As Restrictions Increase in Burma, Poor Workers Grow Desperate for Food

Burma (Myanmar) has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 disease in the world, but its cases are said to be vastly under-reported, and the country’s poor are especially hard-hit by outbreaks – and the measures to contain them.

Since the nearly 88-percent Buddhist country acknowledged its first case of COVID-19 on March 23, national and regional government agencies have ordered lockdowns of buildings and streets with confirmed cases, stay-at-home measures and restrictions on travel, according to an online magazine devoted to Asian regions, The Diplomat.

While social-distancing measures became increasingly stringent in April, essential shops and markets remained open, and restaurants and food stalls could sell takeout orders. The closure of all factories in one area, however, left a local ministry’s impoverished congregation wondering how they would survive, its director said.

“Our church people are very poor, hand-to-mouth people – they have nothing to eat now,” the ministry leader said. “From the church offering, we purchased rice bags, cooking oil and beans, and we distributed as much as we could. But that will help them only about two weeks. After one more week, how will they survive?”

The livelihoods of over 30 million people are at risk of a triple whammy from job losses, lockdown and the lack of sufficient safety nets to fall back upon.

Such scenarios are taking place in many places throughout a country where 24.8 percent of the people are poor and nearly 33 percent on the verge of dropping below the poverty line due to such unexpected shocks, according to The Diplomat.

“‘Oh, God, take care of your people for our daily bread,’ this is our prayer,” the ministry director said. “May I invite you to pray with us for these kind of people in our ministry fields in Myanmar.”

Vulnerable People

In early May, Burma reported just 185 cases of novel coronavirus infection with six fatalities, figures considered wildly undercounted considering the country’s growing position as an international travel hub, including visitors to and from China.

About 23 percent of the population has at least one chronic illness that puts them at greater risk if infected by the new coronavirus, The Diplomat reported. Even with increased health protections in social programs since Burma’s 2010 reforms, it noted, 83 percent of the country’s 24 million workers are in the informal sector of jobs such as street vendors or day-laborers, which falls outside the social safety net.

About 62 percent of Burma’s people are estimated to have no savings, the outlet reported.

“This means that the livelihoods of over 30 million people are at risk of a triple whammy from broader economic trends (e.g. job losses in the garment and tourism sectors); lockdown-specific logistics such as getting adequate food and sanitation supplies; and the lack of sufficient safety nets to fall back upon,” it stated.

Most government help goes to the ethnic Bamar-majority in the area of Yangon, the country’s capital, according to Foreign Policy magazine. Consequently, local Christian ministries in outlying areas are in prime position to distribute food aid to the most needy – where allowed, and with the necessary precautions.

Physical and Spiritual Provision

Workers provide such aid in Christ’s name. While local ministries have decades of experience in distributing aid and developing communities, their workers are profoundly gospel-driven.

Asserting that God alone, not any one preacher, draws people to Christ, local evangelists are eager to proclaim the gospel in a country where 90 percent of the people worship idols, the leader of another native ministry said.

“We approached the village authority for permission to share the gospel,” he said of a March 22-23 outreach in a 100-percent Buddhist area. “No Christian was there. It was miraculous for us that the village authority allowed us to use the village hall for the evangelistic camp. He made no opposition to us.”

Cutting the planned four-day outreach to two days due to impending coronavirus restrictions, workers shared the gospel with 70 adults and 15 children for two full days, he said.

“We provided food, Bibles, notebooks, ballpoint pens and some other literature,” the leader said. “Though the time was short, God was at work, and many people professed that they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.”

Previously, before lockdowns became stringent and widespread, workers on March 18-22 held an evangelistic camp at another village in teachings for groupings of adults, youths, children 8 to 13 and kids younger than 8, he said.

“Every day, attendance was 45-50 adults, 24 youths, 65 to 70 children 8-13 years old and 30 to 40 of the younger children,” he said. “We had gospel meetings at 7 p.m. every evening. By the grace of God, around 30 adults and 18 young people come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The children also professed that they accept Jesus Christ as their own personal Savior and Lord.”

Ministry leaders are hoping lockdowns and travel restrictions phase out soon so they can continue providing food, Bibles and the gospel to the physically and spiritually needy. Please consider a donation today to help them prepare to meet overwhelming needs.

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