Church collapse kills 23; still, quake victims provide relief work

By April 8, 2011

Burma (MNN) — Due in no small part to an array of other natural and political disasters worldwide, the effects of a recent earthquake in Burma have gone fairly overshadowed. Burmese believers have been left to deal with the tragedy on their own.

On March 24, several Baptists were gathered for a three-day meeting when the 7.0 earthquake hit. According to International Mission Board, the church building collapsed, killing 23 and injuring 50 more.

The official death toll for the country is 74, but most fear that it is much higher in reality. Over 3,000 are homeless and more than 18,000 may have been affected.

The village where the crumbled Baptist church was located was completely leveled–not so much as one building was left standing. Government officials told survivors that they will not rebuild this village.

Officials have also banned foreign relief workers from entering the affected areas, leaving quake victims much on their own.

Despite the overwhelming loss they have suffered, Burmese Baptists have taken relief efforts into their own hands, "using their own funds to try to help," one Baptist worker on the Thai border told IMB.

After taking collections of what they have left, believers have started crossing over to Thailand to receive crash courses on disaster relief. Since the greatest need currently is safe drinking water, trucks of bottled water have been brought across from Thailand. Pastors are then loading the 20-liter bottles onto their motorcycles and driving through muddy, nearly impassable roads to deliver water to remote villages. These villages are often neglected in the wake of disaster, and the church does not want them to be forgotten.

Conditions are desperate. Pastors are saying they have never experienced a disaster like this. The government has not set up any evacuation centers. Instead, people have made their own temporary shelters from plastic sheets and grass.

Yet as He always seems to do, in the midst of the chaos, the Lord has provided opportunity. The situation is so dire that believers have started reaching across people groups–a practice typically unheard of in Burma. "In Myanmar, people interact within their own people groups. The Shan people help the Shan. The Wa people help the Wa. It's just how it is," a Baptists leader in Thailand told IMB.

Pray that believers breaking those barriers would have many opportunities to share God's love.

The spiritual and emotional tolls have been significant on believers who have lost loved ones and homes. Pray that they would have the strength to remain hopeful, so much so that nonbelievers see Christ shining out of them.

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