A New Life: Burma Army Soldier to Free Burma Ranger
Saw S'Nay Tun joined FBR in September 2013, as the security man for his team. Just four months before he had been pulling security for the Burma Army, a 22-year-old, eight-year veteran soldier who had been part of campaigns all over Burma, including attacks that FBR had documented. He had finally run away after killing an officer in a fight; he had enough experience to know he had no other options.
He hadn't had very many options for most of his life. His family had been paddy farmers but when their crops were destroyed by too much rain one year, food got scarce and their father went hunting in the jungle. He was bit by a snake and died, leaving his wife and three children, with some livestock and land. S'Nay Htun's mother remarried and before long everything they owned was gone. The new father was an alcoholic and not only drank away all the family's belongings, he beat S'Nay Htun's mother. She was determined her son would be a monk though and sent him off to school to prepare. But he never went, instead working as a day-laborer in the paddy fields. He would stay in the fields unless there was a celebration in the village and then he'd go in to have a good time.
By the time he was 13 he was tired of this life and he and two friends took off to join the Karen National Union, the resistance group of their people. Without money, directions, or any contact person they got lost and were eventually arrested by the Burma Army for not having ID cards. They were given the choice of jail and probable execution, or joining the army. They joined the army and were soon on the front lines. S'Nay Htun was sent first to Kachin State, where he saw lots of action; it was only the beginning and he says, "I fought all over Burma, in Arakan, Shan, Kachin. Killed lots of people." He was seriously injured twice, by landmines and was nearly blinded. He lost many friends who died right beside him. He described one battle: "We started fighting at 2pm. Until 7, 8, 9 we were fighting. Out of 50 soldiers, 20 died so the rest of us ran like dogs."
After that he became a trainer, and taught about landmines. But life on the base wasn't good for him. He had a volatile temper and didn't handle the abuses of the Burma Army officers well. He was jailed for drug use, fighting, attacking officers who harassed him. He escaped several times, and sometimes ran away to his home -- he also hoped he could get a new start at home. He said, "After being with the Burma army, I didn't have a humane heart anymore. I felt sorry for my parents. I wanted to work so I came back." But he couldn't stay in the village because he was a wanted man. Several times he was recaptured and jailed again, but always came back out to fight again.
Finally, he killed an officer and there was no going back. He went back to hide in his village but they came and looked for him. He went to other places he had lived, but his life had been an army life and he had few options. Finally he remembered his friend, his old friend from childhood who had joined the army with him. He found his friend's mother and she told him her son was not in the army anymore and was working with the Free Burma Rangers. The friend came back to visit and met S'Nay Htun. He says, "He was happy. I was happy too. Then he brought me all the way to the training. True friendship." And so, just months after murdering the officer, being at the end of his options, he was in FBR training. He joined a Karen team. He had spent years fighting battles that FBR teams documented, he had committed atrocities that were part of FBR reports -- now he was poised for a new life.
He liked the training -- there was a feeling of unity he had never experienced. He spent lot of time talking with Pastor Edmond, and also listened to Dave. He says, "I felt stable and just being together with them I felt happier. My short-temper has changed. I felt cleansed in my heart too. I can live freely and happily. Otherwise, when I first arrived here I felt insecure." By the end of the training he had decided to become a Christian and was baptized with eight other teammates after graduation. He said, "After the baptism, I don't know whether because of the washing away of sins, I feel like God has opened a big door for me. Because the door has opened I can live...I know Jesus is alive, it's not good for me to continue to be bad like before. If I continue to be bad knowing Jesus is with me, it'll be just like living like a person who has no God. I have my Jesus. I got baptized. I believe that God is with me. God is right here next to me....I don't know what else to say. Done...."
Saw S'Nay Htun is now a full-time Free Burma Ranger. He says he finally feels like he is in a safe place. If he can, he wants to stay with FBR, be a trainer and continue to learn from the teachers. He enjoyed the mission and the training, but he finds that the battle is still on and one of the biggest battles is within him. He is now working with a more diverse group of people than ever, including the women rangers. His temper hasn't gone away and it's a struggle sometimes. He has a family he hasn't been able to spend time with in years; every time he's been home he's been on the run and hasn't been able to visit with his mother. He was engaged to be married at one point, but the girl's father was against it and he left her behind somewhere, doesn't know where. As he looks back, his road is littered with brokenness, torn up by violence; as he looks forward, it seems like a lot to make up for, with still too few options. We pray for Saw S'Nay Htun, and the realization in his life of God's new plan for him.