Sunday Morning in the mountains of Western Karen State: On Easter Sunday I woke up and prayed, watching the sun rise over the mountains to the east.. We are on a relief mission to Karen people under attack by the Burma Army and had arrived in this part of Western Karen State three days earlier. In this small area alone there are over 4,000 people in hiding. During this mission I was sent a message asking for some kind of hope, some kind of good news here. Did I have anything to help build up people’s faith, to show God’s goodness?
About two weeks ago while moving through a different part of Karen State, I was in a Karen family prayer service. It was a wonderful experience as the entire family and over 50 neighbors gathered for a two hour thanksgiving service. They were thankful to God for all God’s gifts in the face of real danger and uncertainty.
Afterwards as we ate together, I watched a middle aged and beautiful mother stride confidently from the service joking and laughing. Her face shone and I saw joy, dignity and strength. As I walked back at to where we were sleeping I thought, “Ok, I have some good news to share”. Later, at just about dusk, I was surprised to see over 150 people in a long straggling line moving towards us across the rice fields. One of our team members came up and said, “Those are newly displaced people from Toungoo district who have been on the move for two weeks fleeing the Burma Army”. As I approached them I saw the strain on their faces and heard the babies crying. I suddenly felt like I did not really have much good news to share.
That night as members of our team and I spent time with these people, a different picture began to emerge. Each family or two huddled around small fires and with rice supplied by the local village and resistance, they began to eat. As they did, they invited us to join them and soon little children were laughing and the adults were smiling. We talked and prayed with them. The next morning as they prepared to keep moving we joined together for a prayer and the team sang a hymn with them, “Holy, Holy, Holy”. We also provided some assistance for food for the next part of their journey. When we finished, Naw Nancy, a 60 year old Karen school teacher, said to us, “Thank you, but please wait, we want to sing for you and give you something from us. All the people stood up and she led them in a Karen hymn, “God is Full of Power”. We were all moved and parted with smiles and handshakes.
Joy in the midst of difficulty, faith in the midst of uncertainty, choosing to be thankful instead of dwelling on misery. This is lesson the Karen people keep teaching us.
So, yesterday, as we joined a different group of displaced people for a Easter service I began to thinking of all the things I was grateful to God for and for the goods things I had seen here. The following are some of the good things the team and I have experienced on this mission.
- People like you, who pray for, encourage and support us. You really care about these people, you choose to have an eternal perspective and you lift us all up.
- The wonderful and amazingly capable and brave team of men and women who make up our relief teams. They are full of love and humor and have the toughness to go anywhere needed.
- The men and women in the resistance here-for their dedication and service to their own people, all at great risk to themselves. No one here gets any pay, most have families to take care of, but they work together and do not lose their hope for a better future. They are not fanatics and even in their pain acknowledge that the enemy are God’s children too.
- The dignity of the Karen; like the lady at the service and many others. For the old man, dressed in his red traditional tunic, who closed the Easter service with a deep and moving prayer that covered the issues on our hearts.
- The way that people who have lost their homes and belongings share and look after each other. Orphans and widows are taken in and helped on the way, no one is left behind.
- How people under direct Burma Army fire, help each other, even as some are killed, others run back to help the survivors especially helping to carry the children.
- How a husband and wife who themselves were in hiding, helped treat the wounds of a 9 year old girl shot by the Burma Army. Her father and 80 year old Grandmother (who her father was carrying) was killed in the same attack. For her survival and for our medics who helped her on the way. For her smile after she was treated. For how she kept on smiling as we parted.
- For young earnest leaders and older wise ones. In an emergency meeting of all the top leaders in this township, I saw that 2/3rds were in their mid twenties to early forties, and that the older leaders gave equal time for all. The Township leader said, “We have to take care of our people…we have to share everything…we can not think of ourselves”.
- For people in the resistance like, Mr. Eh Wa, a high school teacher for displaced children, who smiles all the time and yet only sees his family twice a year and has already spent 7 years in prison. When I asked him why he endures the separation from his family and the risk of capture or death, he said with a smile,”For the freedom of my people”.
- For this Easter service and the love here. After the service we walked a few hours to where the Burma Army had attacked a village destroying homes, looting possessions and burning the village church. We were led by the Karen and it is a thing of beauty to watch their agility and speed in the jungle. They watched for the Burma Army but when we passed under a fruit bearing tree, they stopped and climbed high in the tree to bring us some of the fruit. They are an example of men completely at home in their environment, sure of themselves yet not arrogant. Fluid in motion and appreciative of all of natures bounty. When we arrived at the remains of the village, these men looked at the destruction and then at us. They shrugged and one man smiled said, “We have to try…this is our home…we will not give up”.
These are only some of the good things we have seen here and remind us that evil is not the only power in the world. God is here with us, has suffered for us and knows our sufferings. Still through it all, love triumphs and the soul can not be killed. We are thus free to do what is right, to ask forgiveness when we do wrong and to try again. To build up and re-build, to love and serve and to enjoy all the gifts of life. This is our lesson of Easter here and it was taught to us by you, the people here and I believe by Jesus, who shows us the way and with mercy helps us on that way.
For Christ’s sacrifice and friends like you all I am grateful .
A Relief Team Leader and the teams and families here. Matthew 28: 1-20