I (Kyle) can’t believe we are already heading into the spring of 2018.
Over the last couple weeks Katrina and I lived worlds apart. I was attending a meeting with colleagues from International Ministries (IM) in Bangkok while Katrina stayed in Kikongo with the kiddos. Talk about worlds apart. Bangkok with its sky trains, malls and international community stands in deep contrast to many places in Africa, especially our remote home in Kikongo.
I had the privilege of exploring the city with three African men each representing a different country: Phillip from Uganda, Boaz from Kenya and Lance from Zimbabwe. It was a wonderful learning experience being able to see Bangkok through their eyes as they dreamed of Africa’s development.
After the meeting, I ventured north to Mae Sot where two colleagues and I were granted permission to enter part of a Karen refugee camp. This was such a unique experience because I was able to listen to Karen leaders discussing what it was like to be a people without homes. The Karen leaders are strategically planning their future with a hope only Christ can give. Many of them have resided between worlds for 30 years, not able to return to their home but not Thai citizens either. The issues are complicated and would take a book to even begin to explain so I will save you a history lesson on the politics of South-East Asia. But there was one man’s story that I would like to share. I will change his name to protect his privacy.
We spent a few days with Simon, but didn’t get to hear his story until we all piled in to a pickup truck and began our decent out of the mountains.
Simon was born in a country that would not give his parents the documentation of his birth because the government’s dislike for his ethnic group. He lived the childhood of a legal ghost without identity or social security number. His family, forced by pressing armies at their back, traveled by foot into a neighboring country where they lived the lives of refugees. He was able to go to school but admits he was not a star pupil.
He graduated high school and felt a calling to go to University in the Philippines so that he could return to his people and begin a new generation of development amongst the Karen. But without the ability to obtain a passport he would never be allowed to travel. So, he prayed.
Around this time another family was experiencing the loss of their own son who was about Simon’s age. After meeting with Simon they asked if he would like to assume their son’s identity in order to create a path to documentation. Simon feeling like this was an answer to prayer said “yes.” He then lived life under the name of another for some time before the door was opened for him to be documented with his real name.
Now that he had the paperwork to travel he needed the money. University in the Philippines ran about $5,000/year. For the 3 year program Simon needed $15,000. He had absolutely no access to money. A refugee doesn’t even buy food but has to wait for someone (usually an NGO) to give it.
Okay here I need to give a little bit of a history lesson for context sake. Amongst the Karen people there are 5 factions. The first major faction was for religious reasons. The Christian minority and the Buddhist majority. Each group is wary at best of the other and they often remain physically separate.
Now back to Simon’s story: Simon’s brother had befriended a Buddhist monk in Thailand and was one day sharing that his little brother wanted to go to the Philippines in order to study the Bible. Upon hearing this the monk decided that he would pay the entire cost of Simon’s school for the full 3 years.
Simon was ecstatic and began school soon after. He worked hard but in his second year he began to have major problems with his liver. Eventually he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and was told that he needed to return to Thailand. This devastated him and he spent the night crying and asking God, “Why would you meet me at every step, only to leave me now.” In the morning he decided that he would rather die learning about Jesus than to return without his degree. He began to look for other options and found a drug trial for a Hep C cure. Simon signed up and began treatment. He praises God that he has not had any problems since the completion of the trial.
Each quarter his grades showed improvement over the last until his final year when he was the top of his class. Graduating with full honors, he has now returned to the camp in which he grew up and teaches at their seminary without a salary.
His sacrifice and dedication inspired all of us in the truck as we bounced along roads leaving from the camp. May I have his courage, sacrifice and dedication to leave this world a little better than when I arrived.
Kyle & Katrina Williams