Report on Burma
by Carine Donze.
This past January, Julie Warner lead a BPFNA Friendship Tour to Burma (Myanmar). I feel blessed to have been a part of this trip, along with Carol Day and Kay Cheves. I was asked by my church to give a report on this incredible experience. I have not tried to build a “scientific” report, but have rather focused on giving our congregation the strongest sense of what we have lived during these almost 3 weeks in the few minutes I had to talk. So I decided to tell three stories representing powerful, key moments that I will never forget.
One day we went to visit a remote Karen village near Pathein. We traveled for four hours on quite bumpy roads, looking by the windows of our truck. When we arrived, we stopped ahead of a small bridge that we had to cross by foot. There was no road, only a path made of beautiful white sand. It really felt like being “at the end of the world”, but in a magical way. The villagers were waiting for us and we were supposed to meet at their church. We could see they were impressed by our presence and it was a little uncomfortable to bear all their hopes, since we felt at the same time quite powerless.
In this village, as in every village we visited, the same ritual took place: we would be invited in someone’s hut and presented with tea, and the best food they had to offer. In these villages where there was no electricity, no water and no food, what we had in our plates was not safe to eat. We had been warned many times not to drink tea in the villages, and to eat only safe food. But everytime we would look into our hostess eyes and see so much hope and love that we would smile and eat and drink what was offered to us. These people were blessing us with radical hospitality. Honoring their food was the least we could do. All this food made me very sick (as one of my friends), and it took me a long time to recover. But I couldn’t care less. Their smiles were all worth it.
My second key moment was on a boat. Our tour guide had organized a day of retreat for the pastors of a dozen of Baptist churches. Many minorities were represented, Kachin, Karen, Chin…This day gave the opportunity to the pastors to talk among themselves, and with us, about the situation of their different churches and this was without any doubt the day when we learned the most about them, about their deep faith, their courage and their incredible kindness and inner peace.
I spent 2 hours talking with a young pastor (Maung) on this boat. He told me about his faith, tried to explain to me how faith is different when your life is easy compared with when you are in a survival mode and faith is all you have. To make his point clearer he recited the Lord’s Prayer. He looked at me when he said “Give us this day our daily bread” And said that for them it’s a literal question, and they ask for it with all their heart. It’s a prayer in its most litteral form. Same for “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” because they have to learn to forgive the Burmese who killed so many of their people and ask for forgiveness because they sometines answer violence by violence.
But he said also that they prayed without bitterness because they worship and love God for being alive, and in his exact words “We are praising God for our lives in any condition”.
I was deeply moved and I told him I would never be able to say this prayer again without thinking of him. Then he told me that sometimes he feels powerless and discouraged by the situation, especially when violence becomes more present, and that it makes it harder to pray with an open heart, but that he knows a good American song that heals him. He told me he wanted to sing it to me and that if I knew it I should sing with him for his people. And he started to sing We Shall Overcome. Singing for healing.
It was the most meaningful and intimate moment of the trip for me. Pastor Maung made me feel in communion with his people at a very deep level. I’m happy to say that Internet has allowed us to keep our friendship alive, Maung to share concerns and hopes for the future, and me to show my support to his people, my Baptist brothers and sisters from the East.
My last key-moment is in the Karen refugee camp at the Thai border. The people there find the strength to be joyous and luminous although their heart aches for home. They even started a Bible school, and now almost 200 students are there, singing praise to God all day long, even if most of them have lost some or all of their family members. The associate pastor there is a young man with a very funny humor, and we became friends because we both love soccer. He’s in his thirties and has been in the camp for 22 years. His mom sent him across the mountains, he had to walk 5 days to get there. He calls himself the Happy Refugee. Because he’s alive.
For our last night he took us to a place where Burma is just across the river, almost within reach. He told us he often comes here and prays for healing for the Karen people, and prays that one day they all will be able to cross the river with dignity and go back home. We stayed in the car, and said prayers for the future of the Karen people, looking at Burma, so close but painfully inaccessible.
I’d like to share with you the Healing prayer of the Karen Refugees, which touched my heart very deeply.
They call us a displaced people,
but praise God, we are not misplaced.
They say they see no hope for our future
But praise God, our future is as bright as the promises of God.
They say the life of our people is a misery,
But praise God, our life is a mystery
Because what they say is what they see
And what they see is temporal.
Ours is the Eternal,
All because we put ourselves in the hands of God we trust.
Just a few words to conclude.
What these people taught me is that we are mistaken. We are mistaken when we want to help people with their “basic needs” first, like a shelter, food and water. Of course it’s important, but it provides a cure, not healing. What I’ve seen in Burma is people being luminous without any shelter, food or water.
Because their true basic needs are met. These 3 things that when you don’t have them you cannot survive. When you have them, you don’t need any healing because you are already whole. We talk about them often here, but I had to go to Burma to understand they are everything. I will thank my Karen friends eternally for showing me that all we need is Hope, Faith, and Love.