CCB

“That Way Lies Our Hope,” A Walk With The Free Burma Rangers

"That way lies our hope, where sits our greatest fear. Doom hangs still on a thread. Yet hope there is still, if we can but stand unconquered for a little while." Gandalf (Lord Of the Rings)

In today’s world one talks about the fight for freedom and democracy but in most comfortable homes or “hobbit holes”, we do not know what this means…But in the jungles of Burma this fight remains steadfast and many still stand unconquered… small bands of diverse men and women: Ethnic leaders, soldiers, nurses, medics, pastors, and villagers join together; and although they speak in many tongues they communicate in the language they all know well...hope!

Traveling to these pockets of unconquered lands takes an amazing amount of organization, will, good humor and courage, for the military regime of Burma (Myanmar), continues on its mission to subjugate the people, penetrate these lands and eliminate all who resist.

Arriving in the Northern area of “Kawthoolei”-Karen State, in the hours just before the celebration of the new year, my feet weary from the seventeen hour walk, I was greeted with warm hugs and a steaming mug of sweet, creamy coffee. The Free Burma Rangers’ team of ethnic medics, dentists, pastors, human rights reporters and photographers, was waiting for us to join them on a relief mission to IDPs (Internally Displaced People), inside the northern Karen State. It was New Years Eve, and I was about to travel into an area that had not seen the presence of white skinned foreigners since Major Seagrim (“Grandfather Longlegs”) lived among them during WWII when the Karen helped the British fight the Japanese.

  This journey was a fulfillment of a dream, yet I was petrified inside with fear, a selfish fear of the unknown doom that might await… me! As the plan was explained, the thought of journeying 250 miles on foot, through villages with Burma Army troops only hours away and crossing areas that were heavily patrolled and covered with hidden landmines, made my chest grow tight and my mind race to thoughts of my children being left without a mother and my husband and family desperately holding the pieces together. I began to pray with intensity that I had not known before.  “Lord, are you sure I am supposed to be here?   Lord…Lord…Lord…Oh…Lord, I am not a nurse or doctor or politician or soldier or anything very useful, I am just a housewife, what can I do?”

 I had had such noble ideas of coming to support the women and being one with them in their struggles, but I was ashamed that all I cared about at that moment was returning to my nice warm home …my “hobbit hole”. We were only two days into our twenty day journey and I wanted to turn and run. I was silent about my fears…silent because I was among so many men and women who face danger and sorrow everyday, women whose husbands had been killed, families that had been torn apart, or had lost their homes when the Burma Army troops had set them ablaze, children who were orphans; and yet they seemed to have no fear, only a joyful energy and a deep love for the Lord, for the people, and for freedom.

 

 

While we gathered to pray together and wish one another a happy New Year, I realized that I was in the company of some of the greatest yet most humble people on earth and that they were not there to take me into battle, they were there to offer hope and they were willing to journey under the threat of doom to do just that. As I began to take those steps with them, hope began to spring alive inside and within hours pushed aside my selfish fears.

With enough medicine and relief supplies to treat over 3000 IDPs, the Free Burma Rangers and a very competent security force of Karen soldiers, would quietly walk for three weeks, penetrating heavily patrolled Burma Army territory, and clearing landmines as needed.   In this area thousands of  IDPs have been forced to flee their own villages by the Burma Army and must now live in areas where there is not enough land to cultivate rice. Therefore, they live in a constant state of hunger and suffer from malnutrition.  They must also live every day as we lived our twenty here, always packed and ready to run or fight at a moments notice. The Burma Army is steadily pushing two new roads into this area with which they will attempt to surround and strangle these people.

The team had made arrangements to treat IDPs in three different locations, but to get to these treatment sites we needed at least three weeks. Each site was approximately 50 miles apart and the IDPs would need at least one full day of medical and dental care before we could move on to the next site. We had also received reports that the Burma Army had recently shot and killed and injured several villagers in the area. We hoped to meet the survivors and verify their stories as well as be ready to help the villagers if they came under immediate attack.

As I walked through sections of this unconquered land, I could feel doom hanging still upon a thread, yet this incredible team of Free Burma Rangers, Karen soldiers,housewives, and villagers I came to know and love along the way did not give up or lose hope.  I realized that I too could love and serve and join them in the hope for freedom. I could pray that the God of all hope would motivate the world to join with them to bring change.

 

 At each IDP site, the Free Burma Rangers would set up their outdoor medical and dental clinic, treating patients as music played from a portable CD player. Acute Respiratory Infection(ARI), malaria, beri-beri, worm infestations, anemia, malnutrition, and dysentery were all common. So were wounds from gunshots and landmines. In one village the head medic and nurse performed surgery on a young woman to remove landmine shrapnel from her leg.

 Six other medics and nurses diagnosed and gave out the necessary medicines and treatment to the 100s of IDPs.  Children would gather, and the team’s pastor and nurse taught the young people songs that they would continue to sing long after the team had gone. Gifts from children all over the world, of hats and toys and clothes, bibles, hymnals and school supplies would be distributed. In the evening the team would gather with the villagers and worship together in song and prayer.  Because it was winter and we were in the mountains, the nights were especially cold and many of the IDPs had nothing to warm them but the clothes on their bodies and their next of kin.

One of the hope giving moments on this mission occurred when I met an eight year old girl who had been shot in the stomach by Burma Army troops, reported dead and yet was still alive. We had heard that she and five other IDPs had been shot by a patrol and that she and one man, her uncle had been killed while the others were wounded. Now I saw her there before me, alive and growing stronger.

Her eyes still showed pain and fear but she could look me in the eye and tell her story and show me the hole the bullet had made.

 

Her uncle had been killed, her brother and two other friends wounded and she had barely survived, yet she still had hope and determination. We had been praying for her and now thanked God and the skilled Karen medics who had saved her life. 

On the way back out I realized that the Karen, like that little girl still stand unconquered for they have hope in each other, in the outside world, and in God. As a housewife, and mother, I too stand with them for freedom and democracy and wear my Free Burma Ranger shirt with its words of hope:

Love each other

Unite for freedom, justice and peace

Forgive and don’t hate each other

Pray with faith, act with courage, never surrender

-- Laurie Kit Dawson
Free Burma Housewife
(January, 27, 2003)