FBR REPORT: Eliya Samson, First Ranger
Karen State, Burma
September 2008

Eliya Samson:

Eliya (Elijah) is the Chief Medic for the Free Burma Rangers. His Animal name is “Toew Plu” or “Mad Dog”. He is fast, highly skilled and brave. He is a Karen Christian, is 37 years old and is married to “Cat” a beautiful and dynamic nurse. They have four children. Eliya is a gifted medic, trainer, champion kick boxer, artist, singer, cook, hunter and all around athlete. He served as a medic in the Karen Army (KNLA) and is admired for his bravery under fire, mature decision making, ability to handle complex situations, get along with everyone and for his lifesaving ability. He is almost always smiling and his distinctive, booming laugh can be heard where ever he is present. He is unflappable under pressure, never gives up, prays with faith, shares all he has and is supremely talented. The following are a few short stores that give some insight into his character.

The First Ranger:

Over 10,000 people were fleeing into Thailand during the 1997 Burma Army offensive. The border road we were on was clogged with families carrying all they had.

I pulled my truck over to the side of the road and as I stepped out, a man emerged from the jungle. He was in full camouflage fatigues, with a hand grenade on his harness and a M16 in his hand. He had a warm and open smile and a bright red earring in one ear. He looked like a Pirate.

“Hello”, he said in English, “My name is Eliya and I am a medic, can I help you?”

I thought, “Man you are an ange l- a pirate angel!’ “Yes” I said, “I want to help the people who are sick and are behind”.

Eliya looked at the four backpacks of medical supplies I had in my truck and stopping some of the fleeing people, said to three men in one group, “You can run away tomorrow, but now is the time to help your people. Come and help us please.” He gave three medical loads to these men, I picked up the fourth load and we went through the fleeing refugees and back to the border to help those we could.

After one week we were out of medicine and when we arrived back at the truck were presented with a man who had stepped on a landmine. His shattered stump was already gangrenous and he needed to get immediate care at a hospital. We loaded him into my truck and Eliya tied his IV bags to the roof of truck so that the infusion could continue as we transported him out.

The sun was just setting as we secured the landmine victim in the truck. Eliya turned to me and said, “My wife and son are somewhere back there in Burma”. Now I have to go find them. Maybe next week I will be dead, ha ha,”. His teeth flashed as he laughed, smiled and shook my hand. I prayed with him and then he was gone into the night.

Note: Eliya did find his family and now he and his wife Cat have four children. Eliya was the first Free Burma Ranger and helps us to train and lead the 100 part time and 43 fulltime teams that with the help of Partners and others, brings relief to people in Burma.

Landmine victim:

We are with a group of over 800 IDPs who were hiding from a Burma Army attack on the Northern Karen and Southern Karenni border. Over 5,000 were displaced in the area and the Burma Army was still attacking. We went to a village that had been attacked to photograph the rice barns that had been burnt there. We were led by a villager who had been captured and tortured by the Burma Army but who had escaped.

As we were filming the remains of his rice barn, there was a large explosion 200 meters from us. It was a landmine. 10 villagers had been walking down the trail back into the village after they heard the Burma Army was gone. The last person, a 17 year old boy, Saw Sa Lu, had stepped on the landmine left by the Burma Army.

His lower leg was shredded; the bone shattered and was only connected by a strip of skin to his upper leg.

Eliya immediately took charge of the situation, organized our other medics and began to work on the boy, Saw Sa Lu. He controlled the bleeding from the stump, put in IVs and began to camp and suture off blood vessels and arteries. He comforted the boy, and prepared him for travel. Saw Sa Lu’s life was saved and he was then carried four days to a mobile clinic.


We were in a village in Northern Karen State three months into a relief mission. We were waiting for more medial supplies and there were no attacks near to this village.

At the same time a steady steam of families fleeing attacks far to the north were trickling into this village. We had no medicines left so we treated them the best we could as we waited for the re-supply. One day as we waited, I was told that Eliya had just been called to look at one of the children of the fleeing families who was not well. When I arrived at that hut I saw that Eliya was surrounded by a crowd of people. I walked over to get a closer look and there he was with a small 3-4 year old boy on his lap. The boy had sores all over his face and had both mucus and pus draining out of his nose. As the boy was part of the group that had fled the attacks, he had not changed his clothes or bathed in days. He was dirty, sick and scared. Eliya was talking to him gently and trying to calm him. Eliya looked up at me and said,” This little boy was playing with a ballpoint pen and pushed it up his nose. The tip broke off and is now stuck far up his nasal passage. I will try to get it out”. Eliya then unsuccessfully used a series of long forceps to try to remove the pen tip. After an hour of failed attempts he looked at the boy and the parents and said, “There is no other way” and smiled. He then bent over and put his mouth over the boy’s nose and began to suck the mucus and pus out of the boy’s nose. He kept sucking, hoping that the pen tip would come out too. In the end the pen tip was removed with a combination of sucking and probing.

I looked at the whole scene and was amazed and grateful for Eliya’s love and commitment.

Don’t worry about tomorrow:

We were moving with 96 people who were fleeing a forced relocation site. There were grandparents in their seventies, small children and one three week old new born being carried by his sick and pale mother. The Burma Army was chasing us and had us surrounded by 5 battalions. At one point when the Burma Army was approaching closer we stopped to try to figure out a way through the Burma Army cordon. .Everyone was down low and keeping very quiet. The Karen soldiers were on a knee and formed a perimeter around the families who were squatting or lying on the ground. It was very tense and no one was smiling. I was kneeling beside the Karen (KNU/KNLA) and FBR team leaders making a plan when I looked up to see Eliya approaching. He was bent over slightly with a broad grin on his face. Still smiling he leaned over to me and very softly sang, “Don’t’ worry about tomorrow, just really good today, the Lord is right beside you to guide you all the way; have faith hope and charity that is how to live successfully; how do I know the Bible tells me so!”

Then he continued up the line of people on the ground, smiling and encouraging them in a soft voice.

Everyone he passed smiled back at him and the whole mood on the jungle floor shifted.

By prayer, the skill of the Karen soldiers and Eliya’s and others can-do attitude, we were eventually able to get out of that situation and take all of the 96 people to safety.

Lessons learned:

I have learned many things from Eliya and what strikes me the most is his relentless self sacrifice, positive attitude and how he always puts the needs of others first. His courage and immediate action in difficult situations has helped to make me braver and his love has helped me to love more. He is a gift of God to our family, is a favorite uncle of my children, helping to carry them in the jungle before they could walk and treating them when they were sick. Our son, Peter Eliya, is named for him. Along with courage, action and love, I would like to share two things that Eliya taught me that I hope are useful to others.

Who do you serve?

When the first threat to or work came and when it looked like we might not be able to continue here, Eliya asked me, “Would you be sad if you could no longer work with the Karen?” “Of course I would be sad”, I answered. Eliya replied, “Don’t be sad. You are not working for the Karen. You are working for God. God can use you anywhere, and He will. You have helped us very much already and we will keep going. Don’t worry for us, just follow God.”

What is your duty?

When I met Eliya the second time, after he had found his family during the 1997 offensive, I asked him,” Why did you stay and help me and the refugees when your own family was at risk?” He answered, “In life we do not have control over everything. We have to do the duty God sets before us. I love my family and wanted to help them. But I did not even know where they were.

However, I did know where the thousands of families who need help were. They were right in front of me. I had to trust God and my friends to take care of my family until I had done all I could for the people in front of me.. God would take care of the things I could not. Then as soon as I was done I went to find my family and was so happy when I found them safe. I want to follow God and I thank Him for all his gifts. You know I am not a very good man, and sometimes I do bad things, but I will keep trying and I put my trust in God.”

Eliya with Sahale and Suzanne and horses
Eliya and Ati deliver Karenni baby in a IDP hiding site
Elia taming a pack horse
Eliya operates on Karen man
Eliya and medics treat Karen landmine victim
Eliya treating Karenni woman