As I write this, up to 20,000 people remain stranded in boats along the coast of Myanmar, fighting for survival in the midst of worldwide rejection. The UN has called these people are the most persecuted and unwanted people on earth.
I had planned an article on the local/global missions divide, looking to bring our local community needs to forefront of discussions around "missions" and "development". Ironically I now write to urge you to pay attention to some of my brothers and sisters whom I have never met. I hope and pray that by the time this article graces your screen, these people will still be alive and well.
The story of the Rohingya people
The Rohingya people, a religious and ethnic minority in Western Myanmar are stripped of their human rights, and human dignity. Though they have been in Myanmar for over 800 years, they are denied citizenship and rejected by surrounding nations, including Bangladesh where they are said to have originated from. For the last three years they have been imprisoned in over-crowded camps without access to education, health care and nutritious food.
I wrote about these people nine months ago, after joining a relief visit to where they are held captive. I was struck by the power of mere humanity:
Even though we are surrounded by people every day, humanity is rarely encountered.
Should it be the only way we can truly experience the condition of mere humanity is when we come face to face with people who have nothing but their humanity?
No food, no medicine, no security, no dreams. Just the clothes that cover their naked bodies, lungs that still inhale, a heart that still beats.
When a widow and grieving mother looks at you with piercing brown eyes and begins to weep. When someone grabs your hand and squeezes it, tightly whispering "I am sad". When you watch someone draw their last breath, a life taken too soon.
It is the only way I can begin to describe what I felt when I wandered through the camps exchanging smiles, hugs and tears. It wasn't just about pain, suffering, love or even compassion. It was about entering into the condition of Humanity. Humanity is more, but less, at the same time.
What I saw, what I felt, what I still feel; the groans of mere Humanity. It hurts, its convicts but it also hopes. I hope this feeling never fades away. I hope my heart is always breaking, but always full.
What can we do?
Now, as I read endless stories of heartbreak, these beautiful children of God are stranded at sea with nowhere to call home and no-one to help. I am reminded of their mere humanity once again. The Rohingya people, I pray, have now been rescued from sea, but they are still in grave danger. Indeed, we are witnessing genocide.
But there is hope. As horrible as this situation is, the world is more aware of the Rohingya people than ever before. We now have an opportunity to act, but first, we must change our misinformed perceptions about the "boat people". We must address the misbelief that they are merely economic migrants looking for a way of jumping the queue.
There is no such queue when it comes to life and death. These people are refugees escaping persecution and genocide. It breaks my heart to hear Christians justify their rejection by saying things such as "they are breaking the law", "we can't open our borders to everyone", or "they don't deserve our help". Can I ask you, what is mercy if not undeserved grace bestowed?
Just as He loved the leper, the prostitute, and the tax collector, Jesus loves the boat people. He welcomes them in, offering them a seat at the table. As the Church, we must show mercy to these people:
- We must be informed. Educate yourself on the issues facing the Rohingya people.
- We can then call on our Governments to speak up and to put pressure on an international response to this humanitarian crisis.
- We can pray for justice, peace and comfort for the Rohingya.
- Finally, we can donate to the few who are helping to bring aid and safety to these forgotten boat people.
A prayer for us
Increase, O God, the spirit of neighbourliness among all who dwell on earth, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend one another, and in loneliness befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may be strengthened, until the strife of these days be ended and you give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Please consider donating to www.partnersworld.org.nz who have been sending boats out to those stranded at sea, and whom have been supporting the Rohingya for the last three years, going where others will not dare to go.
Bex Silver is from Auckland, New Zealand and has recently returned from living on the Thai-Burma border working to help people displaced by war. She has a Masters in International Development and is passionate about advocating for social justice through her writing.
Bex Silver's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bex-silver.html