Christmas in a Refugee Camp
My mum sent me some money with instructions to ‘do something nice for Christmas’. It was Christmas Eve when I emailed her from a dilapidated shack in Nu Po refugee camp high up in the mountains somewhere on the Thai-Burmese border.
My fellow student Franco and I wanted to do something unique for Christmas; we wanted to push ourselves and experience something out of the ordinary, knowing God was right there with us.
We travelled ten hours overnight by bus, through Bangkok and up to Mae Sort in Thailand’s north. There we met Pod Mark, a close brother and recent Victory Bible College graduate. We mistakenly thought we’d reached our final destination but Pod Mark explained that we needed to travel another eight hours up into the hills. A Songtaow, best described as a pick up truck with a canvas roof, is the only way to travel here. It stops along the road to pick up or drop off any tribal people who have a few Baht to pay for a ride. Hanging on tightly through the endless hair-pin turns up the mountain, we ascended into our destination.
I don’t know what I expected a refugee camp to look like but once we passed through the guarded gates we found countless rows of cute bamboo huts jammed together at the foot of gorgeous forest-covered mountains. People mingled and children played in the narrow dusty roads. We stayed with Pod Mark and his mum in their bamboo home. The small square house was divided into a cooking and living area, bathroom and sleeping quarters – a very effective use of their allotted space!
Franco and I made ourselves at home bathing with buckets of murky ice water and sleeping on slabs of bamboo. We awoke at dawn to the sound of roosters crowing and small shops preparing the days’ business. The smell of new rice cooking over open fires made me think this would not be such a bad place to live. Then as I watched an elderly lady puttering around buying vegetables, I had to imagine the adjustments she must have made from the freedom of village life to fleeing her persecutors in this refugee camp. She must have been a young woman thirty years earlier when she landed in this ‘temporary settlement’. This camp is home to a generation who have never known anything other than life in captivity.
On our first day we visited dozens of huts. We ate with families, pastors and Christian leaders. We built relationships and spoke into their lives. This led to us sharing with the young people in the Karen Tribe Baptist Church.
The next night we had the honour of meeting with the faithful pastors of a Spirit-filled church. It was exciting to experience an instant connection with these humble servants. They entrusted us with speaking the very next morning at their special Christmas service. We quickly said yes and came Christmas day to see four congregations crammed into the makeshift church. As God led us, we preached the Word and prophesied His life-giving message. People were baptised in the Holy Spirit and the sick recovered in front of our eyes. The place was absolutely packed! There were rows of chairs lined up outside the church because people were desperate to catch a glimpse of what God was doing.
A few days later we met a young man who arranged for us to visit the hill tribe village of Kwitta, just 10 minutes from the Burmese border. On arriving we met with a group of ten villagers but they quickly turned into a crowd of four hundred as people flocked to the central green from the hills around. We suddenly found ourselves leading worship on their rickety stage. This was a missionaries dream come true: flung onto the front line of the Great Commission. God had exceeded our wildest expectations!
Away from city lights on our high mountain perch, I was awestruck at the thousands of stars, so bright and so many! Walking from one hut to another I kept losing Pod Mark as I found myself stopping to stare at the striking night sky! I wanted to kneel right there in the dusty road and worship my Creator; how close He was! This is how God spoke to Abraham and now we were being used by Him, in perfect marching step with His Spirit, simply because we humbled ourselves and obeyed. We said yes to every opportunity, we pushed ourselves beyond what we could be and we did what we never thought possible.
The next day I was sitting on the roof of another Songtaow, gripping some anchor bars for dear life as we now descended through those same sharp mountain bends. I tried to take in what God had just done in and through us in these last seven days. Overwhelmed at the goodness and faithfulness of Him who is so deserving of it all, tears of joy started to flow, the hope in my heart had been increased. I was now envisioned.
God is looking for people willing to push themselves past their own capacity to achieve the impossible and take ownership of the Great Commission, to bring God’s love into the villages, towns and nations of those that don’t know Him. This is our task, our responsibility to usher in the Kingdom of God to every place that our feet touch. May we rise to this life-challenge each day, dying to self and living for His will. Choosing this road has transformed me, and I look forward to the bright future I have in His service.