Our Response to the COVID-19 Virus and to the Anguish in America
15 June 2020
Karen State, Burma
Thank you for your love, prayers, and support that makes this mission possible. I am in Burma now with my family and FBR teams on a humanitarian relief mission in areas under attack by the Burma Army. We have been asked to share our response to the virus as well as what is happening now in America.
I was in a jungle clearing today watching our team put on a children’s program as our medics treated patients under the trees. Our horses grazed on the edge of the treeline above a river swollen by monsoon rains, but the sun was shining over us. My heart welled up in gratitude for all of you who help us do this work here. We cannot help the people here without you and we thank you so much. You are part of this team.
We are now in Karen State, eastern Burma, where the COVID-19 virus has done nothing to prevent the attacks of the Burma Army. In fact, the Burma Army has burned down six COVID-19 screening centers put in place by the Karen Department of Health and Welfare which our teams support.
The Burma Army attacks against the ethnic minorities are relentless over the past 70 years and we have been serving here for over 23 years giving help, hope, and love, and getting the news out. Here in Burma, the Burma Army has not stopped their attacks and this virus has not changed this. Over one million Rohingya remain displaced, over 70,000 Arakan are in hiding, and over 100,000 Kachin are in IDP camps.
In the two small valleys we are in now, attacks over the past three months have displaced over 3,000 people. Recently, we were trying to comfort the widow of a villager who was shot dead when the Burma Army met him as he walked on the trail. Her main concern is not the virus but how she will take care of her five children in the jungle and avoid the Burma Army.
In Burma there are less than 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 but there is also limited testing, so we do not know the real numbers. So far here in the mountains of Karen State, we do not have any known cases of the virus. The screening stations that the Burma Army burned were built to try to slow the spread and possibly stop it from coming up into the mountains.
“The Burma Army does not value the Karen people,” said a local headman.
Yesterday, there was fighting, but below the Burma Army camp that shells the village, my wife and children and team members led a children’s program. To see the children’s faces shining, with a Burma Army mountain-top camp above them, reminded me that love is stronger than hate. Our multi-ethnic teams continue to give medical and dental support, education on the virus, shelter, food, and any relief we can carry in on horse and mule.
To be a Free Burma Ranger you can be a man or woman, can be of any ethnicity, and have any religion or no religion. My family and I try to follow Jesus and we have Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Animists, agnostics and atheists on our teams. All are welcome but each has to agree to three things: one, do this for love not for pay; two, be able to read and write in any language so that you can make reports and do good medicine; three, you cannot run if the people cannot run. We stay with the people and in so doing have lost 30 Rangers, including last year in Syria where one of my ethnic Kachin teammates and closest friends, who was an uncle for my children, was killed next to me.
There has been no change for us here as the Burma Army hunted us before and does so now. However, one thing has changed. Because of the effect of the virus and governments’ reactions to it, the international borders are closed. They are more heavily patrolled and thus it is very difficult and risky to get relief supplies across to any of the areas in conflict in Burma. By the dedication of the local people and prayer, we find ways, but it takes longer and it’s harder. Still, our 100+ teams in Burma have not stopped and we find ways to keep helping the people.
In Syria we have a relief effort, but it is very difficult now to cross the border into the areas of Northeast Syria where we work. The difficulty of getting relief across the border has increased the suffering especially of the people who fled last year’s Turkish-led invasion of Northeast Syria.
In Kurdistan, northern Iraq, our teams have been able to work well with local public health authorities and provide an ambulance service. To the west and south in Nineveh Province, Iraq, it is difficult to get relief in and to follow up on patients we are helping treat. The virus is used as an excuse to stop assistance, especially to the minority Christians and Yezidis.
When this virus started, we were in Burma on relief missions and from there went to Syria and then we came back to Burma. I remember praying and thinking, “How do we respond to this virus and the effects of the virus?”
I believe the virus is deadly and serious, but God is bigger than the virus. Also, people’s roles in responding to the virus will necessarily be different. I have a close friend, Dr Qanta Ahmed, who is a Muslim doctor in New York City, and she has been working this whole time to save lives. What she does and how she does it is very different than an FBR team in the jungle conflict areas of Burma. But, there’s a harmony in our work together as both she, we, and others are trying to save lives and share love. We do not want to be led by comfort, fear, or pride. We want to be led by the opportunities we have to serve and to love.
In between our Syria and most recent Burma mission I went to visit my 90-year-old father and 88-year-old mother who are working in Thailand. Before I went I asked, “Dad are you sure you want me to come with our family and some of our team?”
My father answered, “Yes, come! Dave, something is gonna get you eventually! We are not immortal and we aren’t living life in fear. We are aware of dangers and we try to avoid them, but we go with the good opportunities. If we die, I can think of no better way to die than with our children, grandchildren, and their friends. We are not afraid, come on! If someone is sick now with the virus, they should get better before they come, but come on!”
So, we did, and then prayerfully from there went into Burma.
As we look at this virus and its deadly danger, we have to do with it as we do with all things that threaten us: find ways to mitigate the risk, combat the disease, and help people. We need to do this in love, not fear, and each of us will have different responses depending on the situation and our responsibilities. As we each do this in love and respect for each other there will be harmony in how we live and work.
Response to the Anguish in America
We have also seen the recent news about George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests against inequality that have exploded all across our country and the world, some of which have resulted in more death and destruction. This makes us sad for those who have experienced such loss and injustice. Prejudice, injustice, hate and the evils that come from these sins must and can be stopped.
When evil happens far from me, I only know to pray and ask God what to do and for God to lead the way for a change. When evil happens next to me, I only know to pray and then respond in love.
This means I do not ignore the evil or try to protect myself by avoiding it. It means I first ask God to show me the truth about myself, repent of my own sins, and ask forgiveness. I want to pray and, as God leads, go into the middle of the evil to act in love, shine a light, and stand with those who are suffering, no matter what it costs me. Evil is powerful but it is not the only force in the world. Good is greater and has God’s loving power behind it. We all have a choice when we are confronted by evil: turn away from it, add to it, or stand against it.
Just as it would be hard for you to advise us here in the jungles of Burma or deserts of Syria exactly how to do our work each day, we here are not in the position to give detailed advice. But we can pray for you as you pray for us.
One of our FBR chaplains, Kim Kingshill, told me years ago, “Reconciliation is where the rubber meets the road in Christianity.”
Reconciliation is everybody’s choice. Evil must be stood against and the goal is always reconciliation. Our duty is to pray, listen to each other, and then wade into the problem with humility and love, willing to lose everything. God will guide each of us with what to do. We are behind you in love and prayer and in any way you ask. Revenge, denial, and avoidance of the evil are tempting for all sides, but they do not solve the problem. It ends up hurting us more and adds to the evil.
In my own experience of injustice and loss at the hands of ISIS in the Battle of Mosul, I learned that the difference between justice and revenge is love. Without love we will not get justice, only revenge. With love we have the power to stand against the evil in our own hearts and the evil in others’ hearts and prevail. Our souls are what we must be most careful of and love keeps our souls safe and strong. We all have different forms of evil to face but with God’s help we can defeat it with love. Then reconciliation can happen. Reconciliation through changed hearts is one of the greatest joys to experience.
For me, I cannot do this without Jesus. There is too much wrong with me and other people for me to solve problems alone. But it is not too much for Jesus who promises to help when we call on His name. The line between good and evil runs through all hearts and our real enemy is evil, not other people. Let us unite in love to defeat evil anywhere we find it.
I hope some of this was helpful and I realize I do not know that much. We have our own small perspective, but I do believe that we can agree on love and the fruits of love which are truth, courage, freedom, reconciliation, and friendship. I am sending this from Karen State, Burma, which is beautiful in spite of the ongoing attacks. America, and the rest of the world, are beautiful, too, in spite of evil. It is all worth fighting for with love, humility, truth, courage, and faith.
May God bless you all and I thank God especially for your help.
Dave Eubank, family, and the Free Burma Rangers