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While most of us have been giving our primary attention to primary election results, hundreds of thousands of people along the coast of Burma (aka Myanmar) have focused on survival — and on trying to find the bodies of their loved ones among the estimated 22,500 people who died from the ravages of Cyclone Nargis, a powerful storm that ripped through their low-lying land this week.

Cyclones and hurricanes are basically the same type of storm, though both could be called “cyclonic.” In the northern hemisphere, the storms rotate counterclockwise and we call them hurricanes. In the southern hemisphere, they rotate clockwise and we call them cyclones.

The poor people who raise rice by hand in the vast, flat Irrawaddi Delta and the teeming inhabitants of Yangon, the nation’s major city, are struggling to come to terms with staggering statistics of the dead and missing: according to one report, not only were 22,500 estimated to be dead, but 41,000 people were unaccounted for.

I visited Honduras after Hurricane Mitch devastated that country in 1998, and Sri Lanka after the Christmas tsunami of 2004, and the Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita barreled through in 2005, each time in the company of North Carolina Baptist Men.

The devastation caused by disasters like these are beyond ordinary comprehension: they leave one stunned at the thought that so many could die, so much damage could be done, in so short a time.

Relief efforts in Burma/Myanmar (the name one uses generally reflects a desire to reject or grant legitimacy to the military junta that usurped power in Burma and changed the name to Myanmar) are hampered by the governing junta’s isolationist policy. I have heard reports that they asked for international aid, and other reports that aid workers had not yet been allowed in the country.

When they are allowed, you can bet your booties that Baptists will be in the forefront. Workers with Baptist World Aid are already making preparations, Baptist World Alliance has announced a donation of $50,000, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has pledged $5,000, and the Southern Baptist Convention says it is assessing the need. If I know North Carolina Baptists, many thousands of dollars will soon pour in for relief efforts, and volunteers form N.C. Baptist Men will be in the forefront of those bringing hope and healing to those who have survived the storm.

In the meantime, I hope we’ll give some extra thought to prayer for those who are suffering, quit whining about the price of gasoline, and be thankful to God that getting through the day alive is not our primary concern.

[Photo from The Daily Green]

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