Friday, May 23, 2008

A New Look For a Friend in Mission

Visitors to Brett and Shelley's blog, Welcome to the Jungle, are now greeted by a colorful photo that's as big as a ... well, see for yourself. It is also an enduring symbol of the country where these Americans are living, working and blogging.

Brett and Shelley are mission co-workers living in Chiang Mai, Thailand as HIV/AIDS regional consultants. Brett is a nurse and amateur photographer. Shelly, a literacy specialist and ESL teacher. They are joined in mission by their two wonderful children, Acacia and Annapurna.We had a chance to meet Brett and Shelly in February, when our mission team was invited to join a gathering at the home of Reverend Dr. William J. Yoder, Dean Emeritus of the McGilvray College of Divinity in Chiang Mai, for dinner and fellowship with men and women, young and old, who have devoted years of their lives to education and Christian mission in Thailand.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Prayer Request

For the Cyclone Victims in Burma:
A Call to Prayer by Shaune Vincent

“When the waves of death surrounded me, the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears.”

2 Samuel 22:7

On May 2nd, Cyclone Nargis slammed into the Irrawaddy Delta region in Burma's south, bringing with it winds of 190km/hr, torrential rain, and a devastating 3.5m storm surge which swept through the low lying delta region. In the aftermath of the storm, Burma has been left with devastation not seen in the country in living memory. Homes have been flattened, over one hundred thousand people killed, and those who remain are in a desperate situation and in need of emergency relief supplies - food, shelter, medicine and clean water.

As you know, the cyclone has killed an estimated 100,000 people, and displaced over 1.5 million. Worse than the cyclone is the response of the Burma government who continues to refuse help from disaster relief experts, and slowed down, blocked, and even confiscated aid that has been sent in to help. These actions are compounding the horrors for the people affected by the cyclone.

Many of us feel our hands are tied, and there is little we can do. But we have the greatest weapon known to mankind – we have the sword of the Spirit and the power of prayer in Jesus’ name.

Many of you have asked what you can do, so Partners is sending out a Call to Prayer. Stand in the gap for the cyclone victims by interceding in the following areas:

· We are commanded to pray for our enemies, and those who persecute and hurt us. Pray for the Burma military regime who has demonstrated tremendous inhumanity in delaying, rejecting, and blocking relief aid to the victims, especially in the delta area. Pray for their hard hearts to soften and show favor for their suffering people.
· Pray for an abundance of clean water, shelter, and food provision.
· Pray for the outbreak of disease that has already began due to the blocking of relief. There has already been an increase in malaria and water born diseases reported.
· Pray for wisdom in how to get relief supplies to the most desperate places in the delta.
· Pray for the network of relief workers who are risking their lives helping the cyclone victims. The risk is the Burma junta who does not want them to help.
· Pray for God to comfort those who survived, who have lost loved ones, and everything they own. Pray for those who sit and wait for help to come. Pray for open doors before more sorrow and death compound an already tragic situation.
· God is able to bring about something good what the enemy intended for evil. Pray that the Kingdom of God would shine, and that many would find hope in Jesus Christ.
· Pray for us who wish we could be in Burma to help. Pray that we would be a light for Christ, demonstrating His great love in word and action.

For more information, or to donate to the cyclone relief, go to

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Burma Cyclone Relief: Update

We received the following from one of our Friends In Mission in Thailand, Partners Relief & Development, regarding relief efforts for those struck by the devastating cyclone in Burma. Please read it, and please give thoughtful, prayerful consideration to helping Steve and the people at Partners.

We are now beginning to receive first-hand accounts of the horror Cyclone Nargis wrought in Burma. On May 11th the only survivors from a village in the delta area came to seek refuge at a church in Rangoon. According to witnesses, this 2000 household village had only 170 survivors accounted for. This is their story...

At about 5:30 pm on Friday the 2nd of May, the cyclone arrived at their village tearing down every house and bringing a flood of water up the river. The water quickly rose to as high as 12 feet so that the people had to climb trees in order not to drown. Several people faced another great danger in the trees, namely cobra snakes who also sought refuge from the water. Many died from snake bites and fell into the water below, others couldn't hold on as the hours passed by and also became victims to the water. Those strong enough to hold on helplessly watched the weaker children and the elderly drown in the water below. Most of the survivors were young, strong men.

A 70-year-old lady was the oldest survivor together with her husband. She clung to a bamboo tree for 7 hours before the water started going down again. Her arms were badly bruised from the fight of her life. After the water went down she was reunited with her husband who had been sharing his refuge in a tree with a cat, a dog, a rat and a poisonous snake that miraculously didn't bite any of them. He shared how whole families had been wiped out, including their pastor, his wife and children.

The youngest survivor was a baby only 3 months old (see photo). The mother managed to hang on to both her baby and a tree while waiting out the storm which ceased at about 9:30 pm. It still took many hours for the water to recede enough for them to stand on the ground.

Those who survived tried seeking refuge at an army camp and a monastery, but were turned away because they are Christians. A church then brought them to Rangoon by car, and they are now in the care of a church in the city. They now have rice, medicine and something to sleep on. While the team was handing out rice, another group of 70 people arrived from another village that was wiped out and another 70 more are on the way.

The trauma is written on their faces as they share. It will take much longer to heal than their bruised bodies.

Another team sponsored by Partners has just reported back that they were able to find 2,700 people in need of help, re-locate them to a church in another city and provide food and water for them for the next month. Many of these people are now orphans or unaccompanied children who have now been placed in orphanages and homes sponsored by our close contacts on the ground.

Right now more than 120 nationals supported by Partners are in the delta region, bringing hope to tens-of-thousands of people who have been intentionally neglected by their own government.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg regarding what is really happening on the ground in the delta region of Burma. While the junta says things like, "We have already finished our first phase of emergency relief. We are going onto the second phase, the rebuilding stage," we know better. People are hungry and thirsty. Many are now dying due to a lack of action. We have already learned that outrage isn't enough. Hand-wringing isn't enough. It is time for action.

donate online today so that Partners can continue to take action by securing the needed supplies and funds to rescue these precious people.

Craig Garrison
Partners Thailand

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Issues on the Big Screen

Try to imagine what kind of person devotes a part of his or her life to relieving oppressed peoples on the far side of the planet ..... did Sylvester Stallone come to mind? He should.

"A week after 'Rambo' made a nearly #1 box office debut, movie star Sylvester Stallone says he wants to go to Burma to address human rights violations," Nathan Black wrote earlier this year, in
this report for the Christian Today website. "The 61-year-old actor, who stars in, directed and co-wrote the movie, said he hopes the film provokes confrontation and said he is willing to travel to Burma to confront ruling military officials."

While the film received lukewarm reviews from critics, it was hailed by many who have first-hand knowledge of the atrocities going on in Burma ..... a situation that was desperate even before Cyclone Nargis slammed into the country earlier this month. Our mission team was in Thailand in February, just as the film was being released around the world, and many we spoke to looked forward to a chance to see it in the theaters.

Now, we all will have a chance to see it again as the film makes its way to DVD. Be advised, the film is rated R, due in large part to the graphic violence that is one of the hallmarks of the "Rambo" series.

In "
Rambo," Vietnam War veteran John Rambo spends his retirement in northern Thailand where he's running a boating service. On the nearby Thai-Burma border, the Burmese-Karen conflict rages into its 60th year. A pastor enlists his help when Christian missionaries are kidnapped by Burmese soldiers in the Karen state.

The film has already proved to be a rallying point for many to decry the ruling junta. Today, Karen civilians are appealing to the world for assistance, warning that if the Burma Army is not stopped, they will soon cease to exist.

Much of the population of northern Karen State is displaced with thousands of civilians hiding close to their old villages and thousands more fleeing to the Thai-Burma border, according to
Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian aid organisation working in the conflict zones of eastern Burma. These include the people of Mae La Refugee Camp, that our Thailand Mission team visited in February.

Their plight touched Stallone deeply ..... and he himself got a sense of the threats the Karen and other oppressed peoples face in Burma. He said that he received multiple death threats while filming in Thailand for “Rambo.”

“I got them [death threats] all the time. It’s a very dangerous part of the world,” said the 61-year-old Hollywood action star while at the film’s UK premiere in London, according to The Guardian newspaper. “A lot of people just disappear. They just didn't want this film to be made, it’s an insidious civil war that has gone on for sixty years and no one knows about it because they've been keeping it quiet.”

Christian NewsWire reports that, "in the early stages of the script's development, Stallone consulted with Soldiers of Fortune magazine and asked one crucial question: where is the one place on earth where the worst atrocities are taking place and getting the least amount of attention? The answer was Burma."

He knows it, the oppressed peoples and the oppressed churches of Burma know it, the relief workers of southeast Asia know it ..... and now, thanks to this film, and to the ongoing coverage Burma in the wake of the deadly cyclone, we can all know it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Century of Faith and Healing

A few months back, we noted in this post that, according to the 2008 World Fact Book prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, Buddhists comprise 94.6% of Thailand's religious population, while Muslims account for 4.6%, and Christians account for 0.7% (2000 census).
CLICK HERE for the CIA's complete entry on Thailand.
CLICK HERE for the CIA's complete 'People' entry on demographics in Thailand.

But that has changed. While we were in Thailand, in February, we learned from Reverend Dr. William J. Yoder, Dean Emeritus of McGilvary College of Divinity (part of Payap University in Chiang Mai) that the most recent numbers - just being released at that time, showed that Christians now account for about 2% of the country's religious population. And that varies from region to region. Some estimates say Christians may account for as much as 15% of the local religious population in the Chiang Mai area of northern Thailand. McGilvary could be one reason for that ...

... and McKean Rehabilitation Institute, also of Chiang Mai, could be another reason. Founded in 1908 by a Presbyterian missionary, Dr. James McKean, as the first asylum for leprosy sufferers in southeast Asia, this center developed over the years through various stages. From a leprosy colony it became a leprosy hospital, and later a leprosy rehabilitation center. Now McKean is a general rehabilitation center integrating leprosy patients and people physically disabled from other causes in its therapy rooms, wards and rehabilitation projects, including the community-based projects outside the center.

According to McKean's
website, "In 1908 the only way to reach Chiang Mai was either by an arduous river journey up the Chayo Phrae and Ping rivers from Bangkok, or an equally arduous overland journey on elephants or ponies. In good times this trip took nearly two months. In bad times it took much longer. The population suffered from malaria, malnutrition, typhoid, epidemics of small-pox, and of course the ever present scourge of leprosy."

The facility recently marked a century of faith and healing in Thailand, and is actively working for the next century.
Presbyterian Church USA reports that, through the community-based rehabilitation team, McKean is facilitating disabled people in their home areas to improve their situations physically, economically and socially. This team also continues to help people affected by leprosy to live healthily and productively in their own home areas. At the north end of the property McKean provides Buraphaniwet Village for the elderly disabled people who have no homes or families. About 50 people live in small cottages. Another 50 who are blind, infirm and very disabled need total care in two hostels. Chaplains minister in each area of McKean and there are churches established in the hospital area and in Buraphaniwet village.

Here is another report on McKean from Brett and Shelly at Welcome to the Jungle.

One way that McKean pays for its operation is through the sale of handcrafts produced by patients/residents (you have been enjoying photos of these crafts while you were reading this post). One of their wooden crosses now adorns a wall at
First Presbyterian Church-Midland, and other samples of their work grace the homes of some of our team members. Those wishing to find out more about supporting McKean and its mission through craft purchases can e-mail Heather at McKean Rehabilitation Center, in Thailand. Of course, regular contributions are also welcome, as are your prayers for their continued success in bringing healing hands and words to those in need.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Addition to Our Bookshelves

On a brief visit home to the United States, Steve Gumaer came to Midland bearing an important message ..... and bearing gifts, too.

A copy of "
Eternity in Their Hearts," a book by Don Richardson, is being added to the library shelves at First Presbyterian Church of Midland, in celebration of the First Thailand Mission Team, 2008. Steve Gumaer, co-founder of Partners Relief & Development, recently appeared in the Tall City as part of a speaking tour of the western United States. The visit also provided him a chance to catch-up with many of our team members who had met him earlier this year, during our mission in Thailand - and to present them with copies of Richardson's book.

Subtitled, "Startling Evidence of Belief in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Throughout the World." the book offers compelling stories of how missionaries spread the Word to the far corners of the globe ..... only to find that the Word, somehow, had preceded them.

"The year is 1795, and deep in Burma's jungle hundreds of tribesmen rush to greet a light-skinned stranger. Is he bringing the book their forefathers lost centuries ago---the book that tells about Y'Wa, the Supreme God?" With this and other case studies from around the world, Richardson shows how God has prepared the way for the gospel by setting, as Ecclesiastes said he would. ''eternity in the hearts of men.'

The pages devoted to Burma were of special interest to our mission team. While on the Thailand/Burma (Myanmar) border we worked and prayed with many refugees from that troubled country. They were Karen, the descendants of those who greeted American Baptist missionary Adoniram Judson, and heard the Word from Ko Thah-byu, "The Karen Apostle." More than 200 years later, when we worshipped with the Karen, whether it was in a migrant workers' village or a refugee camp, it was in a sanctuary of the Karen Baptist Church.

Steve has long since returned to Thailand, where his group is part of relief efforts for those struck by
the devastating cyclone in Burma. Please give thoughtful, prayerful consideration to helping Steve and the people at Partners in those efforts.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Burma Cyclone Relief: Update

We received the following Tuesday from one of our Friends In Mission in Thailand, Partners Relief & Development, regarding relief efforts for those struck by the devastating cyclone in Burma. Please read it, and please give thoughtful, prayerful consideration to helping Steve and the people at Partners.

This afternoon our first shipment of food and shelter materials reached Rangoon. That means that 7 tons of rice and enough plastic sheeting to get 100 households under shelter from the monsoon rains will be distributed. In light of the need, this is a small drop in an ocean of suffering. But in light of the complications, the regimes blockades, and the inability of the world's governments to negotiate with the generals of Burma, it represents a miracle.

Another miracle happened today. One of our staff members was granted a visa to join the efforts in Rangoon. She is a trained tropical medicine practitioner who will join with our local partners in Rangoon to get aid through to those in desperate need. Praise God.

Staff Member Chris Dolan wrote the following article today. I hope that it moves you as it did me. More than anything else, I want to thank you for your prayers, your financial support, and for the encouragement so many of you have sent along to us as we struggle to make God's compassion a physical reality in Burma.

By Grace,
Steve Gumaer
Director, Partners Relief & Development

Swept Away
By Chris Dolan
Partners Team Coordinator and Development Specialist

Imagine seeing the ones you care most for in the world gradually tire, sink lower into the water and eventually lose the strength to hold on and be swept away. Envision in your mind's eye for a moment, watching your child's lungs fill with dirty, salty water and not being able to do anything to help. To add insult to injury, you have been cut off from the rest of the country (and the world, for that matter) by your own government, and forced to wait as food supplies get shorter, water more scarce, and the stench of decay stronger.

We received a report yesterday about a man just like this, who hung on to a tree in the floodwaters and watched helplessly as his wife and children were swept away.

On May 2, Burma, a country mired in poverty, oppression, and corruption, ruled by a brutal military regime, was hit by a Category 4 cyclone (hurricane) with winds of over 130 mph in it's Irrawaddy delta region, the country's rice bowl. Cyclone Nargis ravaged this farming region, and the devastation has been compounded by the slow, inefficient, and negligent response of the military regime. Local NGOs on the ground in Rangoon are reporting numbers now of over 150,000 dead, with the toll from disease and unrest rising higher and higher every day.

Soon after the cyclone hit, Partners was already sending in relief supplies, funds and communications equipment for the initial response. Since then, we have sent in tens of thousands of dollars donated by generous people like you and we have received substantiated reports that desperately needed food, shelter, water, and medicine have been purchased and distributed to those in the greatest need. However, the situation is getting worse as the Burmese government stonewalls while their people continue to suffer and die.

Please consider helping us help the people of Burma directly by donating today through our secure online donation site. As you are well aware, the situation is urgent and Partners has set up networks in both the delta region and Rangoon to provide immediate relief items. We need your help in order to see this through.

For every single story we receive, there are 200 more that never reach the light of day. For every survivor, there are 20 more who didn't survive. Visit our Partners blog for regular updates on what is happening on the ground and Partners ongoing response to this tragedy.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Legacy of Pentecost

Today was Pentecost Sunday. Our worship at First Presbyterian Church of Midland included the following Scripture ...

"... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8 (NIV)

Also ...

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." Acts 2:1-4 (NIV)

Pentecost is a special day for Christian missioners. It is a reminder for all of us who seek to follow, as best we can, in the huge footsteps left by those who set out from Jerusalem after that very first Pentecost, and spoke in other tongues, as witnesses of Jesus Christ. It is up to us to maintain and 'grow' the legacy of Pentecost.

Missioners from West Texas have done just that, and are continuing to do that ..... in English, both here and overseas; in Spanish - again, here and overseas; Ugandan, Lugandan, Swahili, Thai, Burmese, Karen, Chin ... and so many more.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Cause for Hope and Joy

It also provides a wonderful opportunity to introduce you to another of our Friends In Mission in Thailand. Welcome to the Jungle is a weblog maintained by Brett and Shelly, mission co-workers living in Chiang Mai Thailand as HIV/AIDS regional consultants. Brett is a nurse and amateur photographer. Shelly, a literacy specialist and ESL teacher. They are joined in mission by their two wonderful children, Acacia and Annapurna.

We had a chance to meet Brett and Shelly in February,
when our mission team was invited to join a gathering at the home of Reverend Dr. William J. Yoder, Dean Emeritus of the McGilvray College of Divinity in Chiang Mai, for dinner and fellowship with men and women, young and old, who have devoted years of their lives to education and Christian mission in Thailand.

Which brings us to
this post by Brett and Shelly about a wedding they attended for Jeem, their friend and helper. Jeem is from the Karen tribe, which is one of the many 'Hill Tribes' that occupy northern Thailand and eastern Burma. Jeem and her new husband Somchai were dressed in traditional Karen wedding attire, and photos of the event provide a wonderful and especially colorful look at the people who have become an indelible part of our lives since our mission to Thailand. A majority of the Karen are Christian and provided us many places and opportunities for service, prayer, fellowship and worship while we were there.

Best wishes, and prayers of hope and joy for Jeem and Somchai, for Brett and Shelly, and for so many others committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ in southeast Asia.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Prayer Requests: Back to School

As the school year comes to an end here, in West Texas, it's just getting started in Thailand. The Askren family, house parents for the Mae Kha Chan Children's Home, one of our Friends In Mission, has sent the following prayer request ...

"Right now the kids are at a Bible camp for a week. The new school year starts in the middle of May so there are TONS of things that have to be taken care of before then. Please keep the children and the staff in your prayers. We're asking for wisdom and discernment as they work on next year's budget as well as God's direction and provision."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Burma Cyclone Relief: Update

We received the following Wednesday from one of our Friends In Mission in Thailand, Partners Relief & Development, regarding relief efforts for those struck by the devastating cyclone in Burma. Please read it, and please give thoughtful, prayerful consideration to helping Steve and the people at Partners.

On Friday May 2nd, cyclone Nargis crushed the southern delta region of Burma. The winds flattened homes, displacing as many as 1 million people and immediately killing more than 22,980 people. Every time I check the news that number increases. The victims of this disaster need your help now.

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2: 14-17)

Imagine how you would feel if you were one of the survivors. Shari Villarosa, charge d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in Burma, said, "The information that we're receiving indicates that there may well be over 100,000 deaths in the delta area." For them the story is over. But the men, women, and children of southern Burma who lost their homes, livelihood, and in many cases, their loved ones, need help now. With just $80.00 we can feed and provide temporary shelter for a family of five for one month!

Our attempts to go into the disaster area have been frustrated by a regime that has no regard for their own population. They have rejected our visa applications and have denied the world's aid organizations access to the people who suffer. In fact, they appear to be deliberately keeping aid efforts from the victims in order to further weaken the largely Karen and Mon populations the cyclone ravaged. Does this make you mad? Knowing the cyclone was approaching, they didn't even warn the population of the danger. It's unjust, and it makes me angry.

In spite of the regime's blockades, we have partnered with our coworkers in the delta region. Tonight a truck loaded with supplies including 7 tons of rice and grain along with 100 rolls of plastic to serve as temporary shelter will make the overland trip to Rangoon for distribution. We are also arranging the delivery of water purification systems, medical aid, and people to be on the ground as ministers of love and healing.

We are able to get supplies into the Delta area, and coworkers to oversee distribution, but we need funds to keep the artery of relief functioning. It is my hope that you will join with us during this crisis to keep this lifeline of aid alive. Please pray and if you can, please donate now and help the people of Burma today.

Thank you for standing with us to help save the lives of suffering people and demonstrate God's love to the victims of this disaster. You are a crucial link in making history today for God's kingdom and the people of Burma.

Pressing On,
Steve Gumaer, Director
Partners Relief & Development

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pray for the People of Burma

YANGON, MYANMAR (BURMA) - The cyclone death toll soared above 22,000 and more than 41,000 others were missing as the international community prepared to rush in aid after Asia's deadliest storm since 1991, state radio reported. Up to 1-million people may be homeless. The complete report - plus related stories, photos and video - can be found HERE, on

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An Addition to Our Bookshelves

A copy of "Displaced Reflections," a new book by Oddny Gumaer, is being added to the library shelves at First Presbyterian Church of Midland, in celebration of the First Thailand Mission Team, 2008. Oddny Gumaer is co-founder of Partners Relief & Development with her husband, Steve, who recently appeared in the Tall City as part of a speaking tour of the western United States.

Open this book - we are told - and meet the peoples of Burma. They are beaten, displaced and victimized by their own government. Yet they are beautiful, full of grit and humor, and deeply rooted in a rich history of faith. In this book of photos and reflections, Oddny Gumaer and Brent Madison do more than tell stories. They open a door for us to live in the shoes of people who define what it means to demonstrate grace under pressure.

You can visit the Partners Store
HERE to order your own copy of "Displaced Reflections" online.