Baptists have joined government and charitable groups working to relieve human suffering in the aftermath of Saturday’s devastating cyclone in Myanmar.

Myanmar’s government said Tuesday more than 22,000 people were killed when the Category 3 storm slammed into the country’s southern coast. With 41,000 others still missing, the death toll is expected to rise. One relief agency said it would not be surprised if the death toll went as high as 50,000.

Baptist World Aid pledged $50,000 to assist with relief efforts. Along with immediate aid, the relief-and-development arm of the Baptist World Alliance is coordinating relief efforts by Baptists around the world.

“We will be working with and through the very capable Myanmar Baptist Convention,” said BWAid Director Paul Montacute. Montacute said the agency is in contact with partners in the United States, Europe and Asia.

BMS World Mission in Great Britain told supporters the group already supports work with refugees on the Burma/Thailand border, but that is a long way from the region devastated by the cyclone.

“We are currently consulting with other BMS partners in the area to assess if and how we can make disaster relief services available,” said a statement on the ministry Web site. In the meantime, Baptists were urged to give to BMS Relief Appeal for funds to eventually be used in Myanmar.

American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. has strong historic and sentimental ties to the country formerly known as Burma. They trace the start of their modern missionary movement to Baptist missionaries Ann and Adoniram Judson’s arrival there in 1813. Though foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country in the 1960s, American Baptists still have ties to the Myanmar Baptist Convention and work with ethnic groups from Burma seeking a new life in the United States.

American Baptist International Ministries pledged an immediate $5,000 grant for disaster relief and recovery to Myanmar through the One Great Hour of Sharing, a collective fundraising appeal by several American denominations that merged their promotional efforts for relief funds in 1950. American Baptists joined the effort in 1973. It raises about $20 million annually. Each denomination maintains its own funds for development aid, disaster relief and refugee resettlement in more than 70 countries around the world.

Baptist World Aid Australia said it is in discussions with aid and development partners in the area to offer support to their relief and rehabilitation efforts and collecting funds to be made to an appropriate and capable partner organization in the crisis area. Australian Baptists urged prayer for provision of essential aid and shelter for those affected, that military rulers would allow foreign aid organizations into the country and for comfort for the grieving.

Myanmar’s military government, which seized power in 1988, is generally suspicious of working with outside groups, but in this case it is making a rare exception by accepting international aid from organizations including the United Nations.

The UN World Food Programme has begun distributing food in cyclone-damaged areas of Yangon. Immediate needs include clean drinking water, non-perishable food, blankets and medical kits.

One Baptist-led ministry identified an urgent need that might otherwise be overlooked–insecticide-treated mosquito nets to protect tens of thousands from malaria.

“The U.S. and other countries will provide food, drinking water and shelter,” said T Thomas, director of His Nets, an Oklahoma-based charity that works closely with the Baptist World Alliance in fighting malaria around the world.

“However, standing water from the cyclone will quickly cause an outbreak of malaria,” Thomas said. “This will result in a second wave of deaths if nets are not provided quickly.”

His Nets has committed funds for more than 1,000 nets, Thomas said, but the need is much greater. For $6, he said, a donor can provide a net that will protect an entire family from malaria for up to five years.

“This is a way to make a difference,” Thomas said. “We can save lives.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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