Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting a Burmese refugee camp on the border of Thailand. Without getting into all the historical or political details, this camp is the home of many Karen individuals. The Karen people have been under attack by the Burmese military for years and have been forced to flee their own land. Over 7,000 of them have found refuge in this camp.
As part of our visit, we climbed up the side of a large hill that overlooked the entire area. As I stood at the top, I looked down the sea of tin roofs and wooden shacks and felt called to kneel and pray. I was reminded of a quote. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once said, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” I could not think of any better words to lift up.
Rarely do I make bold claims about what God does or does not feel. But I feel confident in saying that when he looks down upon a refugee camp — Burmese or otherwise — he feels sadness. I dare say that it breaks his heart. It did not take long for it to begin to break mine.
My was soul filled with sorrow and my mind was filled with questions. Why? Why are these people forced to live in this environment? What led to this? What led to their suffering?
How could this happen?
After a few minutes, we began to climb down. Going down proved to be an even greater challenge than going up. It was steep, very steep. In fact, about midway down, I lost my footing, fell on my backside, and slid ten feet towards to the bottom.
Other than a small cut on my hand, I was okay. But then I remembered my phone — my brand new iPhone 4S I just purchased a few weeks ago. It had been in my back pocket. I quickly pulled it out to make sure it had survived. It had … but the case was broken.
I was frustrated. It was a nice case. I had ordered it online. Now I was going to have to order another one. I was thinking about how much it was going to cost and how long I would have to wait. I was mad.
How could this happen?
Then it hit me. I was standing in a refugee worrying about an iPhone case. Moments earlier my heart had been broken for the people. Now my heart was focused on a broken piece of plastic. I was ashamed.
A problem — a very small problem — was all it took to remove me from their suffering and return me to my selfishness. This should not be the case. I pray this changes. I pray that God continually reminds me of the Karen people. I pray that the things that break the heart of God break my heart … not just for a few moments, but in a way that I cannot forget.
My name is Thawng Hnin Zam. I come from Chin State in the most western part of Myanmar, near the border with India. Presently, I am serving as the Principal of the Union Theological College, a member of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia. I received a B.Th. degree in Madras, India, as well as a B.D. (Bachelors of Divinity) from Serampore University, also in India.