There is a well-known verse in the Bible. “He has told you, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Because of my work, I have been privileged to visit many countries. In many places I have met people from very poor and sometimes very oppressive living conditions. And I have met many refugees – people who have had to flee their homes and country because of poverty, war or climate change. This story is about Burma and ‘peaceroad’ I discovered without looking for it. It found me…
The past few years my husband Gary and I have been living and working in northern Thailand. We started hearing of a small town called Mae Sot on Thailand – Burma border. I was aware of the military regime and civil war in Burma, and the subsequent human crisis but not fully aware of thousands of refugees from Burma living in refugee camps or so called “temporary shelters” in Thailand. So, in 2007 we visited one of the main refugee camps – Mae La Temporary Shelter.
Through our friends who started an organization called “Compasio” (http://compasio.org/) we came in contact with Parami Learning Center – a school for Burmese migrant children. The director, Min Lwin, was involved with human rights groups and worker’s rights groups which were focused on helping refugees and migrants. Most of the teachers were ethnic Karen. Others were Burman, Chin or Karenni. (Burma is a very diverse nation of 51 million people with more than 130 ethnic groups.)
I was asked to teach English and we started a monthly English class. Soon it became more than just class. I have always said that “teaching is relationship” and through sharing personal stories, experiences and struggles we became very good friends. And then the difficult questions started coming.
The more I listened, the more my friends would ask for my opinion or advice. Most of them were Christians; some were Buddhists. They wanted to know my views on reconciliation… The vision and hope is peace, reconciliation, and democracy in Burma, but it starts in the place where they are at right now. My friends said, “How can we change our nation if we struggle to change our personal lives, our personal relationships and the relationships in our communities?”
I was deeply challenged. I believe that the core of God’s good news is reconciliation – setting things right. But you will know the tree by its fruit, and so many times I did not see the good fruit in my own life or in the life of church community. My friends admitted that their communities lacked a helpful and constructive dialogue about these hard questions. It is easy to think that I know or believe something until it is tested in real life.
What is the response to oppression, totalitarian regime, ethnic cleansing, rape, murder, land grabs? What are the things we propose to bring healing and restoration to broken lives and to broken communities? How to make sure that we are part of the solution, not the problem? One day Min Lwin wrote to me, “Many areas in our community have conflicts. Race, age (the elder gets more respects), class, religions, and all you have mentioned. I like this subject very much but I feel that a trainer of the course should have a clear mind. I am good at solving other one’s conflict (I think) but I myself am violent.”
Did I have a clear mind? Was I qualified to talk about these issues? Where does peace start? Where does reconciliation start? How do you forgive someone how burned your home and killed your family? How do you reconcile justice and mercy?
It is like riding on a train where someone ahead of you has switched the railroad track. You may notice or maybe not right away that the train is going new direction. This is a new and unknown road. And then I am looking for guiding posts. I know that they are there; I just need to open my eyes. And I start to meet people who have taken this road before and I learn from them. I knew that I wanted to pursue this. That I absolutely had to pursue this.
Without hope, truth, forgiveness, restoration, healing and reconciliation, what is the point? Without these things, it is not a life worth living.