Sunday, April 30, 2006

bamboo school and the border police - 1


Trucks crawled into the village of Bong Ti, Thailand, shattering the peace of a May afternoon. On the outskirts of the village, 11-year-old Chickenbone*, and many Karen children who had gathered to begin classes at Bamboo School when it opened in a week, were bathing in the river. As the trucks rumbled closer, laughter changed to silence as one by one the children climbed out of the water to peer through the trees.

Farther up the hill, on the school verandah that looked down on the village, principal Momo Cat (Catherine Riley-Bryan) was interviewing a new student. She too heard the trucks. They rolled to a stop at the base of the hill. Then sixteen soldiers, in the uniform of Thai border police, climbed out and made their way up the hill. Near the top they broke into two groups. One went in the direction of Pastor David's* house, while the other marched toward the schoolhouse and surrounded it.

"Special armed force," a policeman barked, stepping onto the verandah. "We will search."

Momo Cat stood by helplessly as the men rooted through the classrooms, the kitchen and the dormitory sleeping quarters.

Meanwhile, several soldiers had found the swimming hole. "Get clothes on and come with us!" one commanded.

Chickenbone's heart beat hard. This was not his first run-in with soldiers. He remembered, as a little boy, how his family had escaped from the Myanmar army soldiers (SPDC and DKB). They had burned his village to keep the people from joining and fighting in the Karen army (KNU). His family had fled through the Myanmar hills and jungles. Finally they had made it into Thailand and to the refugee camp. Now if the soldiers found that any of his identification papers were missing, they could arrest him and put him in jail or take him back to Myanmar and force him into military service.

His family was still at the refugee camp. But Chickenbone had been accepted into Bamboo School where he was going to learn to read. Even better, Momo was teaching them about Jesus. They were learning new songs and how to share Jesus' love with children in other villages. Would the soldiers spoil all that?

"Hurry!" the men called, as the children scrambled to find their clothes, tie on sarongs, pull on t-shirts and shorts. Chickenbone was herded with the others, up the hill to Pastor David's house.

At the school the leader, finished with the search, confronted Momo Cat again. "You come with us," he demanded.

"One minute," she said. She went to her special hiding place and grabbed the bag which held all the identification papers she had for the children, and her own passport. Then she went with the soldiers.

When the children got to the house, Chickenbone's eyes grew wide with fear. There were many soldiers. They were shoving and pushing Pastor David, and calling out insults. "You are spy! You are KNU!" But when Pastor tried to explain, they just hit and kicked him more.

As the children huddled near the house, soldiers surrounded them. Just then Momo Cat and the other soldiers arrived. "These children are not illegals," she said to the men. "Here are papers and my passport." She showed the leader the documents.

He shuffled through the papers, then said gruffly, "Take them back to the house."

"Come," Momo Cat motioned. "Back to the school."

As they walked in stunned silence, they saw the soldiers push and shove their pastor and his family down the hill.

"You stay here," Mom Cat said, when they'd reached the school. "I'll go and help Pastor David."

Chickenbone watched Momo Cat start down the path. Would the soldiers hurt her too, he wondered? He couldn't just sit here. He trailed down the hill behind Momo.

He saw that Pastor David and his family were now at the bottom of the hill beside the trucks. Soldiers were hitting and punching him again, and yelling out, "KNU!" and "Spy!"

They were wrong! Pastor David was no spy. He was a kind man, who told them Bible stories, led them in worship and listened to them when they needed someone to talk to. Chickenbone couldn't stand to watch the mean soldiers beat up his friend. But how could he stop them? He would take their attention away from the pastor. He took a step, but a soldier who was nearby noticed, struck him and Chickenbone went flying.

Momo Cat, now surrounded by village children and students who had followed her down the hill, looked over from where she was negotiating with the soldiers.

"I need to go to the toilet," Chickenbone called, getting up.

"Ask the soldier," she shouted back.

"Can't I even go to the toilet?" Chickenbone asked in Burmese.

"Go on the grass where you are," the soldier answered back.

Chickenbone acted as if he was undoing his trousers. Then like lightning he took off, away from Pastor David and toward the jungle.

The soldiers stopped beating Pastor David to watch. "Stop!" the leader shouted.

But Chickenbone kept going. In the next instant there was a click, then a gunshot.

Momo Cat gasped in horror. She and the children fell to their knees to pray just as another shot rang through the valley.

A few minutes later the soldiers picked up Chickenbone's limp body and put him in the truck.

Momo Cat saw that he was still alive. "I'm a nurse, let me help him," she begged.

"Go back to your house." was all the soldiers said.

Quickly Momo Cat climbed the hill back to the school. She got together packages of milk powder for Pastor David's grandchildren and hurried down to give them to Pastor before the soldiers drove away with him, his family and Chickenbone. In between the packages, she had slipped 1000 baht (approximately $24.00 U.S.).

That night Momo and the children had a big prayer meeting. They prayed for Chickenbone and Pastor David. They also praised God that they were alive. "And thank you," prayed Momo Cat, "that we were able to give Pastor David the milk and the money."

"But we saw soldiers take the milk and the money away from Pastor," said one of the children.

"Oh no," said Momo Cat. "I hope they get a belly ache."

"Momo," said one of the children, "we should love our enemies, not speak badly of them."

You're so right, thought Momo Cat, but it is hard. She hoped she'd seen the last of the border police. But God had other plans.

To be continued...

* Fictitious names used to protect real people.


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