As an American, I have a very clear definition of freedom that includes:
- The power or right to act, speak, or think as one without hindrance or restraint;
- The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved;
- The state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily;
Today, I understood a deeper definition from the life of a refugee who is giving her life away…and has been for 22 years.
Ga Bleu is the orphanage director of the orphanage her mom started 22 years ago, inside a refugee camp along the Thai/Burma border. Currently, there are 26 children in her care living along with 50,000 other refugees. They have found refuge and safety from the war in their home country of Burma. This camp has existed for nearly 40 years. The reality is not comprehensible to me. How do you live in a refugee camp, behind barbed wire for 40 years?
Ga-Bleu fled with her family to this refugee camp when she was 11 years old. She’s now 33, so she has spent 22 years as a refugee. Meanwhile the longest running civil war on the planet continues to be waged against tribal/ethnic minorities who have inhabited the jungles inside Burma. For 60 years, the Burmese military junta has sought to rid the country of these minorities, burning villages, raping, killing, and savagely attacking defenseless villagers. Don’t believe me? Google it…read about it…learn about what is happening here. A good place to start is www.freeburmarangers.org. I am realizing that part of our role in this work is to help give visibility to the horrific war that has no end in sight. It is a war Americans know little to nothing about….yet, it is happening.
Back to Ga-Bleu’s story. In February, the Thai government will begin a census work (of sorts) of the refugees currently in the camps here. It is believed that the Thai’s will begin deporting refugees (close to 150,000 scattered in camps) back to Burma soon. With that reality approaching, Ga-Bleu has been preparing for the children in her care to return to the country from which they fled. We came to visit her orphanage and also accompany her to the new location she is preparing inside Burma.
While I can’t go into details about where or even how we went to the new location, I want to tell you what I learned about freedom. We visited the new location, saw the lives of the villagers, witnessed the poverty and isolation. They live in a jungle. The nearest town is a three-day walk away. They grow their own rice, fruit and vegetables. They hunt their own meat. They survive in the jungle, without knowledge of a world beyond their own. Our visit was the first by white people, which was evident by the fear and tears of the village children upon seeing us. It is in this new location that Ga-Bleu is preparing to move.
I’m amazed to know that Ga-Bleu and the children in her care are moving to a place so remote, so detached from the outside world. To me, it feels nothing like freedom. But to Ga-Bleu, it is a freedom she hasn’t known for 22 years. She will be exchanging life inside a refugee camp for life inside the jungle…
- Barbed wire for expansive wilderness
- Safety for potential attack from militants
- Guaranteed rice rations for rice crops that may not produce
- A system of commerce for living entirely off the land
- Electricity and clean water for neither
- Easy access to medical care for tribal remedies
Ga-Bleu and her kids will be living entirely off the land that the jungle provides and to her, that is freedom. She would rather live with the possibility of attacks (which seem to be pretty minimal of a possibility) than remain behind barbed wire where the children in her care are not legally permitted to leave. She would rather return to her country where she can help educate her own countrymen and prepare them for whatever the future holds than remain confined to a refugee camp.
Freedom to Ga-Bleu includes an enormous responsibility that she carries like a mantle -- with dignity and humility. She recognizes that God has placed a burden on her heart to return to HER country, to educate HER people, to care for HER countrymen, to provide safety for orphaned children from HER nation, and to be a part of hope for change for HER homeland.
I don’t understand this kind of freedom, but I am so immensely honored to work with this faithful woman who does. Would you join me in praying for Ga-Bleu and the children currently in her care as well as the orphans that will soon flock to her home in Burma? Pray for wisdom, provision, safety and clarity as Ga-Bleu prepares their new home. Pray that we are able to work out the new details of support for her and for her work as we continue. We are honored to continue partnering with her in caring for the orphan and the poor from their new home in Burma.