Final Report from Myanmar Team

Now that a team of courageous family physicians is safely out of Myanmar, I can release to you their report of their trip.

The team of Christian family physicians and other healthcare professionals originated at the only Christian Family Medicine Residency Program in the U.S., the In His Image Residency, out of Tulsa, OK.

Here’s an exciting report from my dear friend, Lawrence Lee, M.D.:

May 26, 2008

The Myanmar Disaster Relief Report

Context

On May 2, a cyclone (typhoon) swept across southern Myanmar and devastated much of that area, leaving an estimated 130,000 dead and millions homeless. A disaster such as this would be devastating to any country, but it was even more so for Myanmar. Given the fact that it has the 2nd worst healthcare system in the world, coupled with a relatively poor infrastructure for providing national aid, this was truly a horrendous blow.

However, matters were even further complicated by the fact that Myanmar’s military government (which is highly suspicious of any foreign government) refused to allow aid workers and supplies to provide much-needed help with food, shelter, and above all, clean water.

It was supposed to be harvest time for Myanmar when the cyclone hit, so food will be a serious problem. Many homes were demolished during the cyclone, rendering many shelterless. Disease spread from dead bodies in the water and lack of shelter could probably claim even more lives than the disaster itself.

A call to go

Our hearts are often moved with compassion when we hear of things such as this, but we often wonder what could we possibly do to help. Or we think that the problem is too big for us; what difference could one person make?

It would take a calling from God and hearing His voice and direction to cause people to try to go into Myanmar, where

1) you would have an impossible time getting a visa,

2) the government would not be pleased that you are there IF you got in, and

3) there would possibly be danger in the relief work itself.

The State Department (said) not to go to Myanmar.

Why go?

So why go? Because God has called us to go, and when He does that, then we need to move in the direction He leads us.

Dr. Duininck, my program director, asked us to pray about whether God would have us to go to Myanmar to help out as part of the disaster relief team…that is, IF such a team was going to go, and IF the team could get in.

After some struggle, consideration, and prayer, I came to the conclusion that God was calling me to go and help out with such an endeavor.

I then approached Kim (my fiancé, and a pediatric nurse) about this, and somewhat to my surprise (but definitely to my relief) she wanted to come, too.

After prayer and struggle of her own, Kim independently also confirmed the conclusion that God wanted her to go as well.

Preparations and obstacles to overcome

There was approximately 3 days from the time that our team was finally confirmed to GO to the time that our flight left. Prior to that, there was a lot of work done gathering information regarding whether we could get visas or not, figuring out whom we could work with if/when we were inside Myanmar, etc.

When the word came that we were going to go, Kim and I had some obstacles of our own to overcome—as planners, we don’t like to have only 72 hours to prepare for an overseas disaster trip and all of its logistical details!

Truly by the grace of God, it was a lot better than it could have been—Kim and I had been planning to be on vacation for the latter half of the week we were planning on going to Myanmar, so the schedule had already been somewhat cleared long before we knew anything about going on a disaster relief trip.

But it still wasn’t easy. Forty-eight (48) hours prior to departure, I was given the task of assembling/preparing the team’s pharmacy, which entailed:

1) choosing what medications to bring to Myanmar and in what amounts,

2) to coordinate the effort to obtain these medications from two different organizations, and then

3) to coordinate several teams of volunteers to package these medications into usable individual-size medicine packages that we could give to patients in Myanmar.

Needless to say, those were a VERY stressful and crazy 48 hours!?!

Entry into Myanmar—nothing short of a miracle

“Visa on arrival?!? What is that? I’ve never heard of that in Myanmar!?!”

These are the words of almost anyone who knows anything about Myanmar. And yet…our organization connected with another team that had obtained access into Myanmar only a week before via a special connection (obviously, I’m not going to write down what this connection was, to protect that person).

This same connection was the way by which our team was able to enter Myanmar. At the Yangon airport, we were met by this connection, and received our visas without any questions asked, and we passed through customs without a single bag checked.

It was truly nothing short of a miracle.

Did you go to the hardest-hit areas?

Actually, no foreigners are allowed past a certain perimeter around the city of Yangon (formerly, Rangoon). Thus, our clinic work and activities were all conducted within approximately 1 hour of Yangon.

So what did you accomplish there?

Retrospectively, we found that the purpose of our being in Myanmar for 1 week was fourfold:

1) Medical clinics.

Our team of 8 docs + 1 RN + 4 support staff saw and took care of over 1300 patients in 6 different clinic settings in 6 different villages. We ran clinics out of house churches, orphanages, and a school that was serving as a refugee camp.

The patients tended to mostly have the “usual” primary care problems. However, many of our patients were patients who had escaped from the devastation of the cyclone; thus, many of these patients had symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to (or responsible for) their “usual” primary care problems.

So what good are medical clinics?

The medical clinics we did were good not only for taking care of many peoples’ physical needs, but we also gave hope to people who had lost much of it.

Just imagine if YOU lost everything (and for many, that included family and friends) and you knew that your government was not really doing much to help, AND they were preventing other people from helping.

We shared with many of them about Jesus, and there was a tremendous openness to hearing about Jesus among pretty much everyone we saw.

2) Purified water.

Our team brought 3 water purifiers, and we were able to provide many families with badly needed clean water to drink. With the devastating effects of the cyclone, the peoples’ water supply was compromised, not only with the mixing of salt and fresh water, but the dead bodies of animals and humans in the water lead to significant spread of disease.

Cholera was breaking out significantly even before our team left for Myanmar. The blessing of providing potable water was a significant one, indeed.

Plus, you wouldn’t believe some of the containers that the people brought for us to put clean water in—containers with green junk growing in it, bottles that formerly contained antifreeze, etc.

We were able to give some good education about storing water in clean containers, too.

3) Equipping/teaching a national medical team.

On the last full day we were in Myanmar, another IHI resident (Dr. Val Tramonte) and I spoke at a disaster relief training course that was being held for a team of doctors and nurses who were going to go down to provide medical care in the hardest-hit areas of Myanmar.

I spoke about some of the practical aspects of patient care and what to expect in the setting of disaster, based on the experience I’d gained from working the clinics earlier in the week.

Dr. Tramonte spoke about how to approach the psychological after-effects of the disaster on people that they’d see.

In some ways, I believe that this may have been one of the most significant reasons why I was supposed to come on this trip, and it’s almost as if my working with the clinics earlier in the week was merely a preparation for this particular talk.

4) Ultimately, to empower and lift up the arms of the national churches and medical personnel who will help the disaster victims of Myanmar.

Finally, none of the work we did was done in a vacuum. At every point, we were partnering with a local church or organization, and functioned to lift up and support the work that they were doing.

One church had recently been gaining momentum, and 2 of the clinics served to enhance their outreach to primarily Buddhist villages.

Another clinic was done at an orphanage, in conjunction with another Christian ministry.

Yet another example was partnering with yet another church to care for the refugees that were being housed in a school.

Our disaster relief team also gave funds directly to reliable people and/or churches that were actively doing disaster relief work in areas that our team could not reach (we knew that they were reliable because we worked with them during the week and saw their previously existing work).

Opposition & Resistance

This was not what you would call a “fun” or “risk-free” missions trip; the government had secret service agents following us and closely scrutinizing everything we were doing, and they closely interrogated some of the people that had helped us or facilitated our entry into the country.

Our hotel rooms were likely bugged, and during one of the clinics, a bunch of official-looking guys with no smiles came to scrutinize what we were doing. I think their main concern was that we might be doing political activity to help undermine their power (which we weren’t); they seemed to be far less concerned about the religious aspects of what we were doing.

It was altogether a very sensitive situation for all who were involved, and we really spent a significant amount of time praying and listening to the Lord regarding what He would have us do and NOT do.

We all had to be wise, so as not to get ourselves arrested or killed. We had excellent leadership and guidance on this trip, though, so we were very thankful for that.

The LORD provided good contacts within Myanmar itself, who gave us excellent wisdom and kept us abreast of all that was going on around us, so that we could make pray strongly and make wise decisions.

We did not have any serious confrontations; however, some of our team members were apparently stopped at various times and questioned pretty closely. I myself had a copy of my passport taken from me as well. It was not very pleasant.

Conclusion

A natural disaster in the shape of a cyclone.

A paranoid government unwilling to let international aid workers in to help, because of its concern that they’d try to impose their political agendas on Myanmar’s government.

A distinct calling on IHI to partner with Christians in Myanmar to help serve, bring hope, and show God’s love to people who are clearly suffering in the wake of a true disaster.

A miracle of an entry into a VERY closed country, where no one else was getting visas.

A chance to serve and support the workers who are in Myanmar, and whom God has been preparing for such a time as this, when perhaps people will be most open to seeing the love and glory of the Lord Jesus through His people.

It is perhaps a new beginning for the people of Myanmar.

One of the pastors said that the cyclone was a horrible thing, but never before have people been more open to the Gospel until after the cyclone…and since many of the foreign relief workers have not been allowed into the country, most of the work that has been done to help the victims of the cyclone have been the Christians and churches in Myanmar.

One of the people on our team had a vision on the last day of the trip: she saw a door that was previously closed, and it cracked open, and light streamed in—at first it was only a sliver, but then it grew and grew, and illuminated the room within.

O let it be that Myanmar will be healed in the wake of disaster, both physically and spiritually!—and may Jesus’ light stream forth INTO Myanmar,…and then once they have seen that Jesus is good, and have embraced Jesus as LORD, that His light would then stream forth OUT of Myanmar and into the world around it.

We are deeply grateful and privileged that God provided us with a chance to serve Him at such a crucial time in the history of Myanmar.

Thank you for your prayers and your support during this missions trip; you have played a very significant part in this endeavor.

May the Lord bless you greatly.

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