Margaret Atwood says, “War is what happens when language fails.” I agree with the lady. If we can’t find the inner fortitude and words of love and forgiveness, then war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide will remain forever.
The Story: Rose and the Burma Army Defector
I parked my truck in the football field in the center of Mae La Refugee camp and walked up the hill, over a dry creek, to Roses home for orphans and unaccompanied children. I pushed the carefully zig-zagged sheet to the side and looked in, calling for Rose. A skinny Burmese guy was eating noodles with about 60 of the kids who lived with her. “Who is he?” I asked. Inviting me in, she said, “Oh him, he defected from the Burma army, and now he’s the night watchman for my home.”
Rose told me how he had come to Ma La Refugee camp earlier in the week, how he asked for asylum, begged for forgiveness. He fled his battalion because he couldn’t bear to do the things his commanding officer required him to do to innocent villagers. When he arrived at the camp telling his story, nobody would listen to him or believe he was genuine. They wouldn’t give him shelter. They left him in front of the hospital to starve. One day a man passed by and had pity on him and suggested walking up the hill. He said, “There’s a lady there who helps everyone.”
Limping to Rose Mu’s shack, he called out to her. He crawled up the ladder into her hut; saw the children and the life in the room, and began to tell his story. He begged for mercy. Hopeless, he looked up at Rose from the floor. She extended words that transformed him. “I forgive you.” She said.
Having lived through hell on earth where her captors are the officers of this mans army; I asked her “Why did you end up taking him in, when 30,000 other refugees (Mae La refugee camp population at the time) refused the same?”
Her answer was clear and she replied without hesitation: “Because if you don’t forgive them, you become them.” And she added, “This is what Jesus asks us to do.”
The soldier before her represented the destruction of life, as she knew it. He was the symbol of everything wrong in that room, perhaps the very man who killed some of the mothers and fathers of those orphans eating lunch as I talked with Rose that afternoon.
I looked over at the young Burmese soldier and felt inspired. He came begging for mercy and was granted it by the least likely person I knew of. A month later he managed to smuggle his wife and daughter into the refugee camp to live with Rose. They became Christ-followers too, because they wanted more of the love they had met in Rose, and she carefully explained the source of her strength. They also willingly became refugees from their own country living among the ones he had formerly sought to kill.
Suffering. Torture. Loss. Death. All these words took human form in Rose. She was not the perpetrator. She was the victim. But that is not what defined her, nor what formed the shape of her relationships.
Burma Army soldiers had taken her possessions and freedom by force. First they took her home, then her citizenship, her purity, and finally, her husband. Rose, of all people, had every reason to hate the black booted enforcers of regime policy.
She stopped the cycle of hatred and bitterness in its tracks. She chose love and love’s language. “I forgive you,” she said.