Planting Rice Under Fire

29 June 2021
Karen State, Burma

“As I tried to plant my rice this morning, Burma Army machine guns opened up on me. Bullets stitched the water to my left and my right less than one foot from me as I ran. In my panic I ran back and forth and it seemed like the more they shot, the more they enjoyed shooting at me, like it was a game. But I thank God they missed and I dove into the bushes and down into the stream bed. You know, the only thing I can do is plant my rice, without it we don’t have food.” This was the story of Naw Thraw Gay, widow and mother of five, as she told us of being shot at earlier in the morning before the children’s program. We had heard the shooting in the morning and talked with her after the program and prayed with her. We gave her enough funds to buy rice for one year for her family.

Above: Naw Thraw Gay taking cover as bullets fly overhead, and with her daughter.

Then we said, “We want to help you plant the rice. Look, it’s raining hard and the clouds are out, maybe we can go help you plant now.”

She replied, “It’s too dangerous, if they see anyone they will shoot.

I said, “We can pray and try. We will go with you and you don’t have to do it, I will go out in front with some of the Rangers and we will plant. It is raining and the clouds are low, so maybe they will not see us.”

“OK,” she said.

We gathered together our team and our family and we prayed what to do. All of us felt that we should try. We walked through the rain about 20 minutes from the village down to the rice fields. The rain stopped and the clouds lifted as we got to her fields. Across the open rice field, I could see the Burma Army camp above us. We were all covered in plastic sheeting that locals use for the rain, but now we had lost the cloud cover. I told my family and most of the Rangers to stay back in the trees and let a few of us go first and start to plant. Then if there was no shooting they could join us.

We prayed and then myself and Moo Pler, who is an old Ranger of 20 years’ service, and Joseph, DTAK, Kwa Kwa and a volunteer named Jonathon walked out in the flooded paddies to plant the rice. Moo Pler was ahead of us and was already planting as I was walking up behind him. As we approached the field to plant, a machine gun and rifles opened up on us from the camp above. Bullets slashed through the water in an arc all around us. Some bullets went in between us as we turned and ran back to the tree-line where the others were.

Moo Pler was ahead of us and further out so he decided to run the rest of the way across the field, to cover on the other side. Now he was right under the Burma Army guns and camp but, masked by the terrain and trees, he ran through the jungle away from the camp and escaped, circling back and linked up with us.

In the tree-line, bullets were smacking into trees and splitting the bamboo around us. The others on our team and my family had jumped down in the stream bed with Naw Thraw Gay, the widow. Bullets were impacting the dirt above the stream bed and the trees above and all around them. I yelled back asking if they were OK and they said they were all good. In a lull in the shooting I looked out to see if there was any way to plant anything but then the guns opened up again.

We were seeing firsthand what the villagers live with every day. The Burma Army wants to kill and if they cannot kill all then to stop all planting and starve the people out.

We gathered back down the stream with everyone else and prayed what to do. I said we should plant something, I want to plant something and prayed about that. It felt like right thing to do so Joseph gave me a few clumps of seed grass. I found a little dyke that had weeds growing over it and Joseph, DTAK and I crawled forward. I stayed as low as could with my camouflage poncho over me. I crawled low and slow until I got to the flooded paddy where I quickly planted three clumps of nine plantings of rice. As soon as I was done, I turned around, crawling swiftly and then ran back to cover and Joseph and DTAK followed. No one shot at us.

That was all we were able to accomplish. Moo Pler, Jospeh and I had planted a little rice. There was no way to plant more there without getting shot. We gathered down in the creek bed with the rest of the team and prayed again with the widow. She was laughing, recounting how scared she was when the shooting started and she was glad we could see firsthand what she has to live with. “As I jumped into my little dugout that I dug for protection, my knees were shaking.” We all laughed and were grateful to be alive.

Karen, my wife, laughed with relief but was very angry at the Burma Army and described all the bullets that hit near her as she jumped down with the kids next to the widow in the stream bed. “The Burma Army makes you so mad. It is just wrong to shoot at women and kids and anyone trying to plant their fields. This is the evil people have to live with every day here.” Sahale, Suu and Peter, who had come ready to help plant, each described bullets hitting all around them and how they had leaped down out of the fire as Pete kept filming. We all thanked God together that we weren’t hit and prayed for the widow and that she could plant rice again. As we walked back, the Burma Army shot into the fields and into the surrounding trees for the next 20 minutes. We were unable to plant much rice for the widow but we were able to help her by buying rice for a year, to show her we loved her and that she was worth risking our lives for. We are all in this together.

Even though we are weaker than the Burma Army, we will not give up trying to do good things in the midst of evil as long as God helps us. We ourselves are not very good but I believe God wants all of us to do good things and to be together. Thank you for enabling us to do this by your prayers, encouragement, wisdom, and by coming along with us in so many ways. We are doing this with you and with God and we’re doing it in Jesus’ name.

Walking out of the village to help plant rice.

Rice field with Burma Army camp on the hill above.

Under fire from the Burma Army.

Preparing for one more effort to plant rice.

One last attempt, this time crawling, to plant some rice.

Naw Thraw Gay back at safety laughing afterwards.