Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Midland-Burma Connection ...

This Sunday, another strand will be added to the tie that binds the people of Midland, Texas, to those in the troubled nation of Burma.

David Eubank, a founder of the Free Burma Rangers, will be speaking this Sunday at First Presbyterian Church-Midland, at the corner of Texas and A streets, on the west edge of downtown Midland. He will speak at the 8:15 a.m. service, then at both of the 11:00 a.m. services, at the first half of the traditional service in the main sanctuary, then at the second half of "The Bridge" service in the chapel.

Over the past two years, there have been increased ties between our West Texas community and that nation on the far side of the world ... specifically, with those who suffer under the military junta that rules Burma (also known as Myanmar).

• In February of 2008, a a group of Midlanders, joined by Christian friends from around Texas, had an opportunity to visit Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand, and worship with their community, mostly people of the Karen ethnic group who had fled persecution - a persecuted people and a persecuted church - in neighboring Burma.

• In August of 2008, the camp was visited by Midland native (and, at the time, US First Lady) Laura Bush. A vocal critic of Burma's junta, she toured the camp and called on the military regime to open dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition. Highlighting abuses in military-run Burma has been the chief cause of the first lady, and with her daughter Barbara she made her way through the muddy settlement which is home to tens-of-thousands who fled the junta's repression.

• From time to time, the Tall City has been visited by those who provide relief to Burma's refugees, and internally-displaced persons. These include Steve and Oddny Gumaer, co-founders of Partners Relief & Development as part of their mission to demonstrate God's love to victims of conflict and oppression. Partners was started after a back-packing trip they made into Sho Klo refugee camp in 1994. According to Steve "you can't just pray for 1.5 million refugees, tell them that Jesus loves them, and then leave them hungry, without clothes, and sick; you have to do something for them to demonstrate the heart and truth behind the prayer."

But perhaps the most interesting and significant tie between our town and that troubled nation ... is that we have a small-but-growing community of Burmese refugees here in the Tall City. An oppressed people, they have been allowed to emigrate from the refugee camps to the United States, where they are now making new homes and new lives for themselves. They are members of the Chin, one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Burma. And while they are different from the Karen people with whom we worked while in Thailand, they share a common and terrible story with the Karen and other ethnic groups in that troubled nation - they are an oppressed people and an oppressed church (an estimated 80%-90% of the Chin are Christians).

• And now, we get a chance to mee Dave Eubank, and learn more about the Free Burma Rangers, a multi-ethnic humanitarian service movement. They bring help, hope and love to people in the war zones of Burma. Ethnic pro-democracy groups send teams to FBR to be trained, supplied and sent into the areas under attack to provide emergency medical care, shelter, food, clothing and human rights documentation. The teams also operate a communication and information network inside Burma that provides real time information from areas under attack.

In addition to relief and reporting, other results of the teams' actions are the development of leadership capacity, civil society and the strengthening of inter-ethnic unity. The teams are to avoid contact with the Burma Army and operate under the protection of the ethnic resistance armies. However, they cannot run away if the people they are helping cannot escape the Burma Army. Men and women of many ethnic groups and religions are part of FBR.

But at the forefont is David Eubank. He was born in Texas, but raised in Thailand, part of a Christian missionary family. After graduating from high school there, he returned to the United States, attending Texas A&M University on an Army ROTC scholarship. He enlisted in the United States Army, serving in both infantry and scout platoons before joining the Army Rangers, then the Special Forces, sering in various parts of the world.

Long retired from the U.S. Armed Forces, Eubank now works to fulfill the FBR's vision, "To free the oppressed and to stand for human dignity, justice and reconciliation in Burma," and its mission, "To bring help, hope and love to people of all faiths and ethnicities in the war zones of Burma, to shine a light on the actions of the dictators' army, to stand with the oppressed, and to support leaders and organizations committed to liberty, justice and service.

A remarkable man, with an inspiring story to tell ... I hope you'll come hear it.

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