Praising Christ Between Mud and Misery
By Stefan J. Bos
THUE MWE NEE, BURMA (BosNewsLife) – Crossing quick sand and a river brown from mud and sewage is the only way for visitors and anxious reporters to enter the area of Burma ‘s Christian Karen people.
Out of view from border guards of neighboring Thailand , a Karen man leads us to Thue Mwe Nee, one of several villages now surrounded by landmines in an effort to delay the advance of Burmese government forces.
They are not able to openly plant rice fields, an important source for food in Burma , a country the military junta calls Myanmar . However despite being hungry and soaking wet this rainy season, children find reasons to sing about Jesus Christ. Some revival songs were exported by missionaries visiting their settlements, others are of their own.
Outsiders are mistaken in believing that aid, money, and food are priorities on their wish list. Their requests are humble and, by Western standards, cheap. “Prayers and Bibles are what we need,” locals say. After that comesmedicines to treat the many people suffering from Malaria and other Mosquito born diseases here.
“We have lost several medics working for us,” explains Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International (CFI), which supports persecuted Christians in some of the world’s most isolated areas, including in Burma . “Some of them even risked their lives to treat the injured of government forces fighting the Christian Karen people,” one of Burma ‘s largest ethnic minorities.
Before heading for battle, BosNewsLife watches as fighters of the outnumbered and outgunned Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) pray. They say all they have is their faith as from a worldly point of view there is no way they can beat the troops of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), a group of generals who have ruled by decree since 1988, and their smaller supporter, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).
With nearly one in three of all five or six million Karen people in Burma internally displaced, the KNLA is defending villages and dreams of an autonomous state which was promised to them by British World War Two allies, who later abandoned them.
Prayers, not money, is also what their Christian brothers and sisters in nearby Laos are asking for. They are involved in what they call a “spiritual battle” against the Communist government. In recent months, at least dozens of Christian villagers have been rounded up and tortured by special forces, BosNewsLife learned.
As in Burma , CFI believes the regime fears the spread of Christianity will undermine its position and ideology. Some Lao villagers never saw foreigners in their life before we came. Yet they make clear they feel part of the family of Christ.
In Thailand , where refugees from mainly Burma as well as Laos and other nations try to start a new life, hope seems far removed from every days reality. A seemingly endless rain changing muddy paths into rivers adds to the misery of the overcrowded Mae La refugee camp with no United Nations aid workers in sight. Last time BosNewsLife checked, a UN peace conference was to begin in Phuket, a resort island, two hours flying from here.
However orphans who have seen their fathers and mothers murdered in front of their eyes, keep singing and smiling. They have been encouraged to write letters to Jesus in a nearby CFI school and orphanage, and express their pain in song and dance.
Orphans we talk too say they can forgive the soldiers who killed “my mum and dad.” All they ask for now is to live in peace and some love.
It hurts CFI’s president Jacobson that churches in the West seem often reluctant to help “their suffering brothers and sisters.”
Says Jacobson: “As a body of Christ we should care for those who suffer.” He refers to the Bible’s Matthew 25 verse 36: “…I was in prison and you came to visit me…” Persecuted Christians, he says, have already found their freedom in Christ. “They just want us to remember them…Is that too much to ask?”