After zealously persecuting Christians for decades, a Myanmar Army officer made a mistake that led to a life-changing encounter with six imprisoned pastors.
Khin Maung wanted to be part of something bigger than himself. After completing high school, he joined the Myanmar Army and quickly rose through the ranks, eventually reaching the level of lieutenant colonel. As an officer commanding his own battalion, he developed a reputation for brutality toward his soldiers, reserving his harshest treatment for Christians.
Khin had learned to hate followers of Jesus at a young age. He was raised in a rigidly Buddhist, Burmese family, and two of his uncles were influential Buddhist monks. At age 11, he spent nine months as a novice, wearing the traditional maroon robe and living among adult monks at a local monastery. He was taught that Jesus was a disciple of the Buddha and that He was crucified for disobeying instructions forbidding Him from preaching. In addition, he was taught that when Jesus died, He became an evil spirit.
“From that moment, I thought Christians were crazy,” he said. “I decided that I didn’t want to have anything to do with them.”
Khin took every opportunity to publicly mock and embarrass the Christians in his battalion. If they prayed, he interrupted them. If they read their Bible, he beat them. When they ate, he knocked their meals off the table and made them clean up the mess.
“I kicked them with my military boots and whipped them with a rope,” he said. “I kicked [one soldier’s] teeth in.” As cruelly as he treated his own soldiers, Khin treated civilian Christians worse, especially the ethnically Burmese who had left Buddhism for Christ.
“Whenever people converted to Christianity from Buddhism, myself and two friends in the military would go and whip them and persecute them,” he said. “I thought their God was only a God of the Chin people and that He died a very terrible, dishonorable and pointless death. I thought He was a foreign God.” The Chin ethnic group in Myanmar is predominantly Christian, thanks to missionaries who worked among them in the late 1800s. As Christianity spread among the Chin, they began to face increasing persecution from other ethnic groups as well as Myanmar’s military.
In his hatred of Christians, Khin often forced pastors to get drunk in order to ruin their reputation, and once he oversaw the demolition of a church. “We asked the fire department, an officer of the village and some members of the military from our unit to help,” he said. “We destroyed everything together.”
Hearing that Christians believed Jesus was still alive, Khin even devised a plan to persecute Him if he ever met Jesus in person. “I told Jesus, ‘You need to be on guard,’” he recalled. “‘If I ever see You, I will shoot You.’” But Khin was soon to face extreme discipline himself, exposing the fragile loyalty among soldiers. After a night of heavy drinking in 2003, he awoke after midnight and found that his gun was missing. He knew he was in trouble; there’s a common saying in the Myanmar Army that “the value of a soldier’s gun is equal to 10 lives.”
Khin dutifully reported the missing weapon to his superior, who immediately accused him of selling the gun to a rebel army. Three officers tied Khin’s wrists together and stood him on a chair before hanging him from the ceiling by his wrists and kicking the chair out from under him. They then beat him for hours with metal rods. The beatings continued on and off for three days, during which time Khin was provided no food or water. By the third day, his body was so swollen and bloody that he could no longer feel pain. “I wanted to die,” he said.
Then, around 1 a.m. on the third day, after his torturers had left, Khin had a vision. “I could see Jesus,” he said. “He was on a cross in front of me. There was also a lot of blood coming from many parts of His body, just like me. I thought, ‘This can’t be true.’ I looked to my left and then looked to my right, but I always saw this vision of Jesus on the cross no matter where I looked. At that time, I had goose bumps and I started to shake all over my body.”
After about 10 minutes, the vision faded and a commanding officer from his division entered the room along with those who had been beating him. “Let him down!” the officer demanded. “We are all soldiers. He has been serving in the military for 30 years. Why are you treating him like this?”
The commanding officer then arranged for Khin to be taken to a hospital for treatment.
Finding “Life” in Prison
After being released from the hospital, Khin was sentenced by a military tribunal to two years in prison for allegedly selling his weapon. He was one of 40 prisoners in his cell, which he remembers as dark, dirty and crawling with bugs. And his only comfort was a blanket to cover himself with as he slept on the cold, hard floor.
Among those crammed into Khin’s cell were six Christian pastors. He challenged them when they shared the gospel with him, but they always responded to his attacks with patience and love. They answered his questions about Jesus and pointed him to passages of Scripture refuting what he had been taught as a child.
On June 9, 2003, Khin made a promise to the men. “I told them, ‘If Jesus is a true savior, if He can save me from my suffering, then I will serve Him until I die,’” he said. The pastors surrounded and prayed for Khin, and one of the men continued to spend two hours a day teaching him about the Bible. During their three months together, they developed a strong friendship that made Khin feel comfortable asking deeper questions. Then, one evening at about 9 p.m., Khin’s friend died in his sleep.
Shortly after his friend’s death, the case against the remaining five pastors was resolved and they were released from prison. For two months, Khin felt completely alone. Then, on Dec. 11, 2003, prison officials led him to a small courtroom outside the prison, where he was surprised to see an old friend — the owner of a liquor store he had frequented.
The store owner had come forward and confessed to taking Khin’s gun. He told Khin that he had borrowed the gun to go hunting, intending to return it later, but that when he returned he saw the officers beating Khin and was too afraid to admit he had taken it. The judge ordered Khin’s release, bringing an end to his six-month imprisonment.
“Hallelujah!” Khin cried out, giving his life to Christ in that moment. Shocked by his choice of words, everyone in the room glared at him.
“Are you crazy?” one soldier asked. “Are you mad?”
“I’m not mad,” Khin said. “I asked Jesus to do something, to release me, and He really did it!”
The judge told Khin that he was cleared of charges and that he would receive a promotion and be moved to a new battalion. But Khin declined the promotion. “I made a promise to Jesus,” he replied. “I don’t want to do this anymore, even if you promote me.”
Military authorities gave him a month to think about his decision, but Khin was resolute. “The moment they released me, I did not think about that anymore,” he said. “I went right away to the church.”
When Khin met with the church’s pastors, they offered him clothes and food. But he was quick to correct their misperception. “I did not come here to get support from you,” he explained. “I just want to hear more about the Jesus that I was told about in the jail.” Excited by Khin’s zeal for Christ, the pastors decided to help him attend a Bible school for two years.
Paying a Price for Commitment
Khin entered the Bible school essentially alone. His wife had left him while he was in prison, and all but one of their six grown children had stopped talking to him because they were ashamed to have him as a father.
Still, Khin cherished the opportunity to study Scripture. And as he studied, he began to learn more about the persecution of Christians throughout history. “The important thing is that they remained faithful,” he said of the persecuted.
After graduating from Bible school, Khin hiked up a small mountain nearby and camped for three days, submitting fully to Jesus Christ and praying for guidance. “I wanted to confess and ask forgiveness for the very bad things I had done to many Christians,” he said. “I also wanted to dedicate all of my life to the Lord. I promised to God on that mountain that no matter what happens, even if I need to die, I will do what the Lord wants me to do.”
While praying on the mountaintop, Khin made the transition from Myanmar Army officer to soldier for Christ. “I risked my life shooting guns and killing other people, but this war is not important,” he said. “The more important war I am fighting now is against the devil. [It is] the war I will fight, even though I suffer, the rest of my life.”
When Khin started teaching others about Jesus in early 2006, persecution quickly followed. He regularly endured everything from beatings to false legal charges, such as “undermining the Buddhist religion” and “destroying a Buddhist shrine.” And after experiencing persecution himself, Khin felt compelled to make amends with those he had persecuted.
In 2008, he visited a village where he had persecuted about 20 Christians. “I apologized to the people and they cried, hugged me and welcomed me,” he said. “It felt so good. They gave me a new name: Paul. I was very happy to get that name. They still call me that name today.”
Khin began sharing the gospel in another Burmese village in 2017, but his efforts were quickly met with violence after the village’s head monk told villagers to stop him. One man threw a rock, hitting Khin on the back, while another threw a piece of wood at him. Then, three women released their dogs on Khin, urging them to attack. While running from the dogs, he tripped and hit his mouth on a pile of bricks, knocking out four upper teeth. One of the dogs then bit into his right calf muscle.
The next day, as Khin lay in bed recovering from his painful wounds, a village elder visited him to apologize for the attack and promise that he would report those responsible to authorities. But Khin told the elder that he wouldn’t be pressing charges. He had forgiven everyone. “Jesus forgave me for my sins, so I can forgive [them],” he told the elder. “Jesus taught us to love others.”
When the elder shared Khin’s message of forgiveness with those who had attacked him, several visited Khin at his home. He gladly shared the gospel with them, and a week later four of them accepted Christ.
With VOM’s help, Khin got a series of rabies vaccines as well as four dental implants to replace his lost teeth. “It was very difficult to share the gospel without my teeth,” he said. “I couldn’t speak clearly. After fixing the teeth I could speak and share the gospel really well.”
Though Khin has suffered estrangement from family members and physical suffering since coming to know Christ, he understands that the persecution has served a greater purpose. “God has blessed me with 73 Burmese people who are no longer lost, and there are also two monks who have converted,” he said joyfully.
In early 2019, Khin moved to a new village to share the gospel with the 380 families living there; 11 people came to faith in Christ before the village’s head monk kicked him out of the village. Although Khin is now homeless, he said he still plans to visit the village and continue sharing the gospel.
“I will continue to serve Jesus,” he said. “I know in the future that I will also face many difficulties and suffering, but I commit my life to Jesus as I have promised Him. Please pray that the Burmese people will come to know Jesus.”