Eugene Cho

an insider’s look at burma

Don’t forget the situation in Burma [Myanmar].  I got this incredible “insider’s look” from Teresa who received this from friends who are working within Burma.  Teresa and her husband, Rich, have been at Quest for about four years now and single handedly made us a multi-generational church when they joined us.  🙂  Like numerous at Quest, their faith in Christ and desire to live out the Gospel not only humbles me but helps shape the depth and direction of our church.  

She [finally] started a blog entitled Jewels in the Ashes.  Rich and Teresa and actively serve on the board of directors at World Aid based here in Seattle.  World Aid focuses much of their energy and work serving and empowering the Internally Displaced People [IDP] in Burma and refugees in the Thai/Burma border.  If you’re looking for someone trustworthy to donate money towards the relief efforts in Burma, Teresa and World Aid will get those funds where they need to get to.

Do yourself a favor and take 3 minutes to read this and invite others:

To many people who have come to know me over the years I’m a walking conundrum; alternately the ultimate cynic – relentlessly pointing out that as a species we haven’t managed to evolve over the last 5,000 years and are probably not worth saving, to the hopeless optimist – willing to put everything on the line to prove that a few good people can change the world.  Oddly, I think it’s this split personality that helps me function in Burma.


In the most of the world, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line; in Burma this could not be further from the truth.  What’s occurring right now in Burma cannot be understood by using conventional wisdom as Burma has never been a part of convention.  Burma lives in a world of it own.


As westerners we want western solutions for Burma.  We want planes to fly in supplies to save people who we know could be saved.  We live in a world where we can replace bad hearts with good hearts, clone organs, and do bone marrow transplants.  We think putting men on the moon is old school.  Flying in a plane load of life saving supplies should be child’s play. 


In Burma making a phone call is difficult.  Only seven percent of the country’s 52 million people have electricity.  For Burma’s excessively paranoid generals we might just as well ask them if we can fly in a plane load of anthrax as one of aid.  To them, this act might save lives but it would poison the culture, and while it may be a culture of fear and defeat, they unfortunately see it as their culture to defend.


To make a difference in Burma we have no choice but to deal with what is, not what we as westerners think should be.  I detest the current regime.  I can’t for the life of me comprehend their cruelty.  This is the side of humanity that makes me want to throw up my hands in utter despair and quit, but I can’t because quitting is what allows governments like this to continue.

I am so proud right now to be working with a group of people who haven’t quit Burma.  A group that spans the globe, a group that is organizing in the face of utter despair and effectively getting help to cyclone victims in ways that could get many of them arrested if they were ever found out.


What is in Burma is that international aid is failing; goods sent in to help disaster victims are being co-opted by the government.  The military, once stuck with the problem of how to feed and cloth their 400,000 soldiers now has enough rice stores to feed them for years to come.  Likewise with medicine. 


However, what is also happening in Burma is that internal aid is working.  Granted that it lacks the fairy tale effect of a white horse riding in complete with knight in shining armor, or wizards with magic wands that can turn the horrible truth into a happy ending, but in a very real way, in a very empowering way, Burma’s people are saving themselves – despite the generals.


Supported by those who refuse to quit, a quiet revolt is taking place.  A strong grassroots movement is evolving to bring goods to those in need.  It travels many routes and is crossing continents and cultures – some routes are above ground – small convoys of concerned citizens with used clothing and humble donations, businessmen with enough clout and connections to get permission to transport small quantities of relief – many adopting a village and rallying friends to sustain support – and some routes go underground – traveling through bank accounts and well established black market trades long used by insurgents and smugglers.  Even many military officials, appalled by the suffering they face each day, are denying orders and secretly transporting aid.


I was really amazed when the Saffron Revolution was so easily quashed.  I was saddened to see the despondent faces of those I passed everyday on the street afterward, people who had had the opportunity to support their most revered and had failed to do so.  Defeat went well beyond the monks and deep into the heart of the entire country.


But this time is different.  Perhaps because of that defeat, perhaps because the general’s decisions to refuse lifesaving aid is just more callous than anyone can accept, I’m seeing strength and unification among people who otherwise may have continued to remain passive.

I really don’t know if this will come to fruition, if this will be the catalyst that actually unites an active resistance movement and that that movement will grow.  I don’t know if the temptation of controlling a well fed army will serve as the tipping point for internal conflict in the military, but what I do know is that in the face of it all, my faith in humanity is once again being restored.  So long as we don’t give up, there is hope for those cyclone victims still surviving.  So long as we don’t give up there is still hope that Burma will change for the better, and in our lifetime.  So long as we don’t give up, others won’t give up.


My thanks really goes out to all those of you who continue to lend support, to all of you who understand that the gap between what should be and what is is currently too wide to jump in Burma, that even planes can’t cross it, but that this is not a reason to stop helping.

What should be may never come to Burma, but what is is still worth saving.


Many thanks,

Name omitted by request.

Filed under: health, religion

10 Responses

  1. gaius says:

    i grew up in southeast asia and witnessed the utter corruption among the governments there (note: corruption occurs in all countries, so i’m not picking on that region solely). those who hold power will do anything to keep their grasp. this poses an unfortunate conundrum for those who want to aid those in need. do you donate funds, supplies, and other aid knowing that only a fraction will reach the target population while the rest will be coopted by the ruling government or those on the black market? what really bugs me about this situation is that the generals in myanmar deliberately complain that not enough aid is going their way while they are stealing whatever is given to them. just evil.

    i really wonder what it will take for the people of myanmar to rid of itself of their oppressors. my experience says it will take a long time, but then again maybe God will show up.

  2. young c-m says:

    moving post – thanks for sharing the letter.

  3. Don says:

    A very nice letter. I too have lived in Burma (three years) and can agree wholeheartedly that it is like no other place in the world, and for many very positive reasons. The international community needs to understand Burma before it can change it and nowhere near enough effort has been devoted to that effort. Meanwhile we should do what we can to help the Burmese people and create conditions for a more hopful future without being distracted into endless verbal castigation of the generals, which will not lead to a solution, at least in the short term.

  4. Janet says:

    I genuinely believe that this is where a united effort through multiple countries should take place to remove this military government. And by this, I mean by armed forces.

  5. gaius says:

    Don – I’m curious as to what your ideas are for creating conditions for a more hopeful future in Myanmar/Burma. Is there a point where the status quo in terms of aid is actually hampering long term progress for the people of the country?

    I agree that verbal castigation by itself is insufficient to really make an impact on the current situation, but I think this is more of a gut response by many due to a lack of viable options. Giving aid that will end up mostly in the pockets of the junta or stranded off the coast of the country doesn’t make a lot of sense. We know that sanctions usually have unintended effects on the citizenry and that military action is generally frowned upon by the international community.

    My wife and I watched a documentary on a Canadian doctor team that went to an African nation to establish an HIV clinic. The long term plan was for the country’s government to take over after the initial setup by the Canadians. Basically what happened was that the government ended up shirking their responsibility and relying solely on the Canadian team. This of course, put a lot of pressure on the Canadian team to serve the people who were already relying on them for life-saving medication. A colleague of mine visited another unstable country and surmised that the various NGOs that were helping the citizens were actually keeping the corrupt government in power by keeping conditions tolerable enough.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I applaud the actions of those in the international and domestic community that want to serve the innocent victims of these disasters and the negligent or intentional policies of corresponding regimes. However, I am interested in understanding what the best policy is for dealing with governments who oppress their people.

  6. womanat35 says:

    thanks for the post. there are actions that can greatly benefit the whole by toppling the “giants” and there are actions that can greatly benefit one person at a time.

    the former takes a global initiative of sort, but the latter can surely begin to directly convey compassion and change in the lives of an oppressed citizenry.

    through prayers, no “giants” can ever be too big and I believe in God’s time their knees shall bent. and hopefully, soon the people will get healed from all the calamities and disasters that has already beset one oppressed nation.

    at present, the initiatives to save and nurture the deprived can be more realistic and substantial if only to make things possible them.

  7. Debbie says:

    Thnaks for posting this. Please don’t forget the people of Burma.

  8. Don says:

    In response to Gaius: Sometimes there are no good solutions to problems in other countries with bad governments. Just look at Zimbabwe and Sudan for example. The first lesson to learn is that dramatic outside intervention is just not feasible, politically or logistically, in many cases. In the Burma situation, the western world, and to some extent the international community generally, has put itself in a box by ostracizing the Burmese junta and breaking off nearly all normal contact. This is not a good formula for creating the conditions to provide humanitarian assistance when this suddenly becomes desirable. Had the US and European powers not burned their bridges in advance there might have been some room for dealing with them on a basis of trust. As it is now they are supremely suspicious of outsiders who after twenty years of talk about regime change now want to provide assistance. The tragedy is that the Burmese people are now caught in what has become a highly politicized situation and will have to fend for themselves, as they have been doing for so long already while the west evinced very little concern about the humanitarian consequences of “isolating” Burma for political reasons. At this point there are no really good options left I fear.

  9. Mike Hayes says:

    Prior to deciding whether to make a contribution to WorldAid, how can I verify the legitimacy and effectiveness of WorldAid relative to Oxfam and Heifer and others?


    Mike Hayes

  10. Teresa says:

    One way to get further unbiased info is check out the link below and when you locate the charity of your choice, hit the research button….they provide a glimpse at the 990 forms for each organization.

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One Day’s Wages

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At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove .
May we keep working 
on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
is the great temptation 
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