“Please tell the world about the good things about my people” – Remembering Di Gay Htoo
5 July 2020
Karen State, Burma
“Please tell the world about the good things about my people, their faith in God and their love.” – Di Gay Htoo, before he died
Last month we were on a relief mission in Karen State and had the opportunity to visit the grave of one of our first Rangers, Saw Di Gay Htoo. When I first met him in 1998 he told me, “Thank you for coming here to help us and to tell our story. But when you tell the story of my people, please do not just talk about all the bad things that happen to us and our suffering by the Burma Army. Please tell the world about the good things about my people, their faith in God and their love. Of course, we need help. We are too small to make the change in Burma by ourselves. But do tell about what my people do, how they are strong, still free and working together to make our nation better.”
His death due to sickness during a relief mission in 2009 was a great loss for us, the Karen people, and the people of Burma.
Before this mission in 2020 our family and Di Gay Htoo’s brother, Di Gay Leow, or ‘Taxi’, had not been to his grave site. He died in a remote area under attack by the Burma Army while they were also attacking the area we were in. Time went on and we never saw where he was buried. Then, on this mission as we were responding to new Burma Army attacks, we ended up in the valley where he had died so many years ago. Losing him was like losing a brother and finding his grave was very moving. Di Gay Htoo was a humble, brave, dedicated, and selfless young Karen leader. After serving as a Free Burma Ranger relief team leader, Di Gay Htoo was called by the pro-democracy resistance to serve as an officer in the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
His honesty, rapport with villagers, compassion, and sense of duty made him the outstanding young officer of the KNLA. On his last mission he was safeguarding families in the line of a threatened Burma Army attack.
Di Gay Htoo was the first Free Burma Ranger team leader from northern Karen State. He was the honor graduate of the first FBR training in 2001, and his team was the best team of that class. He set a standard of excellence both in training and on relief missions that has not been surpassed.
I first met Di Gay Htoo in 1996 at a leadership training for emergent leaders in central Karen State. I met him next in 1998 on a relief mission to northern Karen State at the end of the 1997-1998 offensive. Arriving in Karen State, a Karen soldier told me, “The way you will go tomorrow is very dangerous and the enemy is close.”
Then a young Karen man approached me and said, “Hello, my name is Di Gay Htoo. You and your wife taught me English and computer in 1996 in southern Karen State and now I am your guide and will be with you on this mission. Tomorrow is very dangerous and anything can happen in one minute. Maybe tomorrow we will be dead, but if so, we will die together. I will be with you.”
I was blessed to realize that this man with me was the grandson of the Di Gay who led the Karen resistance against Japan alongside a British officer named Hugh Seagrim (called ‘Grandfather Longlegs’ by the Karen). These two men organized the Karen who fought with the Allies and helped to defeat the Japanese in Burma. Di Gay and Grandfather Longlegs have always been heroes to me. To have Di Gay’s grandson as my guide was an honor and blessing. As we climbed the mountains between Burma Army lines the next day, he told me words that I will never forget – “tell about the good of my people.”
To Di Gay Htoo we say, “Thank you Di Gay Htoo, for your love, example, humility, and singleness of purpose. The God you served loves you and we are sorry for ourselves for our loss but happy for you that you lived well and that you are now in a new life. We will join you one day. Until that day, we will cherish your memory, and love and comfort your family. We will be strong like you and tell the world about how wonderful your people are. Our family and all the FBR loves you, misses you and thank God for you.”
We said these words again at his graveside and prayed together and thanked God for Di Gay Htoo and for Jesus who will unite us with him one day. We left with tears of sorrow in our eyes but also of gratitude for his life and to be at his graveside.
Thank you all that we can share this with you.
May God bless you,
Dave, family and FBR
“We don’t fight because we hate, we don’t fight because we think it’s a ‘holy war,’ we fight because it is the only way to protect our land and our families and our wives and our children and our homes. And yes, we know that the Burmese are also the children of God. It’s tragic. It’s terrible to fight them. But we have no choice. They won’t talk. They just come and they burn and kill and torture and rape. So we have to fight.” – Di Gay Htoo