Living in the Moment: Reflections from Refugee Camp

Mae La Camp, Thailand - Photo by Rob

Mae La Camp, Thailand - Photo by Rob

Morning has dawned at Mae La Camp where I spent the night among about 40,000 Karen refugees from Burma, some of whom have lived in this camp for more than 30 years.  The camp is located about 8 hours north of Bangkok by car and in the hill region so the morning is quite chilly.  It isn't often in Southeast Asia that I have actually seen my breath condense into the morning air, but I can certainly see it here.

Mae La is one among a number of camps for Karen in this part of Thailand.  I came here first in about 2008 or 2009 when I served as the Global Missions Coordinator for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and my purpose at that time was to see the camp and to then help CBF churches in the US prepare to receive Karen refugees to the United States.  Many did resettle in places like Atlanta, Louisville, Richmond, Fort Worth and other areas.  But always the possibility of returning to Burma (now Myanmar) has caused others to remain here in the camps in hopes that one day they might be able to go home.  The United Nations has already cut rations to the refugees who remain and there are rumors that soon all rations may be cut off.  Challenges to returning to Myanmar include the fact that many Karen no longer have homes and property there since other people have now moved in and taken their former land, so there may not be much there for them to go home to.

It has been my privilege to stay at the Kathoolei-Karen Baptist Bible School and College.  This insititution educates about 400 students, preparing them for ministry among Karen, Chin and other Burmese tribal groups.  The work is impressive and the faculty are dedicated and committed followers of Christ whose deep passion is to see an educated ministry for Karen churches.  Thra Wado, the vice principal of the school, has been my host.  In my interview with him yesterday, he recounted his own experience in fleeing Burma as a child after the burning of his village.  He realized that he could not pursue schooling since his village no longer existed; so, he made his way to this camp to attend high school and later to graduate from this Bible school that he serves.

One of the professors here was married in October, but he and his wife cannot live together because they have been assigned to two different camps.  They married in October and spent a week together.  He then saw her in December and he is hoping that she can come here to visit him in April.  I asked him about his hopes and dreams for the future and he responded simply that he doesn't think much about the future.  He simply tries to live in the moment, confident that God will take care of the future.

Most of the faculty here have not had an easy road to gain their theological degrees.  Generally, they have had to finish at the Bible School here and then make a very dangerous journey across Myanmar to Nagaland in India where they spend three years pursuing a Master of Divinity degree.  The journey to Nagaland takes anywhere from two weeks to one month, depending on the time of year and traveling conditions.  

My prayer for myself and for you this morning is that we all manage to live in the moment today and to not worry quite as much about the future as we are prone to do.  My new professor friend here put it quite well.  Best to live in the moment and leave the future to God.  For obvious reasons, that spiritual truth is much easier for me to grasp here as I see people living it out all around me.  

From Mae La,