The military regime that runs Myanmar has finally granted visas to members of Baptist World Aid Rescue24, according to a press release from the Baptist World Alliance. Baptist World Aid (BWAid) is the relief and development arm of the Baptist World Alliance. Rescue24 is a search, rescue and relief team that will be led by members of Hungarian Baptist Aid.

A late report from BWA says the team (of unspecified size) has arrived and begun distributing aid to refugee camps in the hardest hit areas of Yangon, the country’s major city. Team members are being assisted by local Baptists. The photo below includes Béla Szilágyi of Hungarian Baptist World Aid Rescue24, at left, as food is distributed in Yangon.

The grudging admission of Baptist aid workers comes after nearly two weeks of stalling by Myanmar’s ruling junta, which apparently would prefer to let thousands die rather than have anyone else get credit for helping them.

Other volunteers working with BWAid Rescue24 stand ready to respond to needs if permission is granted. Volunteers from North Carolina and Virginia in the United States, Singapore, Australia, and Hungary have made themselves available to go to China and Myanmar. Seven members of Texas Baptist Men from the United States are also on standby.

Two volunteers from North Carolina have been in Bangkok since May 10, waiting for permission to enter the country and offer assistance. As of Friday, May 16, however, they remained in limbo at the Bangkok airport, where Myanmar officials have refused to either allow them into the country or to return their passports.

Reportedly, a BWAid team has also been granted visas to enter China and assist in aiding victims of the May 12 earthquake that brought ruin to the northwest section of the Sichuan province May 12, The Chinese have also been hesitant to allow foreign aid workers, but have begun to open the door as they realize the needs are far beyond even their considerable capacity for relief efforts.

Hungarian Baptist Aid (HBA) has become a world leader among non-profit relief efforts. Previously, the organization led relief efforts following serious earthquakes in Turkey and the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and southern Thailand.

Laszlo Pavelcze, Rescue Commander of BWAid Rescue24 and HBAid, and a frequent visitor to the annual missions conference sponsored by N.C. Baptist Men, is coordinating relief efforts with disaster management authorities in China. Along with another HBAid colleague, he plans to deliver and distribute a donation of tents, blankets, medicines and food on behalf of BWAid.

The need for clean water is crucial following natural disasters, and HBAid also has a special water purification unit waiting in the wings — one that can purify and package 100,000 water bags per day.

It can’t help anyone, however, while sitting in a baggage terminal in Bangkok.

In hopes of providing longer-term aid, BWAid director Paul Montacute has slated a meeting of Baptist convention and relief and aid leaders to be held in Bangkok on May 24. Baptist leaders are expected from Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Hungary, Sweden and the United States. The meeting will be organized by the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, one of six continental unions of the BWA.

Estimated deaths in Myanmar range from 68,000 to almost 130,000, and thousands more will die if relief supplies don’t arrive. More than two million people face extreme difficulty in the wake of the storm.

Estimates of deaths in China are in the 20,000 range, but many more remain missing and the death toll is certain to rise.

It’s a crying shame when governmental leaders care more about preserving their power or bolstering their reputations than about the welfare of the people they rule.

It suggests a crying need for prayer.

Donations to the BWAid Emergency Response Fund can be made at or sent to:
Emergency Response Fund
Baptist World Aid
405 North Washington Street
Falls Church, VA 22046

Donations can also be made through N.C. Baptist Men at
NC Baptist Men
PO Box 1107
Cary, NC 27512 (designate check for Myanmar Disaster Relief).

[Photo posted on Flikr by partitoradicale.]

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