Six months ago, Cyclone Giri swept across the western coast of Myanmar with 155-mph winds, claiming several thousand lives. Now, as our weathered 40-foot cargo boat chugged slowly up the Laymyo River, I was witnessing the cyclone’s devastation with my own eyes. Hills, once blanketed with lush tropical vegetation, were scoured clean except for a few battered, solitary trees. The skeletal frames of former homes stood as silent reminders of the storm’s raging fury.
Our river journey began in Sittwe, the small capital city of Rakhine State, where we chartered a wooden boat that would carry us, along with 20 tons of rice, 100 miles upriver. The boat’s recent coat of cheerful blue and orange paint couldn’t hide its well-worn condition, leaving me the impression that it had already made this journey a million times before.
As we passed countless other ancient-looking vessels, I felt like our boat was also transporting us 100 years into the past. The numerous rivers that snake through Sittwe’s delta region provide livelihoods and the sole means of transportation for people who live much the same as their ancestors did generations ago.
Heaven’s Family partner M.B. Thang was my guide, interpreter, and friend. Our first day’s plan was to travel eight hours, putting us close to several remote villages that desperately needed help. The day passed slowly at 10 mph-our top speed-and we were anxious to meet the people we had come so far to help.
By late afternoon we finally reached our first stop, a village called Tha Won Sikkay. Only two homes escaped destruction in this village of 125 families. Curious children and adults quickly surrounded us as we disembarked from our boat, and several able-bodied men unloaded 62 of our 110-pound bags of rice-enough to sustain each family for several weeks. With gratitude one woman told me, “Thank you so much…we had no rice left for tonight’s meal. This is a blessing sent from God!” We also provided a group of elderly men and women with money they needed for medicine.
Thirty minutes upriver we arrived at Tha Yat Taw, a village of 96 families. We distributed our remaining 38 bags of rice. We were also able to help three needy villagers with $75 each to purchase what they needed to fix their roofs before the rainy season begins. After listening to their many words of appreciation, we headed back to our boat for the night.
During the next two days we helped four more villages inhabited by Chin tribal people with 90 more bags of rice-5 tons-that we purchased from a nearby riverside town. We also helped two widows with young children, as well as a handicapped man and his family, to buy materials to rebuild their very simple homes. Although many whom we served were already Christians, we preached the gospel in every village, and men, women and children listened intently and responded.
Because of their openness, M.B. Thang told each village that he will return soon to teach them more about God. He plans to return next month with his brother, another evangelist. They will also focus on many low-cost rebuilding projects using $20,000 from Heaven’s Family’s Disaster Relief Fund.
I wish you could have joined me on the “love boat.” Every time we provided rice for hungry bellies, small grants for rebuilding, and medicine for the elderly, we took great joy in letting them know that we were there only because people in distant lands who love Jesus gave sacrificially just to help them. Thanks to all who gave so generously!