Lights Rushing Into Darkness: Rangers Bring Hope to Chin State
April 18, 2023
Chin State, Burma
Over the past year, Chin State has seen some of the most intense fighting in all of Burma. Clashes between the Burma Army and armed ethnic groups are frequent. The Burma Army also has engaged in a pattern of bombing civilian populations over which they have lost control or where they have recently lost a battle. For example, in early February 2023, the town of Thantlang in Falam District, with a population of 14,000 people, was completely leveled after several weeks of Burma Army airstrikes. Since then, the Burma Army has been bombing the surrounding villages, including Khuafo Village, in which eight people were killed – including children – by airstrikes on 31 March 2023. Burma Army jets and helicopters are also bombing towns and villages further north, near Kale Township. The Burma Army’s atrocities have internally displaced over 70,000 people in Chin State alone, along with another 765,000 people from neighboring Sagaing Division. Over 40,000 people have fled to Mizoram State, India, as refugees.
In mid-March, the Burma Army launched a major ground offensive to retake strategic locations in Falam and Hakha townships. Fighting across Chin State has intensified and Burma Army jets and helicopters are hitting more locations. The result is even more IDPs, and already-displaced people being displaced again.
The Free Burma Rangers (FBR) Chin and headquarters staff teamed up between February 14th and March 5th, 2023, to conduct a mission of bringing help, hope, and love to the people impacted in these areas. The theme of “light in darkness” permeated many aspects of the mission. The following report includes a personal reflection from the chaplain on the mission, as well as providing a daily log of the team’s activities.
Lights Rushing Into Darkness, Written by FBR Chaplain
On the morning of 23 February 2023, our FBR team was in Tlangpi Village, Chin State, to conduct a mobile medical clinic for IDPs who had fled from Thantlang – a town of about 15,000 residents in Chin State which had been relentlessly bombed over the past several weeks. The site of the most recent airstrike, the day before, was the Thantlang police station, the last Burma Army stronghold in Thantlang which had been overrun by the Chin National Army (CNA) on February 8, 2023. Since losing the police station, the Burma Army had flattened Thantlang with airstrikes. We left the mobile medical clinic in the hands of capable nurses and started driving to Thantlang to survey and document the site and to encourage, help, and pray for anyone who might still be there.
As we drove toward the town on the dusty, bumpy road, we were met on the outskirts of Thantlang with a deafening silence. Everything was still and quiet. No sign of life. No people. No voices. No cars. Nothing. There was not even the sound of a bird or the stirring of an insect. The silence felt threatening and dark. I prayed silently asking God if we should continue or not. At that moment, the Ranger driving the vehicle stopped and asked, “Are you praying? Should we continue or not?” He was feeling the same. We both prayed, and we felt God giving us peace and urgency to continue. We needed to continue into the darkness.
We drove past the silent farms, then past abandoned and severely damaged homes on the outskirts of town. The plants and bushes that once decorated these properties now seemed to curse them with wild and twisted overgrowth. Soon we came to the edge of the town proper and to a Chin National Army (CNA) checkpoint where we were met by several soldiers and an officer in charge. He knew we were coming and was waiting for us outside the apartment-building-turned-headquarters. He encouraged us to continue to survey the bomb site which had injured one CNA soldier two nights before. He told us to encourage and pray for anyone we should meet. “They will need it,” he said.
The officer provided a security detail of two soldiers to accompany us. The four of us drove through the deserted streets of Thantlang. We passed one bombed-out or burned-down house after another. Block after block, every home, every church, every school, and every structure was reduced to ash or scattered bits of rubble. The few homes still partially standing were pockmarked with bullet holes or gaping cavities where mortar rounds punched through. We drove as far as the burned-out Johnson Memorial Baptist Church where a barricade was set up. From here we set out on foot.
Though the sun beat down from above, it didn’t brighten the darkness of Thantlang. As we headed uphill toward the police station it was more of the same – every single home destroyed. Again, no people, no birds, no insects – the absence of life. Walking near these homes hit closer to home emotionally than driving had. We walked by fragments of children’s toys; a half-finished Chin sash, still on the loom; slippers laying as if they fell off fleeing feet – images of the last moments of life as these people knew it.
When we reached the police station, we were greeted by a scene of total annihilation. The police station is one of several government buildings circling an open courtyard area. Every building was destroyed, and the open area was a moonscape of craters within craters. Ironically, the “May I help you” sign near the police station still stood. The most recent bomb had landed directly in front of the police station, peeled the front part of it away, and heaped the rest of it with earth and debris.
After we finished surveying the crater, we heard a voice coming from behind us. One of the soldiers with us pointed to a trench that led to a small, dark opening in the earth. Out from the darkness peered the smiling face of a young CNA soldier. He came out and embraced me, followed by two other smiling faces from the same hole. All at once, from all around us, young men emerged out of dark holes scattered about the central courtyard. We were surrounded by 10 young men with haggard but joyful expressions, shaking our hands or giving bear hugs.
They introduced themselves and said where they were from and how old they were. They were all 18, 19, or 20, and from all over Chin State. We introduced ourselves and explained why we were there. Then, one by one, they all shared prayer requests. Everyone asked for strength and courage to keep fighting. Some asked for prayers for their families’ safety. We hunkered down behind the remains of the Thantlang post office, gathered in a circle, and prayed for God to bless each person with strength, courage, and victory over their physical enemy and over the biggest enemy of all – sin and death. We prayed for families. We prayed for the light of Jesus to shine in our hearts and in the midst of darkness. Halfway through the prayer we paused in silence at what sounded like jets. It was only the wind blowing through a torn billboard. I finished the prayer, spoke the words of Philippians 4:13, and said a short blessing. When the “Amen” was spoken, it was like a steady glow of God’s light had pushed the darkness away and everyone drank in the light. Everyone had been spiritually fed and strengthened. Then, suddenly, every soldier perked up in a state of alert and sensed something was wrong. They hastily said goodbye and started heading back to their dark holes. Our detail also sensed danger and urged us to head back.
We hiked back down through the ruins of Thantlang, past the burned church to our vehicle, and then to the checkpoint. Within 20 minutes of leaving, two jets were circling Thantlang. No bombs were dropped that afternoon. Seven were dropped later that evening; thankfully no one was injured. Two days after our visit there was a battle near the burned-out Baptist church. Burma Army troops were driven back, but a subsequent airstrike killed two CNA soldiers. I don’t know if any of the ten we met at the police station were among the dead or wounded.
When our Ranger team left the ten men at the police station, I was left with an enduring image. After we prayed and everyone was recharged with God’s light, they didn’t just run back into dark holes, they raced, confidently, back into the darkness of a world ravished by sin and war and death. They went back into the darkness, not as people who are afraid of it, but as people who possess the light of life and know it will scatter the darkness – both now and in eternity. No matter how dark it gets, the light is always stronger. John 1:5 says of Jesus, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And Jesus says of himself to us in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Just a few minutes in prayer helped us all refocus our gaze on Jesus, the Light of the world.
Whatever darkness you may face, may Jesus, the Light of the world, illuminate and scatter that darkness as you follow His beckoning light. And as you have received the light of life, may you also be a light that runs toward the darkness to shine in the midst of it. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. Because of this, we can step boldly into any darkness.
A Daily Log of Help, Hope, and Love
15 February 2023
Our team prayed for and encouraged several families at a refugee camp in Mizoram who had recently arrived from Tahan Subdistrict of Kale Township in Sagaing Division. The FBR chaplain shared a short devotion with a mother and four children who arrived the day before. We talked about Jesus’ flight to Egypt, and how Jesus and his parents were also refugees and how Jesus understands what we are going through and is able to help us.
16 February 2023
We encouraged and prayed with Chin political and military leaders late into the night. We talked about leadership, challenges of uniting the Chin people, and how a strong relationship with Jesus and Christian principles of leadership and ethics can reshape the next generation of leaders. The FBR chaplain shared words of scripture and prayed for God to give them courage and wisdom to lead and shape other leaders.
17 February 2023
- We interviewed and prayed with patients at a mobile medical clinic in a Chin State village.
- The FBR chaplain got to know the local pastor who has a gift and passion for influencing and discipling young people. The pastor invited the chaplain to preach at his church in the evening. About 50 people, mostly under 20 years old, came. The chaplain encouraged him to keep reaching young people and the IDPs who are flooding into the area.
18 February 2023
- The Chin Ranger team worshiped at a local church in Mizoram. One Ranger was asked to preach. He gave a sermon on Ephesians 1:1-14.
- After church, part of the Ranger team visited the family of a murder victim to pray and encourage them together with several local church leaders.
- The Ranger team visited a new refugee family of 10 people, representing 3 generations, who had recently arrived in Mizoram and had been taken in by a local church. Both visits were very moving to see how local Christians showed God’s love to the heartbroken and to the refugees.
20 February 2023
The Chin Ranger team attended a Chin National Day celebration. The event was attended by political and military leaders, defense force soldiers, and civilians – about 400 people altogether. There were speeches, music, dance, and a meal. One of the Rangers gave a closing prayer and word of encouragement to the audience.
21 February 2023
We met with the Chin National Front Army leaders. The Ranger team learned more about the conflict and ways FBR can help provide care to those affected. We prayed with many of the leaders.
22 February 2023
- While a mobile medical clinic was being conducted, we met a local pastor who invited the FBR chaplain to speak to a group of about 20 people at his church gathered for a prayer meeting. The chaplain led a Bible study on Matthew 5 and prayed with the group.
- Afterwards, the chaplain visited the home of a woman who went into shock after a one-pound piece of bomb shrapnel from an airstrike the day before went through the roof and struck only an inch from her. She was awake but mostly unresponsive, and her heart was beating at a high rate. The chaplain sat by her bedside and read scripture and prayed for her and her family.
- The Ranger team interviewed an IDP woman from Thantlang who came to the clinic. She is staying in the home of someone there who fled to another location. She expressed loss and sadness at the destruction of her home in Thantlang, but she also was joyful and thankful that God had provided, at least, a temporary shelter. She said jets fly over almost daily and that an airstrike only a mile away the night before had been terrifying to her. She shared how most villagers sleep in the jungle and they all know what to do when they hear jets. The chaplain shared John 14 with her and talked about the house Jesus is preparing that will never be burned or bombed.
- In the evening Rangers slept in the jungle with villagers, which is about a 30-minute hike from the village. Around the fire, a village elder asked the FBR chaplain to address the group of about 25 people. He shared a message on Romans 8 and related it to persecuted Christians in China being able to forgive their enemies for atrocities and how this has brought peace between the two groups. This group not only forgave their oppressors but shared the gospel with them and now worship with them and their descendants. In Christ, there is the same hope for Burma. As we sat around the warming light of the campfire, the light of God’s love warmed our hearts and brought hope.
23 February 2023
- We led a short prayer service for 10 Chin National Army (CNA) troops which provided timely spiritual relief to the men as they are in one of the most dangerous places in Chin State.
- The FBR chaplain paid a follow up visit to the woman who had gone into shock following the shrapnel incident. She was up and about, feeling much better. Praise the Lord!
- The chaplain chatted with a local village pastor about being intentional about seeking out IDPs in the town and providing Christian community, presence, and spiritual care.
- Rangers talked and prayed for one another late into the night.
24 February 2023
The Ranger team led a short program for about 150 mothers and children who came for the mobile medical clinic. We did a skit about Jesus letting the children come to him, a skit about washing hands and brushing teeth, and sang songs.
26 February 2023
Pastor “Kal” and another church member arrived in Mizoram from northern Chin State. The FBR chaplain met with them along with twelve other refugees from his church in northern Chin. We worshiped together and spent most of the day talking about the very dire situation in northern Chin. The number of refugees coming into Mizoram from there has swelled in the past month. Many are struggling financially. We discussed and prayed about ways to physically and spiritually support refugees and IDPs from there. That area is more challenging because it is still mostly under Burma Army control.
27 February 2023
The FBR chaplain met with Pastor “Kal” from northern Chin State along with several refugees from his church who are now refugees in Mizoram. It was mostly a time of encouragement, prayer, and reuniting between Pastor Kal and his members who had fled to Mizoram. We also talked about how to encourage and support church members to keep gathering and worshiping in their new city.
Mobile Medical Clinics
The Chin Ranger teams have been supplying medicine to mobile medical teams for several months. Each medical supply unit contains medicine to treat illnesses and injuries encountered in the field. Medical teams can be deployed quickly wherever the need is greatest. On this mission, medical teams operated in five locations within Chin State and a total of 511 patients were able to be treated by Rangers. In some of these communities, IDPs are difficult to identify because they have been absorbed into existing villages, finding space in people’s homes, or building additional structures within the community. Some communities have acquired outside funds to build more obvious IDP camps.
During this mission, our team visited with a Chin State-based health organization run by doctors whose main objective is providing medical supplies and treatment to the most affected areas of Chin State. They have a network of fixed and mobile medical clinics all over Chin State. They are blessed to have medical teams in most of the strategic areas of Chin, but they do not have the means to supply all of the locations. FBR aims to partner with this organization to bring medical relief to more IDPs in Chin State.
Thank you and God bless you,
Free Burma Rangers
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