Soldiers entering villages and killing people on sight. Landmines blowing pregnant women to smithereens. There's no way this is really going on. The world would never tolerate this. How come I haven't heard about this before? These were the words flashing through my mind as I watched the fourth installment of the Rambo franchise 10 weeks ago. The film portrays the brutal ethnic cleansing campaign in Eastern Burma targeting the Karen people, a situation that is every bit as bad as what's happening in Darfur (some argue that it's worse), though frightfully few people know that it's happening. Little did I know that in just eight short weeks, I'd actually be standing on the same soil as the Karen people, talking with victims of the junta's atrocities and listening to their stories.
My wife and I are freelance Christian missionaries. In a nutshell, we travel the world and look for ways to share our faith and/or help people in practical ways. About a week after I saw the Rambo movie, I met a missionary at a conference in Texas that lives in Thailand and works among the Karen people living in refugee camps along the Thai/Burma border. At the conference an invitation was given for volunteers to go to Thailand and teach an oral communications workshop at a Karen Bible School. At the time my wife and I were already scheduled to spend three weeks in Brazil in November, so we didn't think we would be able to make it. Within three weeks the door we had to travel to Brazil was slammed shut-providentially I think-and we were able to credit our tickets to travel to Thailand instead.
While in Thailand, we spent six days at a bible school with Karen pastors in training. Many of the young men and women had been driven out of their homes when they were little children. Some told us stories about their home villages being burned to the ground. Others were too young to remember life outside of the refugee camp but longed to return to their homeland nonetheless. The constant theme we heard over and over was that the junta troops are continuing to systematically drive Karen people out of their villages and are placing landmines in the villages to keep the people from coming back. Many of the people fear that if the world doesn't act soon, there will be a final campaign in 2010 that will wipe their people off the map forever. That's the year the Burmese government has given the Karen National Liberation Army an ultimatum to lay down their arms-or else.
Speculation aside, here are the facts: