By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife)-- Burmese Christians are being denied aid by local Buddhist authorities after devastating flooding killed more than 100 people, while many survivors remain afloat in boats and others return to homes or fields sealed in mud, missionaries have told
Mission group Christian Aid Mission (CAM) quoted native missionaries as saying that local hard-line Buddhist leaders took charge of aid donations from large cities. In comments obtained by BosNewsLife missionary Naw said that every time he went to a donations center to gather relief items, village leaders told him they had run out.
"But then I soon found out people who came after me were walking home with large bags full of relief items," Naw added. "I thought I was alone until I shared this at the prayer meeting, and almost all of us had a similar experience."
He suggested he and fellow missionaries soon saw why they were often "turned away with empty hands" or given half the share others received. "We also know our local leader is against us worshiping Jesus [Christ]. He has been trying to give us trouble, so this does not come as a surprise to us."
Despite the difficulties, Christian groups said they saw an opportunity "to serve their Buddhist countrymen with aid and the saving message of Christ."
MISSION LEADER DAVID
Local mission leader David, who declined to give his last name amid security concerns, said the disaster is allowing relationship bridges to be built in the 80-percent Buddhist country.
"In one village, I was able to meet with the villagers and discuss how we could come alongside them in their fight for survival," David said. "This was a Buddhist village, with no single Christian in their midst."
The recent flooding, in which at least 103 people died, caused damage across a wider area than 2008's Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 140,000 people and s regarded as the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"Despite Cyclone Nargis being the worse disaster ever in the nation, it was a localized event in that it only affected the Irrawaddy Delta," Daid added. "There is a different face to this flood in that it is spread out almost across the entire western half of the nation. It covers three of the four regions known as the 'rice bowl' of Myanmar."
Though there are "surprisingly low casualties...[there is] huge damage to farmland and animals and properties," David added.
More monsoon rains are expected, and landslides continue to cut transportation routes and crush homes, he explained.
Familiar with the submerged terrain and its inhabitants, indigenous missionaries are however "sharing in their pain" and "in prime position to help", missionaries said.
"Many of the worst affected regions are where we have worked for the past nine years," David explained. "I know the region well, and several of the churches planted are in those areas. In one of our sister congregations, we have 28 families who lost their home either in part or whole."
Heavy monsoon downpours began swelling rivers and creeks in Burma on July 16. A storm system in the Indian Ocean on July 30 was upgraded to a cyclone – a hurricane in the northern Indian Ocean – and dubbed Komen. Cyclone Komen tore into Burma the first week of August.
Some 1.2 million acres of rice fields were destroyed as flooding hit all but two of Burma's 14 states and reportedly destroyed at least 17,000 homes. So far flooding has "critically affected" more than 1 million people, according to the United Nations, which in 2008 said Cyclone Nargis had "severely affected" 1.5 million people.
Missionary George said in remarks distributed by CAM that it was time to pray for both physical and spiritual needs. "Please pray with us to be able to help them know the true God and the gospel through our good deeds, and to show them the love of God as well," he said. "As Jesus said, 'You are the light of the world.' Yes, we have to show the light from Jesus to the victims."