So. I’m back.

As many of you know, the trip happened so fast. All I know is that there was an email sent out to the church. I thought it made absolutely no sense for me to go, but I felt a stirring about it, because I had studied about Myanmar in the past, and because I knew some disaster relief stuff from college. I called, not expecting to have anyone think I should be the one to go. There was a slim chance the team was even going to get to go anyway. We were all flabbergasted when the team leader, Matt, got a call from Thirst No More saying we were going to go.

We packed up quickly. Hopped on a plane. Picked up some fancy water purifiers in LA that were a miracle in even getting on the plane given that a mysterious man from a random church had driven them from Reno, then we managed to pick them up with a 20 minute layover in LA where we had to go through security to reach our international flight. 3 of us had to withstand the flight attendants yelling their heads off at us while we told them we refused to get on the plane without the other 2 of our team who were picking up the purifiers. The other 2 reached us right as the flight attendants were shutting the door.

Then we landed in Bangkok–minus our luggage. Everything except we each had an extra pair of socks, basically. We decided right then and there that could be a good thing. Besides, we might be running from the junta or something and the packs would only weigh us down. We had the water purifiers, that was all that mattered.

The next day was spent driving out to a border town between Thailand and Burma called Mae Sot. I was sick to my stomach the entire drive out there. And not just because of the curvy mountainous roads. I was making myself sick with worry that I would die. I wasn’t afraid of dying because of myself, but because I didn’t want to leave Jack an orphan. I had to tell the group this a few times. They gave me strength. Just about everybody had a spouse, and our leader had a baby, too. We all knew that God was calling us to be prepared for anything. That included not just trusting Him with our lives, but with the lives of our families, too. So we kept pushing.

After we arrived in Mae Sot, a strange calm came over me. I suddenly was able to stop thinking about Jack so much, and let go of my fear, and just concentrate on helping Burma however I could. I felt peaceful, hopeful, strong. We spent an entire day making packs for people. A pack would be: a plastic trashcan with lid that could hold clean water, rice, soybean oil, mosquito coils (to drive away mosquitoes), matches, a pot, a knife, plates, utensils, a straw sleeping mat, soap, candles, and a few other things like that for people who have nothing left. The junta was not allowing in any aid whatsoever, so we made 30 packs as a test run, found a Burmese trucker who would sneak them in (at his own peril), and put everything in trashbags so that it disguised everything to look like normal goods. As soon as we were done loading and disguising goods, we sent them across the border, ahead of us, because we would look suspicious as foreigners with tons of supplies. The Burmese church would receive the supplies on the other side.

It was too late in the day to go in to Burma, so we drove to the border and looked across the river that separated Thailand and Burma. People floated on inner tubes across the river, children hung out under the bridge and begged from various people, skinny, fretful mothers with hot babies in their arms walked across the bridge as they came home from work. I cannot not overstate the difference 100 feet can make in an economy. Thailand was lush and new. Across a 2 foot deep, muddy river, Burma stood crumbling, cheaply made, poor. And this wasn’t even the area affected by disaster. Our team looked at people walking in the street across the river, and we just prayed silently. Looking longingly. Hungry to see some hope and some light in their eyes. Burmese people are not only hated by their own government, but by all of southeast asia. The Thais, for a large part, think of them as their slaves and servants, like a lower class of human being. Obviously not all, but it is a human condition that one group of people will try to place themselves over another. The Burmese just get placed at the bottom most, if not all of the time. We prayed and cried. And came back to our rooms that night, to pray and cry together about our hearts and our desires to see God upright the downtrodden.

The next day was the clencher. Our bags miraculously arrived that morning, giving us hope that God was with us and wanted us in for awhile. A Burmese christian woman arrived. God had told her in a dream to meet up with our organization because they would be needing her help. She was right. She had a huge job ahead of her. She would go ahead of us (we didn’t want the junta to associate her with any foreigners) to where the supply truck was waiting, and take it to the church where the supplies could be discreetly divided up and given to the families who needed it most. She was amazing. I can’t imagine what her crown will look like in Heaven. A woman willing to risk it all, even her life, to help her people, and to share Jesus with them. She is one of my heroes for my life now. Polite smiles, exuding humility, living selflessly and courageously for her people. You should have seen that girl pray for Burma. Here is a true warrior for the Gospel.

She went in ahead. We cautiously approached the window on the Thai side, waiting for our translator to tell us if the guard said we could get 30 day visas. He said yes. We jumped for joy, and I suddenly had an attack of nervousness, and honestly, needed to go to the bathroom. But there was no time, so we walked up and started handing over our passports. That’s when we realized they were only letting us in for a day, not enough to get to Rangoon, which was still 6 hours away. We asked him about it, he wouldn’t budge, so we went over to the Burmese side and tried to reason with them. We were pretending to be tourists and did a good job, I think, of acting dumb and happy while standing in front of probably the world’s most evil regime. We asked for 30 day visas. They just looked at us like, “What a stupid question. Of course we’re not allowing people in to actually help our starving, homeless, and devastated people.” I got the stare down from one officer who appeared to be the highest ranking. I looked around at the walls pretending to be learning Burmese words while he stared at me with hate in his eyes. I prayed. And…we didn’t get the visas.

So we walked with our heads down to the nearest little food place. Got some food from a sweet man and his 4 children who served us and smiled bashfully at us. Then walked further into town. I got down on my knees in front of every baby I could find and pretended to play happily while blessing them in my mind. I tried to smile for the parents, but it was all I could do to keep from bawling for them. It’s not fair… That I should lead a life of comfort in a free country AND know Jesus AND have Heaven awaiting me? They get drudgery, poverty, no freedom, non-existent Buddha, and Hell, for some or most, to follow.

We came across a Buddhist monastery and went in. Found the temple with a huge Buddha inside. There we got down on our knees in front of that Buddha, opened up our Bibles, and prayed, prayed, prayed. Honestly, under different circumstances, I would not want to offend people by doing that, and I would be super conscious of respecting their place of worship, even if it wasn’t Jesus’. I would pray from afar. But here, the people needed Him so so much. Buddha was so so far and indifferent. I didn’t care. We prayed for 45 minutes to an hour there. Weeping. Frustrated. Angry. We were here and yet so far. We sat helplessly only a few hours away from where babies starved to death while the bloated bodies of their parents floated by.

That night we came back frustrated, but got together to pray and felt nourished by the worship. We thanked God that His ways were higher than ours, and that it didn’t matter if we got in or not. It wasn’t about us. We weren’t heroes. The Burmese Church are the heroes. Who are Americans to storm in with all their money and always try to run the show anyway? No, we were the resources, they were the hands and feet.

The next day, we waited to see if there was another plan to get in–whether by conventional means or not. In the meantime, we went to visit a Burmese refugee camp. 35 families lived in a flooded rice field in shacks made of pieces of tin, overflowing toilets, no clean water source, and mud everywhere. Children played in gray water in bare feet. They all had rashes and deep gashes. We assessed the area. We could put in some drainage systems to keep their little camp from flooding. Redo some of the sanitation for the toilets. Get some plastic tarps and rain barrels and water purification supplies. Since we had nothing but first aid kits on us. We just sat down and started cleaning wounds and medicine on rashes. Hugging and singing to them as we did it. They smiled back at us sooo sweetly. Oh, those babies. Oh, the weariness in the eyes of the mothers.

After spending some hours there, we came back. Sat down and looked at our options. 1) We could stay in Mae Sot and spend the next week working with the refugees. That would require using money meant for the cyclone survivors to do it, however. 2) We could drive back to Bangkok and try every single day of our trip to get visas in to Rangoon. 3) The choice we wanted least, we could fly home early, where we could leave the guys from Thirst No More to gear up to go in once the Burmese borders opened up — which they will eventually.

We decided on choice 2, because we strongly felt that though we really, really wanted to reach out to the refugee camp, that was not our purpose in coming to Thailand. The refugee camp could always be an outreach by our church on future trips, but this one was for dying people in Burma. We went to dinner. We came back. Our leader told us that Thirst No More had told him the chances were non-existent of getting into Burma because by the time we received our visas, it would be time for us to leave. He felt we should go home early to allow Thirst No More to freely help cyclone victims without us slowing them down and asked us if we thought this was God’s leading. We all went around the room and decided in unity that, though it was the very last thing we wanted to do, we would not be so prideful as to make this trip about what we wanted. We would go home early where we could share with people the evilness of the Burmese government, and to pray all together that the people of Burma can be set free from their oppressors who at this time are basically allowing the disaster to become a genocide in order to aid their pride. We should go home early, get our church involved, use the money that would have been spent on us to go directly to victims, and come back when we were not so conspicuous and do whatever we can do to help the poor, oppressed heroes of the underground church in Burma. This, and reasons that we don’t know of, and may never, are the reasons we were sent to Myanmar. Thus the trip ended as abruptly and surprisingly as it started. But we all definitely felt that God was speaking clearly to us about it. Somehow it was even free to change the date of our departure, which I know from Bosnia, is not usually the way it works. God has a bigger plan than us, but we might be allowed into it, for when we were there and for the future, when all of us want to go back.

So. I’m back.

Lord, please help me not to fall victim to the deceit of comfort. Keep me mindful, prayerful, and ready to do whatever I can in Your name to lift the downtrodden and set free the captives. Thank You for letting me see this oppression with my eyes. Thank You, for whatever unknown reasons, You did not let us in. Your ways are higher than mine. You see the people. You love them. You are on Your way to save them.

Yeshu bontsi bohseedo Myanma dee nai (totally butchered for “Jesus be glorified in Burma”).

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