I wrote the following article for the last issue of our magazine about a boy named Jon (name changed to protect identity). After meeting him in 2009 I thought I would never meet him again. Since we met he has become a constant feature in my prayers, a life that epitomizes Burma, and a physical reminder of why I do what I do.
What were the odds of meeting Jon again?
Last month he showed up at a bamboo shack on the border of Burma. He came in and sat down crossed legged on the split bamboo floor where my family and I were sleeping. With amazement I asked “Jon, is that you, do you remember me?”
We confirmed that he was indeed the same boy I met 250 kilometers away in 2009. He walked for six days with another family to meet his aunt who lived in that camp for refugees so that he could go to school and live in relative security.
I prayed for him and gave his aunt some money for clothes and school supplies. My family made the commitment to help him with schooling and whatever he may need as he grows up in a war zone with no parents to watch out for him, and a mere boy who has been visited with terrible violence.
Partners Relief & Development helped Jon and his community by sending food, shelter, and provisions after Burma Army attacks left more than 28,000 people destitute and homeless in 2008.
In the case of Jon, I get to be the answer to my own prayer. I am blessed.
Learn to do right; seek Justice, A simple rationale for advocacy, by Steve Gumaer
Jon is a 9 year-old Karen boy I met in Burma in 2009. He lived with his uncle in a temporary camp that housed 697 people whose villages had been destroyed by Burma Army forces. Most of the people living there have had to flee to new hiding places 12 times since 2006.
The relief teams I was with were setting up a presentation for the children in that camp. As the children started to arrive I noticed Jon. He had a mischievous grin, a confident stride, and a slingshot in his back pocket. I tapped his shoulder and asked what the slingshot was for. “Birds” he replied with a dry smile, as he joined the others beside our bamboo hut.
Later that day I asked the community leaders if I could hear the stories of some of the people who have survived attacks. Among the 10 people who crowded into the hut to talk with me was Jon. Along with help from his uncle, he told me his story.
In 2005 Jon’s father made a decision. Having lived under the constant threat of violence, extortion, and abuse by local Burma Army forces, he gathered his family of four and hiked deep into the jungle to hide from the soldiers that harassed them. For two years they lived off the land, foraging for food and enjoying relative peace and security. But in 2008, just after burning down the village Jon was born in, the Regime forces discovered Jon’s family in their hide site. The leader of that patrol pulled the pin on a hand grenade and threw it at the family. Jon’s dad caught the grenade and was blown up in front of the family.
Somehow Jon, his mother, and older sister escaped. The following year Jon’s mom hung herself from a tree and died. Later that year his older sister got sick and died. It was then that he found his way to his uncles hide site.
Jon is a smart child. He was articulate and brave as he recounted his story. He somehow finished first grade but didn’t want to go to school anymore. Instead, he wanted to hunt birds in the jungle. I looked Jon in the eyes and pleaded with him to go to school, help with chores, and be the man he was created by God to be, despite the destruction of so many sacred things. I left money with his uncle to help with food and school supplies. I prayed for them.
His community lives two hours on foot from a Burma Army camp. The landscape around their valley was peppered with the soot remains of burned down villages. His neighbors all bear the scars of Burma Army abuse. I asked his 58 year old uncle how many times he has had to run for his life. “More times than I can remember” he said.
So advocacy is not just a program in Partners Relief & Development; it is part of what we must do as brothers and sisters to Jon and his neighbors. We can’t just tell them God loves them and leave them to die. In the same vein, we can’t just give them the food they need to survive and leave their story untold. To do so constitutes faithlessness to the mandate of justice and the Love Command of Jesus Christ. (Luke 10:27)
The prophet Isaiah lists the sins of the Israelites and the ways their religion has fouled the name of God. In the verses leading up to verse 17 a lot of religious based activity is called out for what it is; hypocrisy. Then, in verse 17 the prophet says:
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
Plead the case of the widow.
That’s it. That’s what our advocacy program is all about. That’s why we worked on Displaced Childhoods, why we develop reports for policy makers, why we work with lawyers to feed litigation moves for justice, why we stand with other organizations like FBR and ERI as they appeal for justice. It’s why I write this article and why my team-mate Ryan made a video about nine year old Naw Paw Ta Em Mu.
We are all learning to do right, to seek justice, to take up the cause of the fatherless, and to plead the case of the widow. We are learning as we plead, what it means to be faithful to the gospel.
This blog was supposed to be a vault for my personal story in Chronological order. But the people of Burma have become one of the important features in the landscape of my life. Though this story skips 20 years of narrative, it is part of the same story. And this is my beloved dog, Bob Marley.