Just as in the case of the tsunami in Indonesia, the horrible facts regarding the destruction from the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma) will take time to come to light. This much is known for sure; the initial estimates of 400 casualties were just the tip of the iceberg. If and when the true magnitude and scope of this disaster ever is known, the death toll could reach well into the tens of thousands and the number of homeless could be in the millions.
It would be very easy for those of us in the “civilized world” to brush aside this tragedy as something reserved for a backwards country, run by a repressive regime and that they more or less “had it coming” to them. After all, if a similar hurricane hit the United States, the damage would be great but the loss of life would be small. “These people should have taken care of themselves” is the temptation to justify a lack of compassion.
It is the government’s responsibility to warn the population of an impending weather related disaster. The problem in a country such as Myanmar is the extreme poverty in which the population lives and thus the lack of modern conveniences such as radios and televisions. How do you warn millions of people of an approaching storm with no means to broadcast instructions to them? How do you move millions of people to safety who don’t own vehicles to get to safety in?
Stories surfaced immediately after this storm struck of people spending their last resources just to buy a candle at a highly inflated price to have any light. It is truly beyond the ability of our “civilized” minds to grasp the idea of spending the last money you own to buy a candle. Of course, it is beyond our ability to conceive that people live in “houses” made of cardboard and survive on a daily diet of perhaps 1000 calories (on a good day).
The United States of America has less than one twentieth of the world’s population but controls the vast majority of the world’s wealth. The standard of living enjoyed by those in the United States and other “civilized” countries is impossible to compare to how the majority of this world lives. Whereas many people in this world barely make enough to stay alive another day, those privileged few who were blessed to be born into and live in the “civilized world” make more in a day than many make in a year.
We can read accounts in the Bible of severe famines caused by droughts and wars. We can read of times when mothers were forced to eat their own children due to lack of any other food. History is full of accounts of pioneers and explorers who died of starvation as they found themselves in hostile environments with no source of food. A fairly current movie chronicled such an account of a troubled young man in Alaska who faced running out of food.
As most of us lug around twenty to one hundred pounds of excess fat, there are literally billions of other humans living on this earth who don’t have one ounce of fat on their bodies. Starvation is one of the cruelest forms of slow death possible. Unless one has seen the people who have turned into literal skin and bones; no one has the right to say when they are hungry “I’m starving to death”. Most of us do not have a clue what it means to really be “starving”.
Unless and until those who have lived the pampered and sheltered lives common to the “civilized world” go to places of extreme poverty and suffering and see for themselves how people are forced to live who have no way to make a living; there is no way a truly compassionate response to a disaster such as the one in Myanmar will ever be mounted. Sure, there will be the typical few hundred millions of humanitarian relief offered, but it will be offered with no genuine sincerity.
I lay out a challenge to any and all who might read this that grew up in middle class America and have never actually seen up close the throes of abject poverty. Next time you have some of your weeks of stored up vacation time come up; instead of using it to go sailing, on a nice cruise, visiting some exotic country full of palm trees and over priced drinks or playing golf everyday; why not volunteer to go to one of the multitude of places just in this country struggling to recover from floods, tornadoes and even the lingering effects of Katrina.
Nothing changes your life, your perspective and your ability to manifest true compassion quicker than having to live with and find ways to help people who had nothing, or have lost everything. When one is forced to look into the eyes of a person who has nothing in this life of any value, then you can finally see the reason Jesus came to this earth to begin with. See, He didn’t come to heal the whole, feed the full or befriend the popular.
Jesus Christ came to heal the brokenhearted, to set the captives free and to bind up the wounds of the broken. Those who glory in their own self-sufficiency do not need a Savior. But those who have nothing and mean nothing to this world desperately need the love and compassion only our Savior can bring. When one reads the account at the end of Matthew 25 there is no question as to what the proper response SHOULD be by a Christian when confronted by human suffering. Please Respond with Love.