YANGON, Burma - Nearly two years ago a powerful cyclone hit Myanmar, killing thousands of residents.
Now, missionaries say many people in the Buddhist nation -- also known as Burma -- have become Christians since the devastating storm, and children are leading the way.
A Little Child Shall Lead Them
Karen Orphans pour out their hearts, raising their hands and voices in collective praise to God. The children are refugees. Christians who have been chased into neighboring Thailand by the Burmese military.
"These kids just love the Lord," said Patrick Klein, president of Vision Beyond Borders. "Even in the midst of all the death and destruction, Jesus is so real to these kids and to all these refugees that are flooding into Thailand."
Klein has worked in Burma for 17 years. During Christmas 2009, he and his team ventured deep into the jungle along the Thai/Burmese border delivering Bibles, medical supplies, and relief items to the orphans and other Karen refugees.
Wes Flint, a Vision Beyond Border team member, was touched by the children's ability to forgive their persecutors.
"I found even with these children who have been so brutally and viciously attacked, their faithfulness and their commitment to Jesus Christ is teaching me, it is teaching me," Flint explained. "It's teaching me in my Christian walk so that I would not hold anger or animosity towards those who have persecuted me."
"Just hearing their stories is heartbreaking," Klein added. "One little boy, his mother was sick. She was raped right in front of him and then killed by the soldiers, Burmese soldiers and then they killed his father. They shot his father and while he was still alive, they set him on fire."
A 'Dismal Human Rights Record'
Human rights atrocities committed by Burma's military regime are well documented. CBN News has reported on these atrocities for nearly two decades.
According to Human Rights Watch, Burma's "dismal human rights record worsened following the devastation of cyclone Nargis in May 2008."
The report included a doubling of political prisoners to more than 2,100 in 2008. Civilians are targets, too, especially those belonging to ethnic minorities, like the Karen.
In the eastern Karen state, widespread abuses include forced labor, sexual violence against women and girls, murder, torture, and confiscation of land.
About 40 percent of the Karen are Christians.
"It's almost like this Burmese military is out to get rid of anybody and everybody that's opposed to them and especially those who are Christians," Klein said. "And so, I see more of an opposition by the government to the Gospel, but I also see a more reception, a receptivity to the Gospel among the people."
Heightened Interest in Chrisitianity Since Cyclone
That interest has increased since Nargis, especially in Burma's Delta region, the area hit the hardest by the cyclone.
In one of Myanamar's unregistered house churches, the Christians who are worshipping inside have only been at the location for less than a year, shortly after Cyclone Nargis struck the area.
Many of the people who have assembled here are Buddhists, seeking to learn more about Christianity and Jesus.
A Burmese evangelist, who requested to have to his identity protected, has planted many churches throughout Burma and several since the cyclone. He says he will not be deterred as the government attempts to rid the nation of Christian influence.
"They try to make it a Buddhist country," the evangelist said. "When they press us more, God works more, we win more Christians. When we talk about Jesus, many, many people come."
Pastor: Persecution Makes Our Faith Stronger
Regular worship often proves difficult for the new converts. Once discovered, the government closes unofficial churches.
Christians said they have few places to worship, because the regime has not allowed any new church buildings to be built since 1965. That is why many Christians are often forced to worship secretly in homes.
A pastor who also wished to remain anonymous, said his church was recently closed by the Burmese government.
"It makes us more strong in faith," the pastor said. "When we are free, we do not know much of the value, but after they crack down on the church we know how much the value."
Pastor to Persecutors: 'We Pray for You'
And what did he tell the police when they ordered a halt to his house meetings?
"We always tell them when we meet them, 'We always pray for you. We love you,'" the pastor added.
As for Klein, he said he and his teams will continue to find ways to bring in Bibles, clothing and other help for the people of Burma.
"I don't want them to suffer alone and for us to go and be Jesus' hands and Jesus' feet and be his mouthpiece to speak to these people," Klein said. "It's a tremendous honor for me and I just want to do all I can to show them that they are not alone, that God in heaven He cares about them. He hears their cries and he wants to help them."
"My challenge to the church predominantly is to pray, to be exposed to what is going on to our brothers and sisters in Burma and in Thailand in these refugee camps," Flint said. "And to pray that God will send a hero. Who will intervene? Who will be their hero? Who will step in to make a difference?"
*Original broadcast January 29, 2010.