FBR Report: A Foundation Tested by War and Change

Karen State, Burma
9 January, 2013

In some areas of Burma there is a new openness and reforms; however,
where we are in Karen State the Burma Army continues the buildup of
its camps and roads. In Kachin State in northern Burma an offensive
has been going on for more than a year as over 100 Burma Army
battalions pound Kachin villages and positions with mortars and
artillery, with support from attack helicopters and fighter jets. Over
100,000 Kachin people are now displaced and in need of security, food,
shelter and medicine. We are now in the middle of the first mission
for 15 new relief teams here in Karen State.

Start of the Tha Dah Der Run for Relief

Since 1998, we have been coming to the village of Tha Dah Der,
sometimes to launch new teams on missions, sometimes between missions;
we’ve spent Christmases and New Years’ here, celebrating with the
villagers, playing games around bonfires and worshiping in church
together. We first came right after the village had been burned in
1998, and each year after that, through the offensives of 2006 and
2007 where over 4,000 IDPs fled though the village, and in 2008 when
the Burma Army, on the way to attack the village, killed three
villagers who were our friends. The house some of us stay in still has
bullet holes from that attack. We were here through shellings and when
Dah Kaw Toh Baw, a village 20 minutes away, was attacked and burned.
We were here when mortar and machine-gun fire from attacking Burma
Army troops nearby forced families to flee the village to camp in rice
fields out of range, while we stayed with the one family who would not
flee; and we were here when the villagers returned, with students
carrying blackboards and books across the fields on a sunny, blue-sky,
golden-brown day. We came in 2010 in the wake of the Burma Army’s
burning of the village and its church, and were here in 2011 to
celebrate the dedication of the new church. Now we are here again;
and it is good, in the midst of a changing Burma, to be standing
together on the foundation built by this shared history of love and

Burma Army builds up Maw Pu camp, Karen State, 7 Dec 2012

In Tha Dah Der there are no attacks now but a reconnaissance of the
Maw Pu Burma Army Camp two hours away showed a buildup of the camp.
We observed camouflage zinc roofing being put on new buildings (this
is a major improvement we had not seen before in this camp). There
were also six new solar panels installed, the first time we have seen
these in use here. The estimated 40 troops in the camp are from
Battalion 707 of Military Operations Command (MOC) 4 and as we
observed them they were reinforcing their buildings, putting on the
new roofing, and moving about their improved bunkers. Here, as in
other camps in Karen State, the Burma Army seems to be using the
ceasefire negotiations to build up rather than remove their front-line

FBR team sings during Tha Dah Der church service

On Sunday we had worship with the people at the rebuilt Tha Dah Der
church. We heard three different testimonies that moved many of us to
tears, as well as many songs. At the end of the service over 30
people came forward to receive Christ and most of these were from the
Buddhist Mon and Plo Karen teams. The Mon team leader – a tough
soldier – said, “When I walked into the door of the church, I felt a
great presence and my heart was filled with love all the time I was
there. At the end I went forward in response to this presence and to
know God better.”

Also during the service, Nay Kaw, a long-haired, very athletic soldier
and FBR team leader – who was the first Doo Tha Htu District FBR team
leader and is also a classical Karen mandolin player who sings the
ancient poems – performed a song he had written about the destruction
of Tha Dah Der and its church, the rebuilding, the unity, the love and
now the reunion. He is an animist and before he performed he asked
for understanding and permission to play in the church. As he sang we
were all carried by the melody and power of his words and God’s
presence seemed to fill our hearts. Nay Kaw too came forward at the
end of the service to receive the Lord and prayed again later to
confirm that. Our family is growing and what cool additions!

This year the teams included members from Karen, Plo Karen, Karenni,
Lahu, Mon, and Naga areas of Burma and the next day at the GLC program
they all introduced themselves to the children, who came from seven
villages to participate. After introductions and in front of the
crowd, we recognized some of the long relationships we have here by
awarding medals to those who have consistently helped FBR and the
people of this area over many years, through attacks and in danger,
those who have helped their people not just survive but thrive. The
program then moved into full swing, with singing, dancing, and dramas,
and tea and snacks provided to everyone at the break while medics
treated patients, and reporters interviewed people to learn the
situation in the area.

Teams treat patients during GLC program
Karen, Karenni, Lahu, Mon and Naga singing at GLC program
Junior rangers learn navigation

New this year is the Junior Ranger program, designed to inspire young
people to become servant leaders and also give them a practical skill
they can use to help their community. Young people in 5th grade and
higher separated from the younger kids and FBR teams gave them a
30-minute leadership training and then they were given the chance to
choose one from among three ranger skills to learn more about:
reporting and camera use, map and compass navigation, and medicine.
The ranger instructors were surrounded by eager students taking notes
as they learned how to use a compass, or how to make rehydration fluid
and take care of a wound. The rangers were also excited to share the
skills they had finished studying only days before.

The program ended with song and happy shouting and the students began
the treks back to their villages. For us, it had been a good three
days, of worship, and fun and singing, and spending time with new and
old friends in a beautiful place. As everyone left after the GLC
program, we gathered the teams to make plans for the future, for the
rest of the mission. Just so, people all over Burma and here in
Karen State too are now looking to the future – with a new hope but
also tempered with caution. We don’t know what it holds; but, being
here, we do know that the joy of these friendships, the commitment of
shared history, and the depth of these relationships help make a solid
foundation upon which the future is being built. Thank you for being
part of this foundation of faith, love and service. We are grateful
for all of you who help.

God bless you,

The Free Burma Rangers

FBR medic works on a patient’s tooth in the field