Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Burma, China, you-a

You there! Sitting in your chair. You think I can't see you eating that delectable cookie, but I can, and you must learn to share! Speaking of delectable, Pioneer Woman has a recipe for what looks like possibly the Best Thing Ever on her website right now - "pots de creme." Emily and I are whipping it up tomorrow to savor and languish over. Anyway. I digress.

You there! Sitting in your chair. Get up and do something about this: Burma and China have both had natural catastrophes in the past few weeks. Burma (Myanmar) was hit by a colossal cyclone, with thousands dead and millions homeless or displaced. China' Sichuan province was rocked by a massive earthquake about eight days ago, and people are still being pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings, including hospitals and elementary schools. Over 40,000 people have died from it, with around five million homeless.

Now, China's government (though I rant about it's many faults often) is at least responding to the situation, and is allowing foreign aid to assist the victims. MYANMAR, however, has a ridiculous government (the "junta") that has allowed very little aid in, despite the fact that their tragedy goes far beyond what the government could do if it wanted to. What little aid has entered the country has been given to only a fraction of the affected population. Unfortunately, volunteer aid workers and relief supplies are piled up, waiting to enter, on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Meanwhile, cleanup remains unbegun, which means that dead bodies have not been recovered - which means that the possibilities for widespread disease are huge. Myanmar, by the way, is one of the world's poorest countries to begin with.

Southeast Asia still bears marks of the tsunami that hit a few years ago, much like the Gulf Coast still has much repair to be done here in the U.S., so recovery of the affected areas of Burma and China will be both short-term and long-term efforts. Right now, though, instead of going out to eat, or downloading a new ring tone, you can make a quick donation. You can think about volunteering for a relief team (missions team) later, if you want (though I'm sure some will start forming soon).

Here are some websites you can visit:
World Hope International: http://www.worldhope.org/relief/myanmar.htm
United Methodist Committee on Relief: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/
The Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/
World Vision: http://www.wvi.org/wvi/wviweb.nsf

It's difficult to describe how some folks like me, brought up with burgeoning technology, view the world, but it's something like this: the people of Myanmar and China are neighbors in the worldwide community. When a cyclone hits in southeast Asia, I can't see the flooding as readily as if it were the Smiths down the street, but the people suffering are just as much a part of our town as if they were the Smiths down the street. It just happens that their town is on the opposite side of the world. A five year old is five wherever he is in the world. A woman is still a woman. A man is still a man. They speak differently, they have different customs, but they often want similar things in life: security for themselves and their families. I'm not glossing over the rich depths of cultural differences, here, but I am stating that Burma is valuable, China is valuable, people we don't know are valuable. I don't dismiss people who see situations like this as "opportunities" to minister or witness to Christianity. But I also believe that you are called to serve people whether they convert to your religion or not. Why? because it's the right thing to do! I think evangelicals often see proselytizing as the greatest good: but if you're preaching to someone who hasn't eaten that day, the thing to do is to feed them. Let me be super clear: Christians don't only have an obligation to other Christians ("uh-oh, Christians were affected, we better pray for them"). John Wesley stated clearly that the world was his parish - not just a section of England, but the world. Denominations are organized differently, but the world is your district, the world is your conference, the world is your county.

I never met my great-grandmother, but my mom told me the story, growing up, of how her grandmother would rock in her chair, holding mom on her lap, with an atlas. My great-grandmother lived a rural, impoverished life, but she loved supporting missionaries. "Don't you ever let anyone tell you your grandma didn't go anywhere," she told mom, turning the pages of maps. "I've been all over the world through this." That image stuck in my head when I saw the sands of Mongolia from an airplane window, when I saw the rolling English countryside from my window seat.

One of the prominent objects of my childhood was an enormous (to a six year old) canvas bag with prints of the sphinx and the pyramids on it. It was mom's library book bag, and it was the sturdiest thing I've ever seen. My grandma and grandpa from across town had brought it back as a souvenir from their trip to the Middle East. The shapes on it fascinated me. They brought me a little headdress. Later, they brought bright beaded barrettes and moccasins from their annual summer road trips to South Dakota, where they helped with Bible schools for kids on the reservations. Grandma and Grandpa had worked in factories for decades, but they traveled - and they taught us to travel.

Maybe you can't go to Burma or China. But your grandchildren, know it or not, will be watching.

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