state. All religious activity is held to a standard of supporting the state and its rejection of outside influences.

Editor Steed addressing the first ever meeting of leaders of all the major Christian groups in Mynamar. To his left are Drs Graz and Missah.
Remarkably, the visit of editor Lincoln Steed; John Graz, executive director of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA); and Hiskiah Missah, a regional IRLA director from the Philippines, proved to be the catalyst for a historic meeting of all the major Christian leadership in Myanmar. The Christian leaders met with the visitors and local Seventh-day Adventist leadership at the Nangoon Panda Hotel to discuss ways to act cooperatively in the future. It was a wonderful time of Christian fellowship sealed by prayer together and spirited singing of the hymn "In Christ There Is No East or West."

A few days later in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Lincoln Steed and the team heard troubling details of a proposed anticonversion law that has since become a near certainty. Sri Lanka, while a more open society than Myanmar, has been wracked by a long-running civil war and disrupted by the tsunami. The result is a sense of threat to Sri Lankan society that has easily converted into a sense of siege by the state-supported Buddhist leadership. Buddhists want the law to stop what they claim is improper activity by Christian aid organizations in the wake of the tsunami. Against the claim of coercion or bribery to obtain conversion, the aid organizations were professing to have no agenda to convert Sri Lankans to Christianity. Again it was obvious to Editor Steed that religious liberty must be protected and that silence is not a good strategy in the face of challenge and persecution.

L.S.
Article Author: Lincoln E. Steed

Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."