A Sanctuary In the Storm: The Passing of Dr. Simon

Karen State, Burma
3 August, 2015

Dear friends, family and team mates,

We are sad to pass on the news that Rev. Dr. Saw Simon a Karen refugee leader, pastor and founder of Mae La Bible School, has passed away. He is now in Heaven with Jesus and though we are sad for all of us who miss him, we are happy for him. To me his poem below exemplifies his life and faith.

Our Living Testimony
by Dr. Simon
They call us a displaced people,
But praise God we are not misplaced.They say they see no hope for our future,
But praise God our future is as bright as the promises of God.They say they see the life of our people is a misery,
But praise God our life is a mystery.
For what they say is what they see
And what they see is temporal,But ours is the eternal.
All because we put ourselves
In the hands of God we trust.

Dr Simon and our family at Bible School four months before he passed away
Dr. Simon and the Karen Refugee Choir prepare for the Franklin Graham Gospel Festival
Dr, Simon shares God’s love to the world at the Festival

Dr. Simon left his position as a church leader in Burma to serve the displaced and oppressed in the jungles of Karen State. Dr. Simon and his family started schools and shared God’s love with those in need. When the schools and people’s villager were burned and they were forced into Thailand, Pastor Simon and his family came with them. to help them rebuild.

In Mae La refugee camp in Thailand Dr. Simon and his family started a Bible School, education programs, local and cross border out reach missions and a choir that has touched the hearts of people all over the world.

I remember being with refugees who were fleeing the Burma Army and helping them carry their belongings to the Moei river that marks the Burma – Thai border. We crossed before the Burma soldiers could catch us and then walked to the sanctuary of Mae La refugee camp. Once in the safety of the camp everyone was fed and cared for. Later that night, outside the Bible School, I looked up at the starry sky, with the cliffs of Mae La on one side and the refugees’s huts spread out below and the beautiful songs of Dr. Simon’s choir floating through the air.

I felt total peace and gratitude to be in such a wholesome sanctuary of beauty and goodness. We could all relax and sleep.

I thought, “This is what refugees feel when they escape out from the hands of the attacking Burma Army. They find a place of safety, of shelter, of provision, of rest. And because of Dr. Simon, they also find a sanctuary of love, peace and opportunity.

Through the years Pastor Simon has become a close friend who has helped to advise, guide and support FBR as we try to follow God and serve all in need. We thank God for him and how he changed our lives. Below is another one of the many poems he wrote and following that is a story of his life in his own words.

Thank you and may God bless you,

Dave, family and the Free Burma Rangers

Our Living Testimony 2 (after the fire that destroyed the Bible School at Mae La refugee camp)
We lost everything with the fire that caught our KKBBSC on April 28, 2012, but we still have everything, because God is our Everything.
Gone with the fire are our sins and transgressions, not His Mercy and Grace.
Gone with the fire are the buildings and material things that can be replaced even with the better ones, but praise God no life was lost.
Gone with the fire are the visitors’ notes that contained best wishes, prayers, encouragements and promises by friends around the world, but not their continuing love, care and concern for us expressed in their words and deeds.
Gone with the fire are our fears and doubts, not our faith in the almighty and living God.

Dr. Simon’s Story:

“They called me Simon” is what I used to answer when friends asked: What’s your name? Yesterday a friend of mine, a classmate at the BIT (1974-1977), Thramu Nant Violet Kyaw visited me and greeted me: “Hi! They called me Simon.” I was so pleased and my heart so over flown with joy so much so that I couldn’t hold my tears from falling.

I was born on Tuesday, July 19, (the day Gen. Aung San and some of his cabinet members were assassinated) 1949 (the year the Karen people started their struggle for freedom and rights) in Naung Boh, a Karen village located in the South-East of Pegu (P’go), the district capital and the township of our village is K’Wa. My grandfather from my father’s side is a Sgaw Karen from Karen State, and my grand-mother is a Pwo Karen from Bassein (Kyongpyaw) and my grandfather from my mother’s side is a Sgaw Karen from P’go Yoma, Gyaguide-myaung – Legyamyaung – Omdamyaung located in the West of Daike-Oo and Nyaunglebin and my grandmother is a Sgaw Karen from Tonegyi village near K’wa and most of her relatives live in Kyun-gone, Sa-bu-daung, Wa-net-gone and Pa-gyee-wine villages. My father served in the Armed Police before he got married and my mother served as a teacher before she got married and they both became farmers after they married. I have five brothers and one sister. We speak only Karen in our village because all are Karen and we learned Burmese from the schools. I finished my primary education (4th grade) in our village primary school, my middle school education (7th grade) in Sabudaung middle school, and high school education (10th grade) in Kyaukkyi (Ler Doh) town in Pegu district in 1969. (21 years – 1949-1969).

Then I joined the Burma Divinity School (BDS- now Myanmar Institute of Theology-MIT) in 1969, doing my B.Th. and then my B.D/M.Div. programs and called to serve there when graduated. On April 22nd, 1980 I got married to Thramu Ta Blut Htoo, the eldest daughter of Brigadier Johnny Htoo (one of the officers in the British Army during the WW-II) of the 6th Brigade of the Karen National Liberation Army, who later (captured by the Burmese Army) became Rev. Johnny Htoo, the Pastor of Taunggyi Karen Baptist Church. We were blessed by the Lord with 3 lovely daughters, Nyaw, Thaw, and Paw. Then I was sent to the Philippines to do my M.Th. and doctoral programins at the Asian Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary (ABGTS) in 1985 to 1987(during the People Power Movement – Marcos and Aquino struggling for the Presidency of the Philippines). I came back to Rangoon, Burma in the middle of June 1987 to finish my dissertation and continue my teaching at the BIT/MIT. Then there was a People Power Movement called 8.8.88 (August 8, 1988) and all universities, colleges, schools including all Bible Schools and Seminaries closed indefinitely. And in the middle of March 1969 we left Rangoon/Yangone (BIT/MIT) to come, live and serve the Lord among our suffering Karen people in the Karen State/ Kawthoolei. (Another 21 years – 1969 to 1989).

My wife has five sisters and one brother. The whole family of my father-in-law (except my brother-in-law) joined us as we journeyed to Kawthoolei. We arrived at Mar Ner Plaw, the General Headquarters of the Karen National Union in Kawthoolei in early June 1989 and stayed a few days in Mar Ner Plaw, meeting the KNU leaders and friends and relatives there. My father-in-law, Rev. Johnny Htoo joined us with the sole purpose to be with his people, meet, greet and pray for the Karen Leaders, Officers and soldiers and all the people living in Kawthoolei. Gen. Bo Mya, then the General and the President of the Karen National Union asked us to live and work and help at the General Headquarters but my father-in-law insisted and requested him to allow us to go to Wallei in the 6th Brigade where once he served as the Brigadier. Gen. Bo Mya kindly allowed us to go and we started our journey to Wallei immediately and arrived at Wallei in the last week of June, 1989. The Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School & College (KKBBSC) now operating in Mae La refugee/displaced camp was then in Wallei and all the leaders there knew our family well and knew that I served in BIT/MIT as one of the Professors, so requested me to help as part-time teacher. I did as requested and at the KKBC Annual Meeting held in Tavoy-Merguio Area at Mae Tha-mee-ta, I was elected as the new principal of the Bible School as Rev. Jerry Lynn retired. We came back to Wallei after the meeting and have to evacuate Wallei because the Burma Army troops attacked and occupied the place in December 1989. We then moved to Maw Ker refugee camp and lived there. I became the newly elected Principal of the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School (KKBBS) without buildings, students and faculty and staff. We fasted and prayed for God’s direction and we went to different places in Kawthoolei hoping to find a place we can relocate our school and resume our ministry of teaching and equipping our young and old, men and women for the future leadership of our churches and our people. But we couldn’t find a place and the respective leaders in the areas concerned cannot guarantee the security for the school. We finally came to Mae La camp, talked to the leaders and all agreed to have the KKBBS relocated in Mae La camp. So in the middle of March 1990, we came to Mae La and started constructing buildings for our Bible School, staff houses and dormitories for the boys and girls. By the grace of God, the teaching and equipping ministry of the KKBBS continues to run smoothly in spite of all the difficulties, hardships, restrictions and limitations confronting us daily as refugees or displaced people.

Then in 1993 and 1997 we added two new programs to our School, the Bachelor of Theological Studies (BTS) and the Bachelor of Arts (Liberal Arts – BA) respectively to meet the need of our young people for getting higher education. Our aim and purpose is to enable our young people to get higher education by making opportunity available for them to study in the camps. We don’t want our young people to waste their time, roaming around aimlessly, feeling depressed and involving in dirty businesses that multiply the problems of HIV & AIDS and the usage of drugs. We try the best we can and with the blessings of God by using His sons and daughters around the world to help, support and pray for us, our teaching and equipping ministry is growing, extending, and expending year by year. So, the name of our Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School is extended to Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School & College and we now have Bible Schools in all the refugee/displaced camps in Thailand. Praise the Lord. He is able to do everything and anything. From no Bible school to one Bible School in a war-torn Land without Evil (the literal meaning of Kawthoolei) to 7 Bible Schools in all the 7 camps. Our KKBBSC which started with only 4 teachers and 6 students on June 9th, 1983, now has 373 students studying in the two programs, namely the Karen Theological Program (medium of teaching in Karen) and the B.T.S. now changed to B.Th. Program (medium of teaching in English) and 33 faculty and staff trying the best we can as volunteer servants of the Lord with no salary but a subsidy of five thousand baht per teacher per year. By the grace of God we were able to successfully have the 28th KKBC Annual Meeting from March 20 to 24, 2012 followed by the 26th Graduation Exercises of the KKBBSC on Sunday, March 25, 2012 with 12 students from the Karen Program and 23 students from the B.Th. English Program graduated from the College and ready to serve the Lord in their respective ministry and place they are called to. Life in the camps from 1990 to 2010 is another set of 21 years in my life and I would like to express my sincere gratitude and great appreciation to all our dear brothers and sisters in the Lord who have faithfully helping, supporting, praying for us and coming to visit, fellowship, teach and encourage us and see what the Lord has done, and is doing and will do for us in the future. And to those of you, especially the charity ones who need detailed report for the auditors of how the funding is used which I cannot provide (in my context working with partners in the various ministries), but I promise you all and I have done the best I can, and is doing and will continue to do the best I can in using the donation for meaningful purposes and for the poor and the needy brothers and sisters. I am here following the example of our Lord and Master, to serve and not to be served (though many of you, my friends and brothers and sisters in the Lord, provided me with what I personally need, aside from supporting the various ministries of the KKBC and the KKBBSC). Thank you so much for your kindness and understanding and overlooking my weaknesses.

At the meeting of the Global Karen Baptist Fellowship held from May 30 to June 1, 2010, we officially organized and established our GKBF and I was elected as the General Secretary of the Global Karen Baptist Fellowship and now I am one of the advisers of the GKBF when we have the new election at our GKBF Mass Meeting from June 5 to 8, 2011 in Chiangmai. I saw it as a sign of God’s miraculous work in the life and plight of our people to fulfill His plan for our people. The third stanza of our Karen National Anthem is written like a prophecy for our people. We cannot understand when we sang it before the year 2005 when the resettlement project started and many of our people resettle to the third countries. It says: “God of our fathers, our hope for the ages, we believe in you. Help us to become your disciples and take the Gospel to the whole world.” How can the people who have to live under the oppressive and suppressive rules be able to take the Gospel to the whole world? Now we have Australia, Newzealand, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Finland, Denmark, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Canada as the countries which receive the refugees to be resettled. We now have more than seventy thousand Karen people resettled to the third countries. Our three daughters, Nyaw, Thaw, and Paw are now in Canada and Nyaw and Thaw are already Canadians and we are proud to be the parents of Canadian daughters though we are living as refugees or displaced people in the camp in Thailand. Paw just arrived in Canada last year on February 9, 2011. We thank God for giving us three daughters, who can stand on their own feet, working hard to earn money for their living and schooling. They even sent us donations to support us as we struggle to serve the Lord in the camps. Nyaw is doing her M.Div. at the Seminary in Vancouver.

Though we are still living and serving the Lord in the camps, I am strongly convinced that another set of 21 years of my life (2010 to 2030) the Lord will open the door and enable us to return to our own beautiful Land called Kawthoolei and rebuild our life and live and serve the Lord as human beings created in God’s own image. At our KKBC election for the new term of service, we have chosen the theme or motto for our KKBC and it was done by a leader chosen to pray for and draw the lot to choose the new motto. All the proposed motto (7 in all) were written each on piece of paper and rolled and put in a box and Thramu Htoo Lei was chosen to pray for and draw the lot for the new motto. She prayed and drew the lot after prayer and the new motto is Nehemiah ch. 3 – “With their hands they rebuild”. I praise and thank the Lord for answering my prayer. It was the one I have chosen as it is my strong desire and wish that another 21 years of my life, I want to see our people returning home and rebuilding our life in our own Land of Kawthoolei. God in His Holy Word, said, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 3:3. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”3:8. I am sure that all of us, the people of Burma, and people all over the world will agree that what the world needs is love, healing, building up one another, and peace. Let us all join our hands together and try the best we can and with our own hands rebuild the world to make it a better, and a meaningful place for living. Thank you all so much and God bless you all.
“ Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2”
“Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:9..”

In His teaching & equipping ministry,

(Rev. Dr. Saw Simon) Principal KKBBSC Mae La Camp.

Thursday, March 29, 2012.