Alaska Team 2006 travel blog

Here in America, we think we have it all, {wealth, safety, security, status and freedom}. I used to feel the same, but after spending almost a month in a refugee camp in Thailand, I feel much different.

I never knew I could be changed so much in such a short period of time. Thailand, somehow, became home to me. I've never felt more whole, more complete, more satisfied with myself and what I had. Who would have ever guessed that you could be happy living in poverty with no material possessions. While lying on the floor of the bamboo house I was staying in, I came to the conclusion that this has become home to me. They say, "home is where the heart is". If that's so, then Thailand truly is my home.

When I headed off on the craziest adventure I've been on yet, buying a plane ticket and going somewhere I knew nothing about, I didn't know there was a 50 year civil war going on in Burma. (The Burmese armies are oppressing their own people and forcing them to flee to Thailand. The specific people group out of Burma that I encountered was the Karen people Pronounced {Ka-wren}.) I had no clue that there are thousands of people dying every day because of it. I didn't even know what a refugee camp was.

When I got there, it was the biggest shock I've ever experienced. I walked into the little village-like-place on the outskirts of town, where it smelled like urine and everything was covered in dirt. Armed guards stood at every entrance to the camp and barbed wire was cheaply put up all around it.

Later, I found out that 45,000 people were living like sardines in there. And we think our houses here aren't big enough or nice enough. Ha, we haven't seen anything.

I was with 11 other people from Alaska to bring supplies and relief to the refugees. Many of the Alaskans had been to Thailand and these refugee camps multiple times, so we had gotten it arranged to actually live, for five days, in the refugee camp alongside the people there. It was the most incredible experience.

Everyday there was something that left me at a loss for words and even now I have trouble with what I've seen, heard and felt in that camp.

Stories of fathers, sons and brothers being killed in landmines, of sisters, and daughters being viciously raped by the Burmese army. Other stories of how girls as young as 3 would be sold into prostitution simply so their family can pay off bills.

The amount of prostitution is extremely high, and awful. Many times the girls are chained to a wall for the time when they aren't with a client. Many people in America say they have had bad childhoods, or been neglected, but after hearing how many of the Karen children grow up, chained to a wall, being taken advantage of by men three times their age, nothing really comes close to that in my eyes anymore.

So many children captured my heart and with their eyes, smiles and tears ripped it apart as well. I seem to have this amazing talent for attracting the dirtiest, smelliest, smallest little runts of children that walk the earth, so the refugee camp was perfect for me. For that's all they had: dirty, awful smelling, beautiful little children.

One small boy in particular, probably around four, latched onto me, never letting go of the hem of my dress. He wouldn't hug me, or sit in my lap, he simply kept close and stared up at me with his huge brown eyes. Those eyes broke my heart. I've never seen such sad, broken, eyes that could tell you a thousand words and stories you never ever wanted to hear, as though his eyes were screaming the words his mouth wanted to utter—rescue me.

It takes so much for us to be happy. But for the Karen people it took a small smile, a hug, a kind word or gesture but most importantly, the act of just coming to them.

All they needed to know was that someone cared, that an American actually cared about their situation. They simply needed hope. Is that such a hard thing to give someone? No, it just takes the will to do it, and the humility to get out of your own comfort zone and selfish limitations.

We think we are free but we aren't. The Karen sing all day long. They may not have what we have, but they have faith, hope and joy. They don't have the status but they don't need it. They sing with more freedom than we could ever imagine having. They know the true meaning of safety simply because they know the true meaning of danger and trauma.

In America, we believe we are free, but I saw a whole new side of freedom. The Karen people love to sing, with nothing holding them back. It doesn't matter what other people may think or feel. They don't have all the silly personal boundaries we do, so when they meet you, there's nothing there to hold them back from loving you with all they are.

They have nothing, so giving what little they have isn't a difficult task for them. They do it with a humility and hospitality that would put any American to shame. Our greed is incredible, and for what? It only leaves us empty and wanting more at the end of the day.

Here in America, we have a growing problem that eats away at each and every person on a daily basis. It's the disease of self, to not be able to look past the end of your own nose, not seeing, or caring, that there's a hurting, dying world out there.

We keep on spending a fortune on luxuries and play toys that

will never satisfy us, which won't make our pain and fears go away.

Americans have trouble helping anyone but themselves. And it has a truly crippling effect on us, as individuals and as a nation.

A.W. Tozer once said, "I can do no more justice to the awesome wonder-filled theme called love than a child can grasp a star. Still by reaching towards the star, the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one might look to see it. So, as I stretch my heart towards the high, shinning love of God, someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look up and have hope."

I always wanted this to be my quote, and the way I lived, but the Karen were the true examples of this.

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