“The thief comes only to steal, and kill and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.”
— John 10:10
Northern Karen State, Burma: here civil war has torn normal life apart for over 60 years. The sound of mortars is normal and the threat of attack is constant for the people in this part of eastern Burma. But now, on this day, in this village, the war seems far away. The sun beats down out of a cloudless blue sky; it’s two o’clock, the heat of the day, and there is no shade on the brown-stubbled field that grows rice in the rainy season. Five hundred children are gathered, not in fear and not to run away again: today they are laughing, singing, dancing and the heat hasn’t slowed them down at all. Nor has it slowed down the team in the middle of the circle. About ten Free Burma Rangers including people from most of the major ethnic groups of Burma, are leading the program that began that morning at nine o’clock. They stride around the circle – or dance, or jump – trying to engage each child. There is joy and fun on their faces and this is soon reflected in not only the children’s faces but in the shouts and laughter coming from the on-looking parents.
This is the tenth program this team has put on in about a month of travel between villages and IDP hide-sites and across two districts of northern Karen State. Not all the programs are so big. On December 16, the Good Life Club (GLC) team walked into Thaw Nge Der, where 17 families have been living since they had to run away from the Burma Army last April. The small group of children that gathered was quiet, timid – they looked on with big eyes as the rangers dropped their gear, set up camp and prepared to begin. The program begins with introductions: the team members from the other ethnic groups teach the children a phrase or two in their language; by turns and with a lot of laughing they show everyone a cultural dance. Then the singing starts. The children can only stay serious so long with ten rangers jumping and laughing around them. The program includes a Bible story and drama, a snack at lunch, a health lesson and games, each part interspersed with singing. A clinic is also set up; here in Thaw Nge Der the medics treated 70 patients. At the end, the team hands out donated clothes, mosquito nets for each family and gifts for the school. Today it is not easy to end the program; these children, who took so long to get comfortable, don’t want to stop singing. We sing song after song with them and then sing the same songs over and over. The next day we move on to another IDP site, another program, another group of children.
Five days after this program found all of these families packing their things as Burma Army activity once again threatened to force them deeper into hiding.
Thinking of John 10:10, I find myself asking about this “abundant life” that Jesus says is for everyone, that GLC tries to bring to these struggling people: where is it, why does it seem so hard to find – what is our part in it? I go back to the Bible passage in John 10 and find a picture of a sheep pen, full of terrified animals milling around in muck, afraid of wolves and thieves and murderers. Then the good shepherd comes, he opens the gate and leads his sheep out, to good pasture, to green grass and cool streams and fresh air and freedom. Out of the pen there are still wolves, there are still thieves – it is not safe. But He is there and He has promised to lay down his life to save us. I see that safety and security, then, are not part of the promise. But if we trust the good shepherd, we can take and enjoy the good things of life, in the presence of the enemy, knowing that He has already laid his life down for us. And so the smiles and joy and laughter and songs of the past month take on eternal significance, for they are more than just spots of light in a dark picture – they are the fulfillment of God’s promise, and the promise of things to come.
During the months of December 2008 and January 2009, the Good Life Club did programs for and provided support for children from approximately 30 schools.
The Good Life Club (GLC) is a special program to meet the needs of women and children. The GLC program recognizes that women and children are often the most vulnerable members of the population in any crisis, and attempts to focus on their specific needs in conjunction with the Free Burma Rangers’ (FBR) program of humanitarian relief and human rights documentation in the war zones of Burma The GLC is based on the words of Jesus in John 10:10: “For the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” The GLC attempts to share this reality of life and believes that the materials and services given in the program as well the examples of love and service provided by GLC and FBR team members will have both immediate and long-term impacts on children. The GLC is a dual program that includes the school tour, as described above, and the training of one GLC counselor on each FBR team whose special duty is to focus on the children in every village and hide site they come to.
The GLC began as one of the special missions of the FBR relief teams and is now also supported by Partners Relief and Development (PRAD), a Thailand-based NGO. PRAD and FBR are in partnership in all aspects of the GLC program. PRAD assists in the training and support of the GLC counselors that are on each FBR relief team. In addition to training and support of counselors and every part of the GLC mission, the PRAD helps to provide blankets, clothing, food, hygiene materials, educational materials and medical supplies for the teams to distribute to people in need. PRAD also assists in the development of all GLC programs and in the reporting and analysis of the GLC mission.
|Good Life Club program in northern Karen State, Burma (FBR)|