Machine guns ripped the rice fields with bullets as the Burma Army opened up on villagers trying to plant their new rice in the flooded paddies below. Mortars, rifles and grenade launchers followed as the shooting intensified. The handful of Karen resistance who were present fought back and the Burma military stayed on top of the hill, shooting but not advancing.
Down in the valley, in the small village of Saw Mu Plaw, northern Karen State, where we were doing a children’s program, mothers nervously grabbed their children and looked up at the hill where the Burma Army was firing from. None of the rounds landed close to the gathering so Karen, our kids and our Ranger team kept singing and smiling. The shooting slowed down and then stopped and life went back to normal. Kids played games as part of the program, mothers and fathers looked on and laughed. The Burma Army could not stop this, nor could they mar the beauty.
This village is ringed by thickly forested mountains with a big 100 x 300 yard grassy field in the middle of it. This field slopes down to a beautiful series of rice paddies over a kilometer long. The paddies are flooded and planted with small emerald-green rice shoots. The sound of the water buffalo bells tinkling in the gentle breeze, the whinnying of horses that are here as well and used as pack animals, and the tall, feathery bamboo swaying back and forth around the village give it a peaceful and pastoral beauty.
Looking around at the children playing games, the medics treating patients in the bamboo school and then out at the surroundings that were so lovely, I thought, “In spite of the Burma Army, this is a good life in the jungle.” To choose joy and a good life in the jungle instead of sorrow and fear is a choice these people make every day. Even though the Burma Army has intensified its attacks since the coup of 1 February and these people have had to run from this village many times, they have not given up.
They tell us, “Yes, the shooting and shelling makes us afraid but we will not abandon our homes and rice fields. Where would we go? We trust in God and God’s blessings. This is our home and we love it and each other. Thank you for coming and sharing with us; we thank God for you and pray for you too.”
One woman, whose grandson was killed, said, “I hope the killing will stop. I hope the world will see this is wrong and do something about it. All six of us were hit as we fled. I was badly wounded as were the others but my grandson was killed. He was six years old.” These stories are heart-wrenching, especially with this family that we’ve known for over 20 years – years ago we helped them with a medical procedure for their daughter and they had stayed at our house as she was recuperating. There is threat of attack any time in this good life in the jungle but every minute the people must choose good over evil.
I think it’s like that everywhere in the world. There are many forms of evil, from that which is in our own hearts to that which others do, but every minute we can decide how we’re going to live: in bitterness and fear or with courage and love. Crying with each other for those who have been lost, praying for and standing for justice and freedom, standing against evil, praying for and working for reconciliation, these are all good things we can do together. Today’s program, in a beautiful setting but marred by gunfire from a nearby Burma Army post, was an example of the choices we have in life. We can be part of goodness and light or part of evil and destruction.
For me, with Jesus’ help, I can choose the good. Up here in northern Karen State, there are over 40,000 people displaced and in Burma now there are over 200,000 displaced since the coup and over 1000 men, women, and children killed in the cities and streets where the Burma Army tries to crush all opposition. In the midst of this, people from the cities have fled to the ethnic areas to be part of the change in Burma. And others, such as the people in this village, have chosen to keep praying, keep meeting together, worshiping God together, planting together and to be part of good things such as the Good Life Club (GLC) program this morning.
I’m writing this sitting next to a bamboo house looking at three children with their bright red and blue GLC shirts and they’re walking along the bamboo fence line next to tall bamboo trees above rice fields. Behind them their father is carrying the fourth child, also in a bright blue GLC shirt, and walking back home. They are smiling.
Thanks and God bless you,
Dave, family and FBR
Below: GLC program, including kids playing, moms laughing and FBR medics treating patients.