Addicts in Burma Seize Chance at New Life

January 26, 2017

Former addicts worship at a recovery center in western Burma.
Former addicts to alcohol and drugs worship at a recovery center in western Burma.

An alcohol addict with an infant daughter in Burma (also called Myanmar) had such mental problems when he was brought to a recovery center that he spent the first three nights shouting in anguish.

The young man, 25-year-old Ceuva, kept imagining that his wife was calling him, said an indigenous missionary who directs the recovery center in the western Burma town of Kalaymyo.

"When he entered, he didn't know where he was," the director said. "For three nights we were not sleeping. We just caught hold of him, saying, 'No, nobody's calling you, just calm down. We'll pray for you, and the Lord will heal you.'"

After three days his mind cleared, and team members told him about Jesus, said the director, whose name is withheld for security reasons.

"After one week he recovered, and he became a real Christian – he accepted the Lord as his personal Savior," he said. "He said, I will not leave here, I will become one of the volunteer workers here."

A few weeks later, tragedy struck. His wife was hospitalized with a heart ailment, and after three days, on Dec. 8, she died. The man who had been addicted to alcohol since childhood – his father died when he was 4 years old – has suffered much from the loss but has remained sober. The indigenous ministry, which runs two addiction recovery centers, also operates a children's home, where team members are caring for Ceuva's 4-month-old daughter.

The need for such centers in Burma is acute. The Myanmar Ministry of Health last year reported there are an estimated 83,000 injecting drug users in the country, and alcoholism is rampant. The number of people arriving at the indigenous ministry's recovery center in Kalaymyo with addictions to alcohol, heroin and cocaine has swollen so much that a second facility was constructed in October.

At one center, 30 people out of 100 treated have recovered from addiction. At the other, a residential facility, 20 of the 40 people have recovered, the ministry director said. The centers have only one paid staff member, with the rest serving as volunteers.

"Some staff members are recoverees from alcohol and heroin," the director said. "They are already experienced, and they want to help their friends."

As state addiction programs tend to take a harsh attitude toward drug addicts, the director saw a need for a more holistic approach.

"Some addiction centers, they just throw them in there and hit them with chains," he said. "When we opened ours, many people came, and the Lord changed their hearts."

Partially built recovery center in Myanmar.
An overflow of addicts at one recovery center led to construction of a second facility.

Alcoholics stay at the centers for at least six months of learning the Word of God, he said. Those with addictions to other substances are asked to stay for at least a year; if they leave earlier, they tend to continue their addiction.

"We teach them salvation, and after that how to pray, how to walk in their Christian life, and we have step-by-step program," the director said. "We want them to be mature Christians at the center."

Team members offer former addicts skills training, such as carpentry, so that they can support themselves and integrate back into society. They also help recovered addicts to realize their spiritual gifting.

"Some of those who have recovered want to become missionaries, and we send them to the missions field," he said. "Others want to be preachers, and so we send them to churches to do that or whatever they can."

The director of the ministry, whose primary focus is church planting in areas throughout Burma, began the addiction recovery centers after seeing needs firsthand.

"I was not addicted," he said, "but the Lord put it on my heart, and one day some people came to me and said, 'Are you a pastor? Please pray for me, I'm addicted and I want to get out from it.'"

The director prayed, and people with addictions continued to come across his path.

"Another time someone came and said, 'Is this the pastor's house? I'm hungry, I haven't had anything and need food,' and we allowed them to come and live with us," he said. "So many times I found that they were addicted, so I thought the Lord wants me to take care of them. So God led me to do so – actually it was not my choice, but the Lord put it on my heart."

The ministry would like to consolidate the two recovery centers into one large one that would serve 200 to 400 addicts, with capacity to accommodate their children as well. Many addicts have asked if their children can live with them at the recovery center, and the director has had to decline for lack of space, he said.

A new facility to be constructed would include a worship center and living quarters for the addicts. Given the stigma attached to addiction in Burma, the parents of many young addicts do not allow them to live at home, the director said. He estimates construction of a new center would cost $20,000, and that land to build on would cost more than three times that amount.

"We assume that God's working through the ministry, and we have big vision," he said. "Those that have gone back home, as far as I know they're helping their families and doing whatever they can. Some become pastors, so we send them to Bible school. Some want to become missionaries, so we send them to a six-month missions training center. There are two former addicts there now."

To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 715MFM. Thank you!