A Threat from the Sky, on the Ground in Karenni State

13 February 2022

Karenni State, Burma

I’ve always loved flying, craning my neck to admire airplanes in the sky, but yesterday at the Good Life Club (GLC) program, the families felt no affection for the helicopter that flew overhead. Instead, they ran for cover to avoid being shot at. Daily, in many ethnic areas of Burma, the approaching roar of jets causes people to stop their plowing, playing, or cooking to look up; they wait for the whistling of bombs falling to signal a dash for the closest trench.

These trenches and bunkers became 2021’s new feature in neighborhoods, churches, schoolyards, and clinics in Karen and Karenni states.  Now, in 2022, the attacks continue and over 170,000 Karenni people are in hiding. Our FBR relief teams are in urban Karenni State for the first time and on February 1, 2022, recognized the one-year anniversary of the February 1, 2021 coup at a Good Life Club program with over 1,000 people displaced from the towns of Demoso and Loikaw. Their scenic IDP camp among the pine foothills has been their home-away-from-home for a year, mirroring the hiding places of the 170,000 people displaced throughout Karenni State in a similar situation.

The scene of personal vehicles parked next to the families’ shelters made of donated tarps illuminates the familiarity I share with housewives who came from modern kitchens and contemporary daily routines. The Rangers with us, who represent five different ethnic groups, also share similar experiences with the multi-ethnic IDP families in this region – a testimony that they are not alone in this struggle. Some of the Rangers’ families who, until recently, lived peacefully in their homes have also had to flee to IDP camps. These Rangers heard about the loss of their homes and their families fleeing while they were training at our camp. After this mission to help displaced Karenni, these  Rangers will return to their own displaced families.

Earlier in the morning of the children’s program, the families greeted us with dignity and vitality, eager to pour out their stored up hospitality on their new guests. The schoolteachers and children took the first opportunity to add their own songs and dances to our program. Then, as a Ranger shared about the strength and hope in God’s love through the 5-color-story bracelet, children raised their hands to enthusiastically answer questions, giving the message eager attention despite the afternoon’s hot sun and dusty wind. Our drama of the David and Goliath story encouraged the children that even in their youth God was preparing them for future victories. The Karenni people are in the middle of this story on several fronts. They stand in David’s shoes with mere ‘slingshots’ aimed at their enemy’s superior arsenal. Yet the very fact that we are here, in a historically Burma-government-controlled area means that the mighty-regime-giant has been pushed back.

“We will not accept a dictatorship anymore,” said one of the young leaders. The children sang songs of their people, sent a request to the world for help, and shared that God has provided, sustained, and promised to make a way in the face of evil. Scattered throughout Burma the people’s revolution tenaciously holds on in a tug of war, waiting for the Burma Army to yank hard with its overwhelming military power. My prayer is that the strength of the standoff would miraculously usher in collective instead of combative representation in a just and free Burma.   

The IDP families we’ve met are fueled by the hope that God is with them to bring ultimate good despite their own world having been turned upside down. Horrific atrocities on their people encroach from all sides including the helicopter from above that interrupted our program. The threatening helicopter passed over and the Rangers re-started the games for the children and brought the day’s program to a close with the usual sweet tea and cookies for all in attendance. The harmony from a song sung in a full church service a few days prior echoed in my mind:

“To the work, to the work
We are servants of God,
Let us follow the path
That our Master has trod;
With the balm of his counsel
Our strength to renew,
Let us do with our might
What our hands find to do.
Toiling on…Toiling on..
Toiling on…Toiling on…
Let us hope, Let us watch,
And labor till the Master comes.”

God bless you,

Karen, Family, and FBR