Daniel has a warm smile, wears a polyester knit hat that is always tilted sideways, and carries a flashlight around his neck in a pink hand-made sling. He smiles when he talks. When he prays, the lines on his face crease with intensity as he squints, head angled upward to God, the tone of his voice beckoning engagement with God.
I met him last April in Eh Htoo Hta refugee camp when he led a ‘thanksgiving service’ my family was invited to. He often leads these services for families and communities when there is a birthday, a graduation, or other significant event. I love the image of refugees meeting together at the edge of human existence giving thanks to God for life, opportunity, and each other. Inspiring.
After the service I sat down beside him and asked him about his life and how he ended up in the camp. Here is what I recorded of that conversation in my journal.
“ I am 67 years old. The Burma army burned down my house for the first time in 1958. Since then, they have destroyed 8 wood homes in different locations that I have built for my family. That doesn’t include countless houses we have lived in that were built out of bamboo.
I had nine children but now I have six. In 1986 my 18 year-old son walked to a village controlled by the Burma Army to try to barter for some food. When he was questioned by soldiers and answered them in Karen language, the soldiers detained him. He was tortured, and finally killed. His crime was that he couldn’t speak Burmese.
I came to this camp in 2007. At the time I was living in Mon Township, a week-long walk through the jungle from where we sit now. The Burma Army burned down the village I was living in, including our church, and killed many people.
I was ordained a Baptist minister after graduating from Insein Bible School in 1970. This is my job, to encourage my people and give them hope. I thank God I am alive and will keep doing what I do until my final day.”
Daniel has lived through tremendous suffering and loss, yet lives today to tell his story finishing with a tone of triumph.
Today is fathers day in the United States. As I reflected on a dad I have met who embodies the sort of characteristics and virtue I strive for myself, I thought of Daniel. He’s a man who loves his family and lives to serve others. He smiles from his soul where God obviously lives.
I want to be like Daniel when I grow up.