Sunday services at Frederick's Falam Baptist Church took on a solemn tone as Phun Thang led parishioners in a prayer for the people of Myanmar, where officials warn the death toll from a devastating cyclone could reach as high as 10,000.
The 50 members of the church's congregation are all from the Southeast Asian nation, formerly Burma, and many of them have come to Frederick within the past couple of years seeking asylum from their country's military dictatorship, which has a record of human rights abuses.
Now many fear for the families they left behind, said Thang, who before coming to Frederick four years ago was a professor of international relations at the University of Yangon in Myanmar's devastated capital city.
"It is very unbelievable for me," he said. "To see trees fallen on the main streets, electrical poles falling on buildings. This is the heart of the city, a big city. It is very sad."
Thang said he fears a painful and drawn out recovery from the storm.
"The government is not strong economically," he said. "People don't understand that in developing countries, this is always the case. This response will be very, very slow."
Baltimore-based aid organizations such as Catholic Relief Services and World Relief were determining yesterday whether and how they could assist storm victims.
World Relief is waiting to hear from its umbrella organization about how best to respond to the needs of those affected by Saturday's cyclone, which destroyed homes, hospitals and schools in Myanmar and left thousands dead, injured or missing.
"They're still assessing the situation and trying to see what those needs would be," said Emily Sollie of Geneva-based Actions by Churches Together International, a worldwide coalition of faith-based organizations.
Lutheran World Relief, also based in Baltimore, is accepting donations, Sollie said.
Elizabeth Griffin, a spokeswoman for Catholic Relief Services, said, "In coordination with Caritas International, CRS is ready to assist those affected by the [storm] in Myanmar as soon as an official request by the government of Myanmar is received."