Myanmar’s Cyclone Victims Found Relief
ON May 2, 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar with devastating force and quickly became international headline news.* Almost 140,000 people were reported dead or missing after a massive storm surge engulfed the Irrawaddy Delta region.
Amazingly, of the many Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area, none were harmed. To a large degree, they survived because they sought refuge in their well-constructed Kingdom Halls. In one place, 20 Witnesses and 80 other villagers sat perched on the roof of the Kingdom Hall for nine hours as the floodwaters rose 15 feet. All of them survived. Sadly, 300 others in that village perished. In many villages, the Kingdom Hall was the only building left standing.
Two days after the cyclone, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Yangon dispatched a relief team to the congregation in Bothingone, at the mouth of the delta. Traveling through devastated terrain, evading looters, and passing by decaying bodies of the dead, the team reached Bothingone with supplies of rice, dried noodles, water, and candles. They were the first relief team to reach the area. After giving the relief supplies to the local Witnesses, the team gave Bible talks to encourage them and left Bibles and Bible literature with them, since all their belongings had been swept away in the cyclone.
The attitude of the Witnesses affected by the cyclone was truly outstanding. One from a congregation in the devastated Irrawaddy region said: “Everything we had is gone. All our houses are destroyed. All our crops are gone. All the drinking water is spoiled because of the flood. However, the brothers and sisters are not as worried as others are. They trust in Jehovah and his organization. We will follow any direction we receive whether we stay in the village or go somewhere else.”
A group of 30 Witnesses, who also lost everything, joyfully sang Kingdom songs on their ten-hour journey to the place where the relief teams had food, clothing, and shelter for them. Before reaching their destination, they heard that a circuit assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses was being held in a nearby town. They decided to attend the assembly first in order to receive spiritual food and enjoy Christian association.
Throughout the area hit by the cyclone, 35 houses of the Witnesses were destroyed, 125 of their homes were partially damaged, and 8 Kingdom Halls received minor damage. Thankfully, the branch facilities were not seriously affected.
Initially, the cyclone left the branch office completely cut off because large trees had fallen and blocked the roads nearby. Just a few hours after the storm subsided, more than 30 members of the branch staff joined in clearing the trees by hand. As they worked, people stood by simply amazed. Within a short time, a group of Witness women arrived with cold drinks and fresh fruit for the workers as well as for the neighbors, who could not believe what they were seeing. When a journalist observed what was happening, he asked, “Who are these people who are working so efficiently?” After being told, he remarked, “I wish more people showed such true community spirit as Jehovah’s Witnesses do!”
The Witnesses quickly established two disaster relief committees in separate parts of the country to coordinate the relief work. Hundreds of volunteers worked on the relief teams. Within a few days, new houses were built for Witnesses who had lost their homes. When one of the relief teams arrived to build a new house for a Witness, her neighbors simply stared in disbelief. One neighbor said: “This Witness woman is having her house rebuilt by her church. None of my Buddhist friends came to help me. I should have become a Witness when she preached to me!”
When construction workers and the relief committee inspected a house in Thanlyn that had been all but destroyed, they were deeply moved when the Witness family told them: “Nothing has happened. Our house is fine. We can live here—no problem! Some Witnesses don’t even have a house. Go and help them!”
In one area of Yangon, some people tried to take shelter in one of the local churches. However, the church door had been locked and no one could get in. People got very upset and wanted to break down the church door. By contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses helped many people find refuge in the Kingdom Halls during the cyclone. For example, at the Kingdom Hall in Dala, a Witness couple took in 20 distraught neighbors who had fled there for safety. In the morning, those families had no homes to return to, and they were hungry. The husband found someone selling rice and bought enough to feed all the people.
Some members of one family in Yangon are Jehovah’s Witnesses, while others attend various churches. After the cyclone, the whole family came to the meeting at the Kingdom Hall. Why? A family member explained: “Our church said they would come and visit us after the storm, but they never came. Only the Witnesses came. You gave us rice and water. You are not the same as the other churches!” The non-Witness family members enjoyed the discussion of the Watchtower article “Jehovah Hears Our Cries for Help” and even offered many comments.
One lady who was studying the Bible with the Witnesses came to the congregation meeting the week after the cyclone. During the meeting, a letter from the branch office was read, explaining what had been done to help and relating experiences of those who had survived the cyclone. As the letter was being read, the lady started to cry. She was so impressed and happy to hear that all the Witnesses were accounted for and well. Afterward, she was given some relief goods and a tent was put up for her next to her house. She said she felt that the Witnesses had really taken good care of her.
Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) And the disciple James emphasized that true faith is accompanied by good deeds. (James 2:14-17) Jehovah’s Witnesses take those words to heart and endeavor to show such love by helping and supporting those in need.
The Encyclopædia Britannica explains: “In the Atlantic and Caribbean regions, tropical cyclones are commonly called hurricanes, while in the western Pacific and China Sea the term typhoon is applied.”
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The Bible says that true faith is accompanied by good deeds