Clouds hover over the wreckage that once was Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible College – a theological school in Mae La Refugee Camp that has provided education for thousands of refugees from Burma, and inspiration for many more people around the world. A steady rain bounces off the piles of ash that only days ago were hundreds of textbooks and photos of smiling students on their graduation day. Charred posts now tower over a snarl of steel and tin that once served as a shelter for students, staff and guests since the school’s opening in June of 1990.
|Remains of the ground level of the Bible school|
|Bible school students sing at graduation|
During the afternoon heat on April 28, 2012, a fire started in the school’s kitchen, with the flames quickly consuming the entire structure and several of the closest buildings. Two different fire trucks eventually came to help fight the fire, but not in time to save the school. Though the school could not be saved, the fire was contained and did not spread anywhere else in the camp. There were no injuries.
Rev. Simon, who serves as principal of the Bible college, was not present during the fire, but told us about his initial reaction to receiving the news that the school was aflame. “Immediately, I prayed to God that the fire would be contained, and not destroy any more buildings than the school. Later, when I arrived at Mae La, people told me that shortly after the fire started, the wind unexpectedly changed direction, blowing the flames away from most all of the homes surrounding the school.”
Despite the loss of the 22 years of work contained in the school and his home, Rev. Simon remains positive. “We have lost everything. But, we have everything – because we still have God.”
|The remains of the school’s library|
|Burned hymnbooks, Bibles and other books lie scattered in the ashes|
|Dr, Simon leading last gradutation before the fire|
Fueled by faith, Rev. Simon continues to lead his teachers and students forward, with every intention of keeping the school going. With an extensive network of friends, churches and organizations supporting the school, and the presence of a good God, Dr. Simon is not concerned about whether he will be able to rebuild. His dilemma right now is to decide whether it is time to return the school to beloved Kawthoolei (Karen State), or keep the school at its present location in Mae La. Right now, he is, like so many other citizens of Burma, uncertain of whether the political changes taking place in the country are truly sustainable enough for people to safely dwell in Karen State. Despite ceasefires being signed with many different ethnic groups, many states, including Karen State, still experience attacks from the Burma Army.
Putting his knowledge of construction and electricity to good use, Rev. Simon and his students have already begun the rebuilding process for new living quarters. While we chatted with him under the shelter of his temporary home, nearby students sanded down a new wooden door, which was upright in its doorframe by the time our glasses of water were empty.
|Building a new door|
Thanks to help from many of you, we were able to support the Bible school with mosquito nets, tarps and financially as they consider their next steps. We prayed with them and ask you also to pray for them as they seek to discern God’s plan for their future. We are grateful for our longstanding friendship with Rev. Simon and the Bible school. When we have returned from relief missions and come in through Mae La camp, the Bible school has always been a place of refuge for us. To sleep in a peaceful, clean place with the sound of people singing hymns all around made us feel like we were in heaven. I remember as I walked out of the school one night and looked up at the stars shining above the mountains and cliffs that surround the camp, I felt free and my mind at peace. I was at one of God’s special places. Now the school has burned down and Rev. Simon is asking for prayer as to how and where to rebuild. Please join us as you feel led to pray for and help him in that.
May God bless you,
Dave Eubank and the Free Burma Rangers
|KIds and Dogwood Cross perform at Mae La Bible School|