Burma (MNN) — Burma is home to the world's longest-running civil war.
Ethnic groups have been clashing with Burma's government since the country gained independence in 1948. Many people only know life as a refugee; they've never had a safe place to live.
Steve Gumaer and his wife, Oddny, started Partners Relief and Development in 1994 after seeing the plight of Burma's refugees firsthand.
"There's between one and four million Internally Displaced People in Burma," says Steve Gumaer. "Our work, in total, reaches somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 refugees and displaced people each year."
Partners helps people in several refugee camps along the Burma-Thailand border, as well as inside Burma. They have work established in the Chin, Kachin, Rakhine, Shan, Karen and Karenni states.
"All [are] running medical programs, education programs, and in times of acute crisis, we also support teams who go in and deliver material provisions for those people who are hungry and don't have shelter," Gumaer says.
On World Refugee Day, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer statistics of it all. There are over 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide, and 80% of them are women and children.
Gumaer shares the story of one refugee to help bring the crisis into focus.
In the early '90's, when Steve and Oddny began working in Burma, they visited a refugee camp in the state of Karen. They came across a little 4-year-old girl whose story epitomizes the plight of Burma's people.
It begins with governmental destruction. Burma's army demolished an entire village, leaving nothing behind but rubble and dead bodies. Or so they thought.
"When the pro-democracy defense militia went to find out what happened [to the village] and find survivors, they only found this one little girl," Gumaer recalls.
From there, militia carried the young girl to a nearby refugee camp, where they asked a woman named Rose to care for her.
"That woman told my wife and I the [little girl's] story, and looked up at us and said, 'Steve, can you please tell your friends in the West about what's happening to our children so that we can do something for them?'" says Gumaer.
The Gumaers aren't alone in sharing Christ's love and hope with Burma's refugees. Vision Beyond Borders (VBB) has a thriving ministry to these oft-overlooked people.
"We work both inside Burma and in the refugee camps in Thailand," says VBB's Abigail Zimmer. "We actually have a team over right now ministering to the kids in the orphanages in Burma."
Zimmer recently visited a camp helped by VBB and says refugee kids aren't letting circumstances hold them back.
"They have big plans for the future," says Zimmer. "A lot of them you talk to want to be service workers, or they want to go back into Burma and minister to the Burmese there, or they want to minister to the people in Thailand; I mean, they want to help people, and it's so neat to see that!
"They could be bitter, they could be angry and unforgiving, and they aren't. They're forgiving, and they want to help. They want to reach out and help the people around them."
In Mark, Jesus tells His disciples to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation." It's one thing to talk about the plight of refugees; it's another to do something about it.
"One way love is shown is just by presence," Gumaer states. "The very best thing that we can give the refugees that we interact with is the dignity of our friendship, the pleasure of our friendship."
Is it time for you to "go?"
Partners and Vision Beyond Borders both have opportunities. To get involved with Partners, contact Andy Pasma at [email protected].
"He coordinates a number of teams each year, with strategic relationships," explains Gumaer. "We try to focus on those churches that are really interested in a long-term involvement with our outreach to the refugees."
Whether you go or stay, take time to pray for Burma and its vast refugee population.
"I have really been praying that the Lord would protect [refugee kids] from the bad that's out in the world," says Zimmer. "There are people out there that could definitely do them harm."
Pray for wisdom for those that go to share the love of Christ with refugees. Pray that "both the team member and the refugee would be changed by the power of love through that engagement," Gumaer requests.