Satellite photos from NASA dated April 15 and May 5
show the coastal devastation that occurred when Cyclone Nargis struck
Myanmar May 3. A UMNS photo courtesy of NASA.
A UMNS Report
By Neill Caldwell* May 8, 2008
As the nation of Myanmar began to assess the damage following a
catastrophic cyclone, the Methodist bishop for the area was in Virginia,
working the phones to organize relief efforts and preparing to return
to his devastated country.
Bishop Zothan Mawia will participate in the May 9 baccalaureate service
at Shenandoah University, a United Methodist-related school in
Winchester, Va., where his daughter is a freshman, before returning
home. He is the episcopal leader of the Methodist Church of the Union of
Myanmar (Lower Myanmar).
Mawia came to the United States in April to attend a meeting of the
United Methodist Council of Bishops meeting and then General Conference,
the denomination’s top legislative gathering, in Fort Worth, Texas. He
then saw his elder daughter graduate from Southwestern College in
Winfield, Kan., another United Methodist-related school.
“I am sorry I am here instead of at home,” the bishop said during a May 7
interview with UMNS, “but I know God has a plan, and I am hoping
something good comes out of it. Here I can better contact people, to
reach out and help and encourage people in America to do what they can
to help us. My heart is there, but I know God has a purpose for me being
Estimates of the death toll from the cyclone range up to 100,000, with tens of thousands missing.
Mawia has been unable to contact his office, but he has talked to people
in the area who have told him that the damage in that part of central
Yangon, or Rangoon, is not as severe. He said the homes of several
family members were damaged, and some of his relatives have come to the
episcopal residence for safety. He added that no one in his family was
killed or injured.
Eager to return home
The bishop is unsure about how he can return home, as the Rangoon
airport is still closed. He is scheduled to leave the United States on
May 11 and fly as far as Korea. After that, he is not sure what the
travel arrangements will be.
He is eager to tour the damaged areas. “I want to be on the front lines,
so I am planning on going to the places that were hit. Friends have
been calling me, and I know the situation is very bad.”
The area hardest hit is the low-lying delta area along the Indian Ocean.
The cyclone’s 80 miles-per-hour winds and the storm surge that
accompanied it wiped away many villages.
Mawia was elected to the episcopacy in 2000 in a time of reconciliation
following a dispute that split the Methodist church in Lower Myanmar
into two distinctive groups. Burma officially became Myanmar in 1989. It
is a country that has been torn by political and internal strife, but
Mawia said it has never experienced a natural disaster of this kind.
“We are all in shock,” the bishop said.
Mawia has talked to the Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive for the United
Methodist Committee on Relief, about the church’s response to the
“UMCOR and GBGM (General Board of Global Ministries) are already sending
American dollars to help,” he said. The bishop also invited Americans
to visit his nation and help with the rebuilding of the infrastructure
and the “building of relationships.”
Mawia is also on the board of World Vision, which is working to provide
relief. His wife is a consultant to the World Health Organization and is
currently in Manila, the Philippines, presenting a paper to a WHO
The bishop expressed thanks to United Methodists who have already
donated money to help the relief effort through UMCOR’s Advance special.
“Our economy is bad and rebuilding will be expensive, so we will need
financial help,” he said. “But our church will be good stewards of what
is sent to us, and we will be very careful as to how we use the money.”
Gifts to UMCOR Advance #3019674, “Myanmar Emergency,” will help
survivors of Cyclone Nargis. Checks can be placed in church offering
plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY
10087-9068. Credit-card donations are accepted by phone at (800)
554-8583 or online at www.umcor.org.
“Money can do a lot, but without prayers, nothing can be accomplished,” Mawia added. “So we need your prayers.”
*Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate and a correspondent for United Methodist News Service.