Rob Kilpatrick is Partners Relief & Development’s international Board Chairperson. This reflection about what his grand kids mean to him and how that makes him love the grand kids in Burma is a powerful reminder of why we do what we do.
Originally posted on Oddny's Blog:
I am going to convince some 40 youth that missions is cool. Before that I am also going to convince my family to do the house cleaning for me. I am not sure which challenge is bigger. It is possible that I will wake up tomorrow feeling like both my undertakings failed.
In preparing to talk to the youth I have asked myself what I think about mission myself. I was once a missionary, you know. So I better know what it is and why it is important. The first important thing to realize is that the Bible actually doesn’t say anything about mission or missionary.
Partners Relief & Development has a team member in Bangladesh right now who is meeting victims of the recent violence against Rohingya people in West Burma. Today he met Aisha,a survivor from yet another destroyed village. This posting describes how his village was attacked and burned down, and how members of his village were lost, killed or taken away, including his two year old daughter.
Aisha heard the military vehicles and then saw large army trucks full of soldiers and extremists who were armed with guns and clubs. They drove into Killadong Majarpara, his village in West Burma and home to 2,500 other Rohingya Muslims. It was 11:00 pm on the 22nd of January. Knowing the multiple and brutal attacks so far, he quickly found his way out of the village to look for a safe place to hide.
While he was running, the mob of soldiers and extremists beat and killed a number of his fellow villagers. Four bodies were found with gunshot wounds and 12 more are missing. The news he heard so far is that 700 women and children were taken in large trucks to a “prison.”
Finding a place in a nearby village he sent for his wife and 7 children. After they were reunited on the 23rd, they and 8 other families paid a boat owner to take them from the shores of Burma, to the Southern-most tip of Bangladesh. Once they were on board, Aisha took inventory. He found his mother, father, wife, and 5 of his children. He counted again and, frantically, a third time. His precious two-year-old daughter was not in the boat. He had no idea where she was.
The boat owner wouldn’t return because of the danger it would put him and the 8 other families in. Aisha sat sobbing on the floor today describing these events to our team leader. He recounted his ordeal, especially the trauma he continues to experience because he had to leave his two-year-old daughter behind.
They were fortunate to make it to the other shore and get away undetected by Bengali authorities, whose policy is to immediately deport them back across the thin strip of ocean that divides Burma from a peninsula of Bangladesh.
He begged for a place to stay in an unregistered camp of refugees numbering at least 100,000 souls outside of Cox’s bazar. With no food, clothes, blankets, or any other life-essential provision, they settled into their square footage of misery. A kind neighbor gave them a piece of plastic to keep the rain off of them.
Our team leader met Aisha today and heard his story. He ended with a description of his village being burned to the ground last night. “How do you know it was your village?” our team leader asked. Aisha replied that he talked to his brother who is still trapped on the Burma side of the border and he confirmed it. “We could see it from here too,” he said. “It’s only 28 kilometers away and it lit the sky.”
Our team leader then asked him if he had any news of his two-year-old daughter. Looking down at the floor, he just said “no.”
Our team leader gave Aisha enough money to get blankets for his family, for his mom and dad, and to buy cooking pots and the basics they will need to survive. He prayed for this Muslim leader. He asked God to bring peace to his country so he can go home, and that, somehow, peace can come to his heart so he can be comforted.
For those of you who support our work with the displaced people of Burma, thank you. Aisha is one of the thousands of people this month who can say they encountered true compassion this month; that a small faith inspired group reached out to them, embracing tremendous risk to find ways to help them and strive for justice.
It is your support that makes our work with victims of war possible. I am deeply grateful for you and offer this story as a reminder to pray, share this story, and give as you feel moved by the same spirit that moves us.
We may possess a small light, but may we uncover it, and let it shine.
May we use it to bring more light and understanding
to the hearts and minds of men and women.
May we give them not hell but hope and courage.
May we preach, and practice, the kindness and everlasting love of God.
(I found this in my drafts and loved it, so posted it tonight. I think it comes from a Wild Geese publication. Awesome, Isn’t it?)
After my last post some of my friends have emailed me some great questions and comments. They are smarter than me but social media illiterate. Paul, my good friend in Colorado actually confessed that he had no idea how to post a comment to my blog. Hopeless genius.
So I’m going to post those questions and some thoughts in reply here. I would appreciate any feedback and am grateful that I am not an island when it comes to Burma; thousands of people care and are informed and recognize MLK’s quote as a quote for us all, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“I would avoid direct name and blame calling of Burma’s present incumbent leader as a ‘war criminal’; he may be so and likely is, but I think a better approach is to call for the appropriate international tribunals and due process, lest we simply become the name callers without a direction and recommended next steps. I recall being in the UK at the time when trade embargoes were lifted against South Africa; that lifting of sanctions is recognized as being instrumental in opening dialogue, diplomatic channels, and free trade that helped give momentum to the abolition of apartheid. We may not like it, but idealism isn’t the way the world works, even though I would like it too. Is there a way that we can work with the current situation in Burma, including those we may not like or would wish to work with, to improve things for all? I don’t know. The wheat and the chaff always co-exist…especially within me. He may be ‘our’ enemy, but he is also becoming the darling of the west and of ASEAN countries too….money always talks loudly.”
Thanks for this. I do understand the need to be tempered with my words and not just be a name caller. After all these years and the daily dose of lies coming from his desk (while his forces kill my friends) I don’t know what else to do. He is a war criminal. It is well documented that under Thein Seins
command, 45 separate documented cases of rape in Shan State alone, 40 years leading the charge to displace civilians, enforcer of the 4 cuts policy in Karen State (therefore responsible for thousands of deaths), and an audacious liar to the world community. Did you know he was the commanding general after cyclone Nargis, responsible for blocking aid and relief access to the survivors?
I’m not trying to leave out the possibility of change and reconciliation, but the truth is that he is a criminal. It may be more productive to focus on what we hope for (international tribunal and ICC action) in our publications. I’ll seriously consider that Paul. It’s been 20 years since I started working with the victims of this regimes abuse and being moderate barely gets a hearing. Even releasing major reports about the crimes seems to have little impact.
(b) No private property in Burma: property rights is nine-tenths of the law (Blackstone, I think, probably a wrong attribution)…might suggest that the inclusion of clear, equitable and defended property rights are an integral part of the new Burma constitution. How do we help with that?
I agree that we need to keep calling on the regime to establish just laws and a process that includes the stakeholders- the people. Until the rule of law is established and the constitution reformed by a participatory process there will be no substantial changes. I think this is why Suu Kyi is silent on the human rights issues, because she wants to work her way into political power with constitution reform as a primary agenda item. It’s not on the agenda now.
(c) What should be done…? We won’t change the fundamentals of free market economics and the jungle of capitalism by throwing stones only. What’s our alternative, why is it better, who benefits, how is it defended, how is it monitored, how does the wealth of Burma bring peace, fairness, rights for all – I think that’s what has to be outlined in the piece too – the better way and some very creative solutions. Here’s my pathetic attempt; (i) companies engaging in trade in Burma must complete a full human rights analysis of the effects of their investment and trade (ii) companies investing in Burma must complete a detailed environmental impact assessment (iii) companies running operations in Burma must make a full assessment of worker conditions, hiring practices and inclusivity of all ethnic groups….these sorts of things maybe…?
Yes! If companies did this they would be a constructive force for change, instead of further enabling the dictatorial government. My experience suggests that those concerns are not primary in company conscience or diplomatic relations but secondary.
Dick Cheney was the CEO of Haliburton when he negotiated and agreed to construct an oil pipeline that divided Mon state, killed and enslaved thousands of people, and displaced even more. When asked how he felt about that on CNN, he didn’t defend himself but said that his job was to earn shareholders money, and “that’s what I did”
How can we propose your recommendations in the context of the historical lack of will?
What do I propose as an alternative? The cessation of violence would be a good start. But a process and steps are something I’ll have to chew on a bit more Paul. There are many advocates who write on this that are more informed and articulate than me. Lets start with looking at what Fortify Rights has to say, and what Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Burma expert, Ben Rogers has to say.
John (name changed to protect identity) wrote:
Superbly done! I like it a lot and don’t see it as controversial.
The one thing I thought was since the SPDC regularly uses proxy armies to do the worst of the dirty work, it allows for denial. It also leaves room for the naysayers to counter what you’ve written.
When Joe (name changed) and I were in northern Shan State, (and visited the village surrounded by opium fields) everyone voiced their hatred for the KDA (Kachin Democratic Army) and had no experience with the SPDC.
On a somewhat related note, you and I need to go to that village. Preferably during opium harvest. There’s a story there that nobody knows.
John, the proxy army issue is one that a lot of people don’t know about. In a nutshell, the regime bribes weak members of the population they want to dominate, arms them and puts a uniform on them with a local branding, and says the fighting that happens (under their own command) is done amongst themselves. Classical divide and conquer. By last count there were 14 proxy armies fighting as though they are independent, though controlled entirely or partially by the regime.
I love your passion brother. Lets do something about the injustice. Lets let those people in Burma know they are loved and not forgotten.
And now friends, I close my channel to focus on decorating our Christmas tree and celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace. He is our hope. Merry Christmas.
In Bloomberg Businessweek today, it is reported that Burma’s opium production has increased this year by 26%. They say that the reason for the increase is desperation among poor people. UNODC’s Myanmar Country Manager Jason Eligh is quoted saying, “Opium farmers are not bad people, they are poor people. Money made from poppy cultivation is an essential part of family income.”
Roughly 192,000 households in Myanmar now work in opium production. “Villagers threatened with food insecurity and poverty need sustainable economic alternatives,” says Eligh, “or they will continue, out of desperation, to grow opium as a cash crop.”
Another reason the articles on my RSS feed this morning give for the rise in production is a rise in demand. They credit “organized crime” for being the culprits who both represent demand and supply the illicit poppie mash by purchasing it for 500 dollars per dry kilogram – a huge incentive to people who can’t keep food on the dinner table, send their children to school, and have lost their possibility to provide for themselves.
Question: who is “organized crime?”
If you answered the Burma Army or the regime itself, you are a smart cookie. Here’s how it goes:
The Burma Army has a policy of self-sufficiency. Each General has to “live off the land.” In Burma that means live off the produce and on the muscle of villagers and tribal people. And the compensation the villagers get for this exchange is their homes burned down, churches desecrated, and their men forced to porter for the regime; they carry their own produce to fortified compounds for the thieves (I mean soldiers) to consume it. Then they kill you after they make you watch them take turns on your wife.
This is life under the black boots; life where the police and military are the criminals and control everything including the judicial system.
There is no private property in Burma. So the farmers who have worked the land for the last thousand years actually only “own” their land based on community arrangement. The central government, so called elected officials, have absolute legal control of the land and the contents of it.
When an energy company eyes a particular river that has not been developed for hydro generation in Kachin or Shan state and offer the “government” to buy this land and develop it, chipping in a few percent of produced electricity to power homes in Burma, they sell it, leaving the villagers in a lurch.
Then they force the people who live there to relocate to a place they have prepared for them. How nice of them, right? Wrong. Many of the villagers see no alternative but to accept the relocation “offer” the soldiers have made. And guess what industry often awaits them at the relocation site? You got it: opium.
Or golf. Yes, you can also be relocated to Shan State to construct a golf course for the criminals (Generals and parliamentarians) who run the opium trade.
It takes decades to cultivate land for rice farming, because it’s all done by hand. Irrigation canals need to be carved out of rocky terrain with primitive tools to draw water from one valley to another. Fertile valleys able to support the growth of hungry communities are where they lived for generations. What I have seen and heard is that relocation sites have neither the water to restart life, nor the good soil needed to sustain it.
The ones who wait it out often relocate after construction has already begun, because of abuse, and the glaring fact that they are standing against an unbeatable foe. Those who hold out until the very end retreat only as the water rises, flooding their precious farms forever.
With gold, tin, jade, and molybdenum: same story. Oil and natural gas: ditto. Poor you who were born where natural resources lay waiting to be gathered, and where your rights as a human being were never recognized.
Another report I received from the Trans National Institute describes the “reform” process in Burma in terms you may appreciate:
“…after over 30 months of the Thein Sein government, political transition continues to be military-dominated and top-down, with essentially the same ruling elite in political and economic authority as under the former State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) regime. Hopes remain that, through political negotiation, democratic reforms will be achieved which lead to just and inclusive solutions. But as the countdown to the 2015 general election begins, concerns are growing that essential reforms will not be delivered.”
My terms are less sophisticated: lies, continued violence, and cunning deception. Thein Sein is a war criminal and his government are using foreign direct investment and development (charity and diplomatic) funds to kill children in Burma. The entire platform of hope is built on broken promises.
How many people have to suffer and die before the promises start coming to pass?
While the diplomatic community twirl that question through the noodles of bureaucracy, Partners Relief & Development will keep starting schools, development projects, clinics, and feeding the masses of displaced people who lack shelter, rice to eat, and sanitation. We will do this because we were asked to by Jesus who himself offered these words as his manifesto:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free” (Luke 4:18)
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.
— Wendell Berry in A Timbered Choir
I took this photo on May 16th as Cyclone Mahasen was blowing towards Sittwe, Burma, earlier this year. I was there with my friend, Bruce, helping to evacuate people to higher ground. As the rain poured and the people stood shivering in the wind and rain chilled air, I felt overwhelmed by the misery surrounding me:
140,000 refugees whose homes were burned down, loved ones raped, killed, or abused. Thousands of them hadn’t eaten in days, 5000 of them we were trying to help hadn’t fed their children in 6 days. Many were sleeping in grass huts on a floor of wet mud.
Miserable and desperate, like a chapter out of Dante’s Divine Comedy. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
They weren’t afraid of the cyclone, they were afraid of the police, and they wanted to feed their children.
The police beat them, burned down their homes, incited a city wide riot against them, prevented the delivery of food to help them survive, denied their citizenship, stole their farm lands, and desecrated their places of worship. Welcome to Burma where this is happening today.
Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. Prov 21:13
Originally posted on Oddny's Blog:
I am so lucky because I am the mother of three beautiful and healthy girls. They are not little girls anymore, but young ladies. This fills me with both pride and a sting of sadness too. The years have passed so quickly and the dress-up parties, the barbies, and the feeding of baby dolls are things of the past. I miss it already. Of course, there is a certain enjoyment in sitting on the coach together with them as they are playing with their iPhones too. It’s just a little, shall we say, different.
I have never thought of selling my daughters into prostitution. Not once. Not even when I have been mad at them. Not even when we have been short of money. I can, in all honesty, say that I have never ever been tempted to sell my girls.
When Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to the civil rights movement, things in the USA, especially in the South, got very tense. Many church leaders in the South, largely white middle class and intelligent people, were advising him to bide his time and wait for justice to come instead of making people uncomfortable and endangering lives by sit ins, peaceful protest, marches for peace, and civil disobedience. His actions were carefully crafted to display to the whole world just how unjust the laws and culture of segregation was. Here’s how he answered the pleas to wait:
For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
When he was put in jail for 6 days in Birmingham Alabama, for inciting civil unrest, he wrote a letter to the clergy and to those who were supposedly on the side of justice but wanting to preserve the so called peace. When I read his sharp and well-reasoned words, the similarities of his struggle and that of the ethnic minorities in Burma struck me again. Especially now as things appear to be getting better, when in fact things have never been worse for so many (millions of) people in the ethnic states. Just take a look at how the Kachin, Rohigya, Karen, and Chin are doing while the Generals and officials of the Thein Sein regime swim in an influx of direct foreign investment.
When I, or members of my team help the victims of violence and oppression, we have to break “laws.” We have to
cross borders illegally and help people that the world’s hegemony of power say don’t even exist. To that challenge, King Jr.’s logic was motivating for me too:
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
My wife and two staff members were detained and interrogated for a day in a neighboring country to Burma, then asked to leave the country and followed until they got on a plane bound for Thailand. Their crime: visiting and helping refugees whose villages had been recently destroyed. So again, returning to my question from yesterday: are we supposed to “keep quiet” about this stuff like we are being told by some of our peers and so many of the major powers at work in Burma today?
“On 2 September 2013, 200 Burma Army soldiers arrived at Nhka Ga village, forcing KIA troops stationed there to decamp. Mr. Lahkyeng Hkaw Tup and Yung Hka Hkyen, both from Nhka Ga village, were tortured and killed by Burma Army troops from IB 137. Reverend Ram Me and 10 villagers were arrested and tortured after being questioned by Burma Army troops. John Seng Awng, son of Nhka Ga Village, was tied up and badly tortured. Burma Army soldiers raped his wife, 29-year-old Nhtung Hkai Nang Htu, right in front of him. They have one child.” FBR
John Seng Awng and his wife matter. They matter enough to sacrifice some of my comfort and freedom so they might have some too. No member of the human family should have to suffer like that, especially under an approved world power that the west does business with as Burma is today. These people need help. We will give them that. They want their stories told and justice to prevail, we will speak for them. Please, I beg you to join us.
At the risk of making this into an epistle, I’ll quote one more piercing work of reason that King Jr. included in his missive.
A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.
So I close another blog episode with a deeper than ever determination to find creative ways to be a true “neighbor” to the people of Burma; to feed the hungry people who are so due to systemic oppression and violence, and to tell their story with as much passion and clarity as I can.
“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
by favoring the wicked?
“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
deliver them from the grasp of evil people.