When Gain = Loss

I have just returned from a week on the border of Thailand and Burma. Every year, we take students into orphanages, children’s homes and refugee camps and villages in which hundreds of thousands (if not more) Karen refugees have lived – some for as many as 60 years. The Karen fled from their State (an Eastern Burmese State that borders Thailand known locally as Kayin) as the Burmese Army decimated their villages and forced people into labour or simply killed them. This happened during WW2 and continued up until very recently. There are many reasons why this has happened, and historically there are some Karen who probably made things worse. But overall, these innocent people have had to live in atrocious conditions in a strange land for far too long. Let’s put it this way – there are people in the camps who were born there and think that it is home and normal; and many of their grand- or even great-grandparents who fled their originally have long since left this life.

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I could feel very melancholy about this but for three things:

1. The Burmese Government is finally making moves to make it possible for the Karen to return to their homeland. There is still much trust to be earned and much work to be done (remember, for many people their villages were totally razed and have remained as literally nothing since the Second World War). But even as I write this, some Karen are going back to rebuild their lives and start over.

2. The organisation we work with, Effective Aid International, continues to seek to help rebuild a nation. For the past 10 years, EAI has provided schools, educational resources and teacher training in order to ensure that Karen young people in these refugee camps and villages of refuge receive an education so that as Kayin State is rebuilt, the Karen will have the education behind them to be the decision makers for their own people. And this work continues as EAI plants it’s first 10 schools in Karen State this June/July! Education is the key to so many things; and what EAI does is so important. Check them out at http://www.effectiveaid.org/

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3. Okay, so what does all of this have to do with being NoXS Minimal? Well, it’s this: the faces of pure contentment and joy make me realise that stuff does not equal happiness. These people have lost so much, and yet their genuine smiles, generosity and contentment blows me away every time we are with them. Conversely, in being forced to give up so much, they have found a space in which to discover the place from where genuine peace and love and hospitality comes from. I can only hope to discover this same quality of peace and love and hospitality for myself. And I know the longer I spend with the Karen, the more likely I will be to discover it.

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This time last year, as I sat on the steps of the Treehouse I stay in at Noh Bo Village early one morning, I read Jesus’ words where he says, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) And I thought of Ian and Judy Aitchison; the founders of Effective Aid. And I thought of how Ian had come and seen the plight of the Karen. And I thought of how he returned to Australia and at an age when most prepare to retire he sold up his business and left Australia with Judy to start Effective Aid and grow their work with the Karen. And I saw the peace and love and hospitality and contentment that Ian and Judy show to them, to us and all they come into contact with.

And I cried…

And then I smiled.

Live Simply & Simply Live,

Mark G

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