Mar 10, 2007
|This was my fifth trip to Thailand with Partners. It's hard to believe my first trip was seven years ago; the impressions from that journey are still so vivid in my mind. Thailand has become another home to me, though every trip is full of new adventures. It's also great fun to travel with first time visitors, who see it with the same wide-eyed wonder that I did on my first trip.
The highlight of this past trip was visiting with the IDP pastors in Ma Ra Mu refugee camp. It is so humbling to see these giants of the faith, who risk everything to bring the Gospel to the heart of the war zones inside Burma. We were treated to a wonderful impromptu choir performance by these men; though I didn't understand a word, I was stirred to tears by their faithfulness and determination. They remind me of Gideon's mighty men of valor.
It was a sheer joy to visit Christos Mission in Mae Sariang, where Pastor Jeffery, a delightfully humorous Englishman, runs a Bible training center. While there, we met with an old friend Saw Twe, whom we met at Mae Ra Mu refugee camp several years ago, and now works with Jeffrey as a teacher. We had so much fun exchanging songs and skits with the students of Christos Mission.
Jay and Shelly Martin, and their young son, Wyatt, were certainly a blessing to travel with. We became very close very quickly, as Jay and I shared "skit duty" throughout the trip. It was a blast to see young Wyatt "go native" almost immediately upon arrival in the refugee camp. He loved those other kids, and they loved him. He undoubtedly experienced something in his young life that he will never forget.
Mark Kovac was my "official" traveling companion during the trip. Mark is involved with the Karen community in New York, and he was a man with a mission..."spying out the land" as it were...reacquainting himself with the plight of the Karen so he could more effectively help them back in the states. He is a powerful, relentless advocate for the Karen wherever he goes, and he had a continuous stream of ideas, which we discussed late into the night on many occasions.
No trip to Thailand is complete without traveling with Wright Dee, and I got to travel with Wright and his son Joe more than I had on any previous trip. Wright Dee is like the Energizer Bunny...he just keeps going and going, and Joe is following closely in his footsteps. We were treated to a tour of Joe's coffee plantation on the "Dee's" homestead. Joe hopes his world class "Metal Drum" coffee will provide a steady source of income for the Karen people.
There were some ominous changes on the refugee landscape since my last visit. There is now a barbed wire fence around Mae La refugee camp. While the barbed wire fence could neither keep in nor keep out any really determined person, it lent a rather oppressive feel to the camp, which previously had felt much more open. It makes one truly wonder what "plans" outsiders have for these lovely, harmless people. It was really sad to see the barbed wire.
In Ma Ra Mu, we witnessed a baptism of some 170 people in the river. It was a genuine blessing and a privilege to be there. But, along with the joy there, we also saw some disturbing changes in the wind. There was a lot of talk about "resettlement" by the UNHCR and other entities. While the goal of most Karen is to leave the refugee camps, it is also their goal to go back home to Burma, not to be scattered around the globe, as the U.N. and other entities seem to have in mind for them. The need our prayers more than ever at this time.
We ended out trip with a visit to the Partners new office, a little further away from the core of downtown Chiang Mai, where they now have a bit more elbow room, including some office space dedicated to the Free Burma Rangers. Steve and his wonderful staff are always expanding their outreach to troubled people in that area of the world; they are making their first inroads into Shan State at this time.
As with all my previous trips, I left feeling I could have done a lot more, but I also realize there is a tremendous ministry in just showing up, to give these people our support. I plan on showing up again before too long.
Eric P. Nichols