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Reaching Out to Cyclone Survivors in Burma

Contact: Taun Cortado, Gospel for Asia, 972-300-7777


RANGOON, Burma, May 5 /Christian Newswire/ -- A Gospel for Asia Bible college in Rangoon, Burma, (Yangon, Myanmar) is now a makeshift shelter for those devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which swept across the country Saturday.


"One of our correspondents was at the Bible college in Rangoon when the storm hit. He was able to obtain information and get on one of the only flights out of the country to deliver a report and photos of the devastation," said Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan.


The cyclone hit at about 2:30 a.m. By daylight the full effect of the storm was obvious. Homes were destroyed. Giant trees had crashed through buildings and were lying uprooted, blocking roads.


The news that is trickling out of the country is horrifying. The death toll is estimated to be at least 10,000 and another 2,700 are missing.


"The people in Burma live in clusters of small communities in simple bamboo structures," Yohannan explained. "These villages are not made of concrete. I imagine that literally hundreds of these simple structures were just blown away. We are praying here in India and are asking Christians around the world to join us."


More than 80 people—along with 70 children from a nearby orphanage that was destroyed—made their way to the Bible college campus as soon as the storm subsided. Buddhist monks are also at the college, seeking assistance.


Local officials set up shop at the Bible college because the police station was completely destroyed. The police have asked for help from the staff at the college. At present, the students are away on their summer vacation. This freed up space to accommodate many who came for help.


GFA missionaries serve at about 400 churches and 250 mission stations in Burma. In 2006, the military-run government of Burma forbade foreign non-government organizations from doing aid work in the country. In the face of this disaster, the government is now relenting, and allowing outside assistance.


Since GFA missionaries are already in the country, and have found favor with the government, they are one of the few groups able to offer immediate help to the people as they begin the recovery process. "In the past, whenever there was a problem of any kind, our people got involved in helping. That is why the government and the people there look at us with good favor," Yohannan said.


The missionaries and staff at the Bible college are taking care of the people's basic needs by offering meals, prayers and the love of Jesus for these who have lost all hope. They will continue caring for the people, but the task before them is daunting.


"Rangoon is in total darkness and they are estimating that there will not be electricity for at least three months," Yohannan said.


Obtaining enough food to feed all those at the Bible college presents another challenge. At present, the banks are closed and fresh food and water are in short supply. Yet these are simply the immediate problems before the aid workers.


"We are facing at least six months of continuous work ministering to the people. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to reach out in love to them, just like we did after the tsunami in 2004," Yohannan said.


And while part of one Bible college building is still standing, portions of the campus—including the building where the people are now staying—were severely damaged.


"We will need to rebuild the Bible college, staff quarters and hundreds of homes of those in our churches," Yohannan said. "Also, dozens of churches are sure to have been destroyed."


While many missionaries and staff will remain in Rangoon assisting with the work at the Bible college, many others are already going out into the villages looking for survivors and surveying the damage.


Yohannan asks for continued prayer for the people of Burma as they come to grips with this crisis. He also asks for prayer for those who are helping them.


GFA has activated a cyclone relief fund and 100 percent of donations to that fund will go straight to the field to assist survivors.


Gospel for Asia is an evangelical mission organization based in Carrollton, Texas involved in sharing the love of Jesus across South Asia.