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Religion News Service

AKRON, Ohio — From a small house on a busy street, Ai Hong and his wife, Aliyeh Chan, devote hours responding to the military crackdown in Myanmar, their former home.
The military has the guns. The military has the might, they acknowledge.
“Prayer is our weapon,” Hong says with gentle smile. “That is our way.”
Kneeling before a small Buddhist shrine in their tiny living room, the couple send prayers for peace skyward, joining a small army of faithful similarly arrayed.
Northeast Ohio’s Burmese community of about 600, one of the largest in the Midwest, is largely Buddhist, much like the nation from which its members hail.
When violence erupted in a homeland cut off from the world, Akron-area Burmese responded in the best way they know: They flocked to a temple housed in an Akron home. They lit incense sticks at living room altars. They prayed with a shining fervor.
Two Buddhist monks from Akron’s Burmese community recently traveled to New York City, stood in front of the United Nations building and prayed for peace in Myanmar, which they call Burma. On Saturday (Oct.6), Burmese from Cleveland and Akron were to unite for a public prayer led by monks in downtown Akron.
At dusk each day, Burmese couples like Ai and Aliyeh gather their children,close their eyes and continue the battle.
They pray for freedom and democracy in their homeland, they say. But mostly, they pray for peace.
Two weeks ago, a sharp spike in fuel prices sparked street protests in Myanmar and triggered deep emotions. Many in the multi-ethnic nation of 47 million resent the military junta that came to power in 1988, when generals last crushed a pro-democracy movement.
When monks began to lead, the marches drew international attention.
Some 100,000 people took to the streets before the military cracked down. Troops fired into crowds, raided monasteries and beat and arrested monks.
A television and Internet blackout has largely cut off Myanmar from the outside world, and Burmese immigrants here anxiously weigh reports of bloody monasteries, quiet streets and deserted pagodas.
Drenched in worry and heartache, they exhibit a resolve that astonishes their American friends.
“They are shy, the quietest group we’ve ever worked with,” said Goran Debelnogich, the refugee resettlement coordinator for the International Institute of Akron. “But they are very faithful and very committed to what they do.”
On Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 2), three monks knelt before a huge, golden Buddha in a temple fashioned from an Akron home and softly chanted ancient prayers.
“We pray for ourselves, the community and all beings,” said Ashin Wareinda, a Buddhist monk from Myanmar. “Especially, we pray for Burma
— for peace and no more sorrow and no more suffering. We pray for our people to be free from suffering.”
Wareinda, 41, came to Akron nine years ago to join his grandfather, a monk who was hired by the city’s Laotian Buddhist community and who sparked a small chain migration.
Wareinda belongs to one of Myanmar’s persecuted ethnic groups — the Mon. A pair of Mon monks attracted others, many of them refugees from United Nations’ camps in Thailand.
Employers welcomed their quiet work ethic. So did the schools. Last year, a Mon refugee graduated third in his class from Akron’s North High School.
More recently, Akron has welcomed refugees from Myanmar’s Karen community, who are largely Baptist, and the city’s Burmese community now numbers about 550 people, including six monks.
Karen refugees began arriving in the Cleveland area in early July, and the suburb of Lakewood has since welcomed about 70 Burmese refugees.
As they struggle to find work and learn English, the Burmese also carry the pain of not knowing the fate of loved ones back home.
When she talks in Burmese about her parents, Aliyeh Chan’s eyes mist in helplessness.
Talking about what they can do, she and her husband display a confident faith.
Ai Hong pulls from a drawer color photographs of orange-robed monk protesting on the streets of Rangoon in 1988. A young monk, his head shaved clean, waves a pro-democracy banner.
It’s him, before he fled Burma for Thailand, left the monkhood and became a husband and a father to three young children in America.
Nineteen years later, he still believes his strategy is the right one. Prayer. Patience. Peace.
(Robert L. Smith writes for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.)
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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