Loss of a Ranger: Ranger Dies of Liver Cancer. A Personal Reflection

6 May 2022

Karen State, Burma

It’s not often that I write an obituary for one of our team who hasn’t died yet.

Yesterday a small group of us travelled down to the Arakan Army base to visit “Nay Tho” — that is the name his friends call him. Twenty-eight years ago, he was born Lah Kay Mo and then, when he joined the Arakan Army six years ago he received a soldier name, Sitte Khaine. He finished his FBR basic training in 2017 and his advanced training the next year. He worked as a junior instructor for FBR courses and has done a few missions with FBR.

When we went into the base clinic where he was being treated, he greeted us, as he always did, with a big smile, the kind of smile that showed all his teeth and filled his face and mouth. His lips were dry and cracked; they looked a little bit bloody, making his white teeth stand out even more. His legs and feet were swollen, totally blown up, making it difficult for him to walk. His stomach looked like someone in late stages of pregnancy, very protruding and hard as a rock. I am not a doctor, but I imagine his liver cancer is slowly filling his body with blood. Despite his swollen legs and stomach, his arms and hands were only as thick as his bones; any muscle that this once strong young Ranger had has now disappeared.

His face is gaunt. His cheek bones and jaw are sharp, and his jaundiced eyes seem to have sunk deeper into his head. But despite all that, he still smiles a full smile and extends his frail hand to hold mine as we sit down beside him. After a few minutes with him I excuse myself to the bathroom; his wasted body has taken me by surprise, and I need a moment to collect myself emotionally and pray that Jesus would guide me. I had just seen him a month earlier when he showed up at JSMK because he wasn’t feeling well. The doctors there were the ones to catch the spots on his liver. His body had wasted away so much in that month, it was hard to take in.

Me, Htwar Eh and Nay Tho move to a quiet spot where just the three of us can talk. I ask him what the doctors have told him or what he understands about his diagnosis or condition. He replies, “No one has told me much.” When I press him on what he understands of his situation, he says, “The first medic that I saw told me I should stop eating chillies. So I did that but didn’t get any better. Then I went to JSMK and they said I might have cancer but they sent me to Thailand. The doctor in Thailand didn’t really explain the diagnosis to me, he just said I have to go home and that I should be strong and have courage.” I rummaged through the box of medicine that had been given to him, primarily morphine in different forms and other meds to numb his pain. He said he wasn’t in much pain, but that he was taking the medicine regularly. He didn’t fully understand that liver cancer had been the confirmed diagnosis, and that he was most likely going to die.

I explained to him about liver cancer and explained that it was not treatable. Nay Tho sat quietly as he listened and took in the information. He asked, “Can I beat cancer? I want it to go away.” I told him I didn’t know, but that we would pray for healing for his body.

We talked together for nearly an hour. I asked him if he wanted to know what my beliefs were about God and about our bodies and souls. He said he did and he listened very intently as I shared the gospel message with him. I told him I did not want to pressure or force anything on him, and that I wanted to respect what he believes. But I shared with him that our bodies will all waste away one day, but if our soul belongs to Jesus then we will live on forever.

As we talked together, Nay Tho recounted his time with FBR as a time with much joy. He said he loved going on mission after training. He said his favorite part of FBR was doing a GLC program and seeing all the children laughing and having fun. It brought him so much joy to see the children so happy. I could see the memory in his eyes as he looked off in the distance and shared about this. He said, “I am so tired. I have no energy. I want this cancer to end. I want joy like the children at the GLC program.” I asked him if he wanted to pray with me a prayer to accept Christ into his heart and he said he did. He came and sat beside me and held my hand. I wiped a tear from my face and slowly led him through a prayer to give his life to God. Htwar Eh translated the prayer step by step and Nay Tho repeated the prayer.

I don’t know how long Nay Tho will have left in his earthly body, but I know his soul belongs to Jesus and one day maybe soon he will be like a child at a GLC program, filled with laughter and joy, as he is welcomed home, cancer free.

**Nay Tho went to be with Jesus on January 24, 2022, one month after accepting Christ. We will miss him.

God Bless you,

Free Burma Rangers

Nay Tho crossing the rope bridge during his FBR training.