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July 2018
Chuck Bigger

Mobarega lost her home and many of her family members when militant oppression forced them to flee their country. During their escape, the young child suffered several deep wounds to her legs. She arrived at Memorial Christian Hospital (MCH) covered in scars that refused to heal.

As the doctors cleaned out the wounds and pulled away the tissue that was keeping them from healing, the little girl cried out to God to save her. The process was excruciating, and had to be done with only local sedations. Mobarega was conscious for the whole thing.

 “This little girl, at just 2 years old, fiercely prevailed over the most severe darkness any human could endure,” wrote Malia Barshaw, a volunteer nurse at the hospital. Malia was directly involved in the operation, holding the crying girl down as the doctors did their best to finish the process quickly. 

“She cried a thousand tears,” Malia recalled.

AN ETHNIC CLEANSING

Aftering fleeing persecution in Myanmar, refugees line up for food and water at a camp in Bangladesh.
(Photo: Chuck BIgger)

On Friday, August 25, 2017, Rohingya freedom-fighters attacked a number of Myanmar police posts, killing several officers. They operated independent of the Rohingya as a whole, but they were fighting for the rights this people group had long been denied.

Mayhem ensued. The enraged government responded by unleashing punishment so severe, it was described by the United Nations as “a textbook ethnic cleansing.”

Hundreds of Rohingya villages were attacked and destroyed—even those several miles from the initial conflict were burned to the ground. Women were beaten and raped. Villagers were locked in burning buildings to be consumed by the flames. Families were shot as they tried to escape. Children were ripped from parents’ arms, killed, their bodies dumped in holes or on the side of the road. 

In the weeks of violence that followed, 6,700 villagers lost their lives. About 730 of those were children under five.

Land mines, gun fire, and treacherous travel conditions all met the Rohingya as they fled for their lives. 

Their destination: the open arms of the Bangladesh, just across the border. 

THE ROHINGYA

Where there was once a jungle, the refugees have stripped the hillside and carved out a camp.
(Photo: Chuck Bigger)

Living on the border between Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh, this Sunni-Muslim population has faced religious persecution from the majority-Buddhist country of Myanmar for years. Denied citizenship by both the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments, they lived, in essence, as stateless immigrants. 

Prior to the crisis, thousands of Rohingya had already migrated across the border to Bangladesh to escape the abuses they were suffering from Myanmar security forces. Though the Rohingya still have not been granted citizenship, Bangladesh has allowed them to establish refugee camps on the country’s edge. And it was to these camps that the rest of the Rohingya fled, when the conflict with the Myanmar came to an explosive head last summer.

A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

(Photo: Chuck Bigger)

They are safe from the oppression of Myanmar now. But the Rohingya are not happy in the camps. They miss their homes. Once they were farmers, students, mothers, business people, living self-sufficient lives; now they are homeless, living and sleeping on top of each other in muddy, overcrowded camps, relying on the kindness of others to provide for them.

Disease is a constant struggle in the camps. There has already been one diphtheria outbreak. With monsoon season underway, the fear grows that another is imminent, if they cannot find a way to keep the shallow latrines from overflowing and further contaminating the water sources in the camp.

Flooding has also become a concern. Refugees have all but cleared the vegetation from the hills where their camps rest to provide firewood and other resources. Little is left to stop the flooding and mudslides when the torrential rains begin. Relief workers expect to see many more lives lost.

Despite these hardships, however, the Rohingya don’t want to go back to Myanmar. Nor can they. The government refuses to guarantee their safety should they decide to return, and the Rohingya fear being chased from their homes again. For now, they are stuck in a limbo between worlds, homeless and unwanted.

But in the midst of all of this, God is working. Specifically through a small hospital lying just miles from the camps.

An arial view of our partner, Memorial Christian Hospital.

Established in Malumghat, Bangladesh in 1966 to combat the great medical and even greater spiritual needs of the people, Memorial Christian Hospital has been serving the Bangladeshi community for more than 50 years. In the wake of the crisis, the hospital has been a main establishment aiding the Rohingya, and it was the first hospital they were referred to for surgical treatment.

Originally built to support about 65 inpatients, the hospital often found itself filled to capacity even before the influx of war-torn refugees. Its infrastructure was already near the breaking point before they arrived. And as hundreds of refugees—most suffering severe traumatic injuries—came flooding into the hospital, the staff found themselves stretched thin and exhausted. Even with the help of the selfless volunteers who rushed to its aid, the hospital was in dire need of more room, more help, and better facilities.

The influx of refugees has slowed down and Memorial Christian Hospital is seeing fewer major surgical needs. The need remains, however, for an expanded building and more staff as trauma treatments give way to ongoing medical needs.

But collapse does not appear to be part of God’s plan for this hospital that has been so impactful in the refugee’s lives. 

In late January, Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse visited the camps and the hospital. After witnessing the exclusive ministry opportunity Memorial Christian Hospital provides, he pledged the remaining funds to complete the building expansion project started by ABWE in 2013. The previous gifts of over $7 million from faithful donors combined with Graham's final gift not only helped fund the project to completion, but also helped cover any other construction expenses the hospital might face. 

Set to open early next year,the hospital has also received gifts of equipment and resources since the height of the crisis. 

For the current short-staffed facility, it cannot open soon enough.

Until then, the institution continues to function efficiently, providing not only exceptional medical care but also something much more valuable to these refugees. . .  

 HOPE.

A THOUSAND TEARS. A MILLION SMILES

Mobarega’s legs were finally free to heal, but the extensive operation left her unable to walk for several weeks. Her mother had to carry her everywhere. At times it was frustrating to the little girl, who could not possibly understand everything that was happening to her.

Yet through it all, Malia noted the life in her eyes. Despite the immense amount of pain and loss Mobarega had endured in the short time she had been alive, she smiled through her frightened and confused tears. 

“You could never make eye contact with her without her smiling back at you,” Malia remembers. “And she didn’t just smile with her face—she smiled so deeply into you that it penetrated your soul. [It] felt like an arrow of love shot through you.”

Memorial Christian Hospital strives to bring its patients not just excellent medical care, but also that same kind of light and hope that shined in Mobarega’s eyes. Through the Gospel. 

As part of God’s sovereign plan to use the hospital to reach this once unreached, unengaged people group, it was recently armed with a Gospel adaptation in a language the Rohingya can understand. It was just being finished as the crisis was beginning. 

The selfless service of the medical workers has changed the way the predominately-Muslim people group views believers. Christians were once reviled by the Muslim people group. Now, they call the workers and volunteers “The Christians”, and it’s not at all derogatory. When they are seeking love, care, and support, it is “The Christians” to whom they turn. 

The door has been thrown wide open to reach thousands who had been so secluded for years. In the midst of dark adversity, where hope seemed to be lost, God is clearly working.

There are still many questions surrounding what comes next for the Rohingya. Plans to send them back to Burma have been put on hold, due to the fact the government won’t guarantee them safety should they return.  

For now, the refugee city on the border of Bangladesh will remain. And as Memorial Christian Hospital begins to expand, the message of hope will continue to spread throughout the camps.

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