Last weekend I drove Elise, my oldest daughter, seven hours to where she will start going to college. It makes me feel old, not to mention very nostalgic and reflective. My little girl…how can it be that she is not little any more? I try not to worry, but to trust that she will make right choices as she ventures into a life on her own.
As I reflect, I can’t help but ask myself if I have made all the right decisions. Did I teach her the right values? Did I establish healthy boundaries? Have I raised her in a way that has equipped her to make it on her own in the adult world? Have I showed her that what matters most is love, courage, faith, forgiveness, generosity, and honesty? Will she live according to these values, or will she be led by the world that tells her that what matters the most is your looks, your clothes, your income, and your fame?
Following these thoughts, I remember Manha, a girl I met in West Burma last May who was approximately the same age as Elise. She caught my eye as she served sweet, milky coffee and fried pastries at a teashop near a refugee population. A refugee herself and with few prospects, she carried herself with dignity. She took care of herself, made the best of her circumstances, and she was beautiful; she did not look like a victim.
But she is. She lives surrounded by barbed wire. Her loved ones have been violently abused, even killed, and state authorities deny her the opportunity to attend school. She is extremely vulnerable to human traffickers who prey on kids like her.
With this letter and my personal reflections, I am inviting you to help children like Manha. I invite you like Jesus invites us all when He says, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matt 7:12)
My daughter starts college in a free country this week. She can choose to study anything she wants. She has grown up knowing she is loved and appreciated. She has lived a life in luxury compared to most girls in the world her age. I hope that along with my love I have also given her a sense of responsibility to care for others, in less privileged parts of the world, such as Burma.
I hope that rather than just talking about fashion and boys, she will share with her friends what she has been a part of her whole life:
Partners Relief & Development supports more than 9000 teachers who instruct 137,000 children in school each day, runs clinics and mobile medical programs treating thousands of children each year, and organizes maternal health care programs for expecting mothers. We fully fund 16 homes in refugee camps for 900 children who have either lost their parents or have no other secure access to education. These are just the first few vital programs that come to mind.
As I am sending Elise off to the next chapter of her life, I would like to send thousands of other girls off to a life a more hopeful than the one they are living now. I want girls like Manha to attend school in a safe environment, be able to get medical help when needed, to live in their own village without the fear of violence, and to be able to pursue their dreams, just like my daughter, Elise.
If you have children you know exactly what I mean. And if you don’t, I’m sure these words resonate with you just the same. A child should not be raised on a battlefield, in a prison, or as a second-class citizen.
Would you help me please? Join me to give Manha and boys and girls like her the chance to thrive this year.
There are two things I hope everyone who reads these words will do:
Partners for Change are people who commit to a monthly contribution of $30. USD This simple act of generosity is how Partners Relief & Development was started and how we continue to this day. Note that $30. is enough to install 3 toilets, fund two teachers for a year, feed a refugee family for two weeks; it is more than what we need to fully support an orphaned child with everything they need each month (The cost for that is $19.25) Please, join today.
Partners Advocates are our local representatives in the United States. We empower them to speak and host events on behalf of the children we reach out to. Learn more about this program and join today.
If you would like more information, please click here.
Elise will be sharpening her mind and her social skills. I hope she continues to cultivate a deep sense of responsibility to the world we live in and to God who keeps it humming along. I hope this for Manha too. Where she is today, with what she has received, my prayer is that God will bless her and lead her into His kingdom that has come, in part, through us.
Last month we shared stories of two Rohingya families living through unimaginable hardship that our relief team had met as they provided emergency relief. Sadly, we heard yesterday that both of Noor Begun’s premature twin babies passed away last week. One died on the 5th and the other on the 8th. Before this, Noor Begun’s husband died on the 4th. This is an immense tragedy and we grieve deeply with them. We also know that Noor Begun’s story is just one of thousands of stories of present suffering for the 150,000 Rohingya in Arakan State. Noor Begun is still living with tuberculosis and has completed two medical treatments for this without any respite from the disease that will now likely take her life.
Our relief partners says our help is very necessary and that they want us to continue to come. We’re praying that our response will continue to be a bit of encouragement, as well as life saving. We’re in the hope business and Noor Begun’s loss sharpens our resolve even more that we must help however we can.
“This is the duty of our generation as we enter the twenty-first century — solidarity with the weak, the persecuted, the lonely, the sick, and those in despair. It is expressed by the desire to give a noble and humanizing meaning to a community in which all members will define themselves not by their own identity but by that of others.” Elie Wiesel
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am sharing this with you. What motivates me to write again is the golden rule. I want to do for children in conflict what I would want done for my own. Simple.
The systematic abuse of Rohingya people in West Burma has gone from bad to worse. Last week the remaining NGO’s who had an MOU with the government were forced to leave the area and fly back to Rangoon. Their buildings, including those belonging to the UN, were destroyed.
The survivors of recent massacres are largely unheard from as there are no observers of their suffering or the outcomes among the survivors. By government mandate, access to the Rohingya is blocked. For this reason there is very little detailed news about what is going on, but the news we get is much worse than anything we have ever heard before.
One of our friends in a large population of refugees sent word yesterday that “…doctors are treating muslim patients very badly now at Sittwe hospital. Most of the patients sent to Sittwe hospital die these days. I am afraid that people’s doubt about rakhine doctors killing muslim patients is true.”
Another friend is trying to help a boy who suffers from diabetes, asthma, and multiple health complications due to sustained denial of adequate food, shelter, and health services. The photos I have show an emaciated boy in the arms of his father, obviously close to death.
We are trying to help him get medical care but where will he get it, even if we can find the money to pay? When he suggested paying a bribe to the police to get him transported to the nearby government hospital, he wrote that it may be the quickest way to end his life, not save it. In his email this morning he wrote: “Also today there was a body returned from Sittwe hospital of a pregnant woman who died while in their care, and the child was lost as well. The injuries on her face suggest very much she was beaten or worse.”
Another friend who lives in the camps wrote yesterday that, “There is no medical care at all for patients. Family members just have to sit and watch the patients dying. It has been more than a week now IDPs are facing food shortage. Many families are starving now.”
Genocide, according the Oxford Dictionaries is “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group:a campaign of genocide”
What I write about today is that. Genocide. The proof is in Burma’s government policy, described in the recent report by Fortify Rights and confirmed by Human Rights Watch, the New York Times, and most of the worlds leading news services; it is in the well documented process of removal of rights and identity of an entire ethnic group; it is in the many violent massacres and riots that have resulted in a massive loss of life.
Why is this not making news headlines? April 7th was the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, where the world community declared: “this will never happen again”.
It’s happening again.
I beg you to join Partners Relief & Development in our efforts to help the survivors and prevent the slaughter of these wonderful people. Please re post the news as it is released and raise your voice with local and federal politicians. Tweet, post, blog, and in every way spread the word.
And please, if you can, join us by giving funds. Our team is working on aid delivery and other survival enhancing actions now. This costs money.
One generous donor has given a $30,000. matching grant as incentive to help the Rohingya. That means the gift of $30.00 that I just donated turns to $60.00 to help the Rohingya people. Just go to this donation page, click one time gift, and in the drop down menu, select “emergency relief.” All funds donated to this crisis in the month of April will be matched.
I just gave $30.00 so the Rohingya children can experience the freedom and fullness that my daughters have every day. Please join me.
My journal is haunting me. I peel back the formerly rain soaked pages of 2013 and stories crawl off the page and smash my soul with a steely right hook. The interviews that rumble with life and push at the binding, demanding to be read and considered, are those I wrote down in Sittwe, West Burma, last May.
They are a catalog of human injustice and misery. Kyaw Hlaing said,“They killed my father”, Aung Win grieved out loud when he said, “they arrested our 16 year old son, took him away”. Another grieving man said, “they raped my wife”, and others went on reflecting that “we are the lucky ones who survived”, and “we have no hope.”
The interviews were done inside of a detainment camp where 140,000 men, women, and children are forced to eke out survival with almost no help from international aid agencies who are prevented from assistance by the government who calls these 1000 year residents of Burma, “illegal immigrants.”
Our team at Partners Relief & Development ran a clinic for 6 months and crisis management/relief work for a year and a half in that particular camp. Most of the people we helped had their homes burned down, possessions taken from them, and were on the receiving end of every sort of violence, as police and soldiers stirred up ethnic prejudice between them and the majority ethnic people, and turned it into a riot that resulted in hundreds of brutal deaths and the destruction of 5000 houses. Each day our team treated hundreds of suffering children. In many cases the intervention saved lives; in others, our help was physically futile. Children died waiting in line or died while getting treatment from one of our many brave volunteer doctors. Crying with the survivors was all we could do at that point.
Things have gotten worse. The 140,000 people we have concentrated on are still in the same camp, surrounded by barbed wire, with little outside support. Doctors Without Borders was thrown out of Rakhine State three weeks ago, removing what little medical help was available to the victims of terrible violence. The reason? They told the world community that they treated survivors of a massacre that happened in West Burma the preceding week. In other words, the massacre that the government denies having occurred, Doctors Without Borders confirmed.
I received this on Sunday, March 16 from a friend: “I’m getting desperate messages from a dear Rohingya friend whose village is burning down this morning. At the moment his house is still standing but many others are gone. Not sure how many yet. He’s saying 1000 homeless, crying, no food or anything. Another quarter of the village burnt down there a few days ago (that was 130 homes).”
We are still trying to find ways to help them, but being prevented by the same state initiated violence that has killed and displaced thousands of Rohingya villagers in the first place. In fact, the proof of State level collaboration is so compelling, that Fortify Rights International released a report with leaked documents and changed laws by the government to marginalize and strip the Rohingya of their basic rights. Now they are killing them.
Ask yourself: who do you turn to when the police force and army are the ones inciting the riots and in many cases doing the killing? Who tells your story when so much of the media and access to it depends on the power of the perpetrators?
There are millions of people who suffer terrible injustice at the hands of their own government in Burma today. I feel it is my duty and privilege to “do for them as I would have them do for me” and to do more than talk about God’s love, but show it “in action and deed” (1 JN 3:17-18) My journal haunts me, but the one I call Lord convicts and motivates me with a standard of love that cannot stay indifferent to the injustice that is happening to these people.
There are four things we can all do now.
- We have a very generous supporter who has agreed to match every dollar given towards emergency relief this month. That means if you donate ten dollars to help the children in conflict, it is matched and becomes $20. Please join me and give if you are able.
- Pray for Burma.
- Join our team and become a Partners advocate in your city. Click here for details.
- Stand up for the children of Burma by writing your senator and participating in the US Campiagn for Burma’s advocacy efforts.
Our team is working with new networks of people to creatively access the survivors. Thanks for joining us as we seek the freedom and fullness that is ours for the children of Burma.
We may possess a small light, but may we uncover it, and let it shine.
May we use it to bring more light and understanding
to the hearts and minds of men and women.
May we give them not hell but hope and courage.
May we preach, and practice, the kindness and everlasting love of God.
(I found this in my drafts and loved it, so posted it tonight. I think it comes from a Wild Geese publication. Awesome, Isn’t it?)
Today is #GivingTuesday – a movement to inspire charitable giving to kickoff the holiday season. Let’s join the movement and help spread the spirit of generosity around the globe. As a bonus incentive for giving on this day, keep in mind that donations made to Partners Relief and Development on #GivingTuesday will be graciously matched, doubling their impact, by a generous donor up to a grand total of $10,000! Find out more here. The $20 dollars I just gave turned to $40. and enabled 8 children to go to school in Burma for a whole year!
The Brothers Karamazov is the best book I have ever read.
I read it in Bangkok on early morning bus rides from Ratchada Pisek Road to Union Language School on Suriwongse road in 1987. I read it in coffee shops like the UCC in Robinsons department store on the intersection of Silom Road and the Rama 4 road, just in front of the Thai-Japanese overpass. Also, on the ascetic comfort of my coconut mattress at Bob and Thoi’s house, I read it in dim light with my window mounted air conditioner buzzing noisily.
It’s Mike Cain’s fault. He gave me a list of essential books that an educated man should have on his shelf. Mike is the smartest person I had ever met. So I read my way through his list. I kept it in the back of my bible with check marks beside the ones I had finished.
Mike was also a fan of Dostoyevsky. The Brothers Karamazov was the first book on the ‘to read’ list.
Nearing the end of the story, I wished for more. I turned each page pensively, wishing they would reproduce like the loaves and fishes when Jesus fed 5000 people with two loaves of bread a few fish. On the last page I already wished for a selective memory eraser so that I could start it again with the same curious drive to get into Dmitri, Ivan, and the other characters brought to life by the Russian Master.
I like the ‘What’s your favorite book’ game. Depending on the book, this small talk conversation can go deep fast. So when I take people to the border to visit Partners Relief & Development projects, I often make it part of the repertoire.
You know that if someone choses a Bill Bryson book, the a Short History of Nearly Everything, that this is a smart person with a good sense of humor who likes to talk about mechanical stuff, who likes to learn. If they say the Hobbit, you know they have a rich imagination and are drawn to everyman metaphors. And if they say something like Tozers Pusuit of God, or Packers Knowing God, you know you have a deep one in the passengers seat; a person who you may love, or dislike intensely, so proceed with this talk cautiously.
The ones who say the Bible is their favorite book usually haven’t read the Bible and don’t read other books either. That’s when I change the subject to other small talk conventions (like what’s your dessert-island-soundtrack) to avoid an awkward moment.
Ok, so playing the favorite-book-game on a drive to Mae Sot a few years ago, I gave my standard answer. “My favorite book ever is the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.” That usually puts me in a serious position of conversational advantage. It makes me into the serious reader, the intellectual, the one who takes his reading seriously. I always go last. It impresses passengers.
Oddny was in the back seat with a couple of other girls. She looked up at me through the rear view mirror and said,
“Steven, what is that book about?”
“Umm, Dmitri, Ivan, and two kinds of way of being.”
“So what’s the plot”
“Well, it’s about these two brothers and their dad and a lover. In the end I decided I want to be like Dmitri.”
“Because he was passionate while Ivan was all in his head.”
“Steven, I don’t think you can say that’s your favorite book anymore.”
“You don’t even know the story.”
That hurt. Giggles from the back seat confirmed that my superior sense of culture was a farce. Kind of not fair actually. Because it was the best book I had ever read. But Oddny did have a point. If you can’t tell why it was a great book maybe you better chose a lower shelf.
I read Douglas Coupland’s Life After God in a day. I can tell you what the book is about and why it made me cry. Maybe that should be my favorite book.
Is it allowed to have a favorite book that you don’t remember the plot to, just the feeling of joy while reading it?
I don’t know if I have ever seen a grown man cry the way he did. Jakil walked into the room we were sitting looking serious and determined. His hair was combed and well-kept, he was wearing a nice shirt and the traditional Burmese loyngi.
He didn’t look like a refugee to me, but like a dignified man. It occurred to me then, like often before, that nobody is born to be a refugee. When forced to live in a camp, removed from their home, their job, their loved ones, and everything that is safe and familiar to them, people are robbed of what is most important in their lives. When they grow up constantly hearing that they are unwanted, unloved, ugly, smelly, corrupt, violent, dirty and dishonest, it does something to one’s self esteem. Many of the people I met and saw looked defeated. They looked like they had…
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