By Rusty Jackson
Freedom escapes him. A real life eludes him. And the prospect of death chased him to this place when he was 14 years old. Technically “this place” has no name, but it has more than 50 thousand people living and working in it. This “camp” sits just inside Thailand’s northern border. It’s residents have no citizenship, no identity – no freedom!
Wado (pronounced Wa-doe), now 31, has lived here since he left Burma 17 years ago. Why leave Burma you ask? Wado is Karen (pronounced “corinne”), a native people to the land of Burma. Their ancestors have been there for generations. Kind of like the native Americans before we ran them off. Anyway, the Burmese government doesn’t want Karen people living within its borders anymore.
Why? Because the Karen people aren’t Burmese and the Karen people are Christian – Burma is not down with Christianity. Lately the Burmese military has been rolling thru Karen villages raping the women, killing the men and kidnapping the young, forcing them to serve in the army. It’s genocide. You’re different, so we’re gonna kill you for it.
Wado teaches English to the kids at the school inside the refugee camp. He’s pretty much never known freedom, yet he remains faithful to Jesus Christ. Wado says his hope is still strong. He’s educated and he understands educating the Karen people is of utmost importance. As he put it, “They give us a fish, instead of teaching us how to fish, nothing really gets solved.” Now there are many Karen people living in Thailand with Thai citizenship, but it’s only because their ancestors came over generations ago. But since the Burmese government has stepped up its persecution thousands, upon thousands of refugees have been streaming across the border for about the last 20 to 30 years.
The Thai government doesn’t want them and won’t grant the Karen people citizenship, but there’s not much they can do, so the refugee camps continue to grow. The United Nations does a lot for the Karen people in terms of food. But the people still have no home. “We just want to live peacefully in our own homeland”, says Wado. But right now there is nothing peaceful about the Karen’s native homeland.
Wado prays for justice, I pray for sweets because I’m sick of eating so much rice.
Wado asks God to keep his hope alive, I ask God to kill the chickens outside my tent because I can’t sleep.
Wado begs for his people to finally know freedom, I beg for a future wife.
See the difference, here?
While Wado sleeps under the blanket of entrapment, I sleep on a hundred dollar thermarest inside a hundred dollar sleeping bag in the confines of a two hundred dollar tent. That’s four hundred bucks worth of camping gear. That could pay someone’s rent in Thailand for two years. I love that his life makes me re-evaluate mine. Thank you, Wado.
Rusty is a TV Reporter-turned-world-traveler from Arkansas. He just left Wado and others in Thailand to share his faith in Cambodia.