Formerly:   St Philip's Church
Address:     152 Bo Myat Tun Road
Year built:   1887
Architect:    Unknown

This compact church with its stout, concrete dome is best admired from 49th Street, which it squarely presides from the southern end of the road.

Today the church serves Yangon’s ethnic Chin population. The mountainous Chin State runs along Myanmar’s border with India. Like many of the country’s ethnic groups, the “Chin” label is fluid. On the Indian side, Chin people are known as Kuki. Under British rule, the colonial administration adopted the compound term “Chin-Kuki-Mizo”. Some people from the region today self-identify as Mizo, rejecting the two other terms. To complicate things, a Kuki-Mizo ethnic conflict in India cost hundreds of lives in the mid-1990s. A further 13,000 people fled their homes. The name of the Church, “Siyin”, refers to a sub-group in Chin State—they reside in the Siyin valley. They possess their own distinctive traits, including their own language.

Dome of Siyin Baptist Church at the end of 49th Street

The standardised labels of “Kuki” and “Chin”, in India and Burma, are due to the success of American Baptist evangelical missions in the early 19th century. A large section of the Chin population today identify as Baptists. Several plaques around the church paint a colourful version of this tale, recounting the journey of the “Chin (…) from headhunters to soul winners”. Besides these plaques, the church is sparse. Inside, the pastel-coloured walls have few adornments.

Compared to other churches in Yangon the interior is rather bare

First built in 1887 (there have clearly been renovations and alterations since), the building was originally an Anglican church called St Philip’s, adjoined by a St Philip’s School. At some point after independence, the church was nationalised. It was leased to the Rangoon Christian Chin Association 100 years after its construction, in 1987, and became today’s Siyin Baptist Church. (The school was fenced off and became Botataung Basic Education High School No. 2.) The church was bought by the association in 2002. In spite of goodwill gestures such as these, Christian groups have had extremely difficult relations with the Burmese authorities. To name but one example connected to this very building, in the early 2000s authorities detained its former pastor, Lian Za Dal, in the infamous Insein Prison after he had been previously warned not to preach to Buddhists.

Today the church has an active community with its own lively Facebook page. Refugee Chin populations in the US and Australia have founded their own Siyin Baptist Churches there.

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