Terror in the Jungle

If they get warning in time, children, cooking pots, clothes and other essentials are swept into bamboo baskets as villagers make their way to relative safety. At least half a million people in Burma have lost their homes in this way and finding food is a daily challenge, especially once the hidden rice supplies, if there are any, run out. It is also almost impossible to get medicine to treat basic illnesses such as skin diseases or malaria and they are often in fear of new attacks.

The Free Burma Rangers was set up ten years ago to try and help such people. There are currently 48 teams across Burma, with a mission of bringing hope, help and love to a people who often believe their suffering is ignored by the rest of the world. FBR trains four or five person teams in medicine, documenting human rights abuses, navigating and communicating with their headquarters. The teams, from the Arakan, Lahu, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Pa’O, Shan and Karenni people groups, often meet villagers in desperate need.

In January this year, two sisters Naw Moo Eh and Naw Rosemary in Karen State, Eastern Burma had a miraculous answer to their suffering. They said: “The Burma Army continued their attacks and we had to keep fleeing. The teams helped us and our organization helped us, but eventually we had to leave to another district. We always were yearning to come back home, and praying to be able to return. We didn’t want to go to a refugee camp, and there was nowhere we could stay and work the fields. Everyone was suffering, and some could share their food with us and some could not. The Burma Army continued to attack and shell the villages and fields in our district, and we kept praying. Some friends were killed and some were wounded. We were tired, hungry, and afraid. We continued to pray, and we cried out to God: ‘Please let us stay in our home.’ Finally after praying, we all felt we should try to go home. We heard the attacks had subsided, and even though there were new Burma Army camps in the area, we wanted to try. So we prayed and went in faith. We had no food, but we trusted God would provide something for us. We felt very sure He was helping us to come back. As we moved back to our old area, we realized we could not go back to our old village and farms, as they were now directly under a new Burma Army camp, so we climbed over a ridge and down into another valley, and to our amazement came to a field full of rice that had not yet been harvested. We found out that the owners of the field had fled before they could harvest, and would not be coming back, and that the farm was now abandoned. We began to harvest the rice and thanked God that we could now eat. Since then we have been back here, and we thank God and we thank you all. We have rebuilt our village. This is our home. Thank you so much for coming and for your help”.

Their prayers were answered and sometimes God does intervene like this, responding to the faith these people had put in him. Other times he provides through other people who respond to a need they hear. On other occasions however, there is no such happy ending in this life. There seems to be little redemptive or purposeful reason to what happened to Saw Ko Nu.

In 2002 he lost his wife and three of his children in a massacre by the Burma Army in Dooplaya, Karen State, Eastern Burma. Ko Nu’s son Wilbur Htoo survived by hiding under the dead body of his grandmother. He too had been shot, but Free Burma Ranger medics removed the bullet and he survived. But on Christmas Day 2007, Ko Nu suffered yet another devastating blow.

The Burma Army arrived in his village, opening fire on Ko Nu. They tortured to death his son, 13, and nephew, 25. An FBR team met Ko Nu last year and went with him to where his son and nephew are buried. When he got to the graveside, he said: “Oh my son, my son, I tried my best for you. I planned many good things for you, but now you have no chance to enjoy them. Oh, my son, my son. Oh God. Oh, my son, my son, you go ahead and wait for me.” Then he stood up and said: “Oh God, Oh God, if you don’t help me, I can’t continue on.”

The FBR team held a memorial service for the two young men. They prayed and sang together and Ko Nu stood with them in silence. But when they sang “ Hear Our Prayer, Lord”, he sang with them. The team asked for the justice of God and that God would bless the ground where the bodies were laid.

The seeds of hope are carried in this story of overwhelming tragedy. The father expresses a hope that one day he will meet his son again. He calls out to God for help. Those who are with him pray prayers he cannot voice in his despair. They cry to God for justice.

We come across a similar pattern for those who suffer in the Bible. Lazarus’ two sisters confront Jesus with their pain when they see him. They cannot see the purposes behind Jesus apparently letting Lazarus die. There seems to be a connection though between their faith in Jesus holding the power over life and death and his ability to act. Somehow, praying to God about our suffering with faith that He cares and can help, makes a massive difference. Jesus tells them whoever lives and believes in him shall never die. This is the perspective we find so hard to grasp. So often as we hear the desperate cries of the suffering in this world, we only see life from this side of eternity and forget we are eternal beings who worship a God of love and justice. In the face of the desperate suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in Burma, the Free Burma Rangers try to be a part of God’s answer to their cries.