Visiting Than Him Camp

Monday, Feb 6th, 2012

    Yesterday we got to witness the spoils of the long war between the Burmese military and the Karen people as we visited an isolated refugee camp in rugged terrain ten kilometers inside the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border.  Established in May 1997, the camp is home to over 7000 persons, 98% are Karen, most all of whom are Baptist.

    Than Him CampMy words cannot encompass all that we observed in our brief four hour visit to the camp, and we will be sifting our experiences for years to come, I trust.  With rudimentary temporary dwellings--bamboo structures with tarp or plastic sheeting roofs--and dwindling food distributions because of the global economy, these persons seek to carve out dignity and a future amidst stressing environs.

    Than Him Camp Leadership with Central StudentsMost impressive is the structure for self-governance within the camp.  An elected committee provides oversight for education, health, food distribution, thus contributing to the longer term vision of self-reliance.  

    With assistance for the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, there are several initiatives that promote livelihood opportunities such as developing a shelter strategy through growing their own bamboo, raising pigs, and supporting other entrepreneurship development opportunities within the camp.  The community-based model of camp management is very intentional about building capacity of young women and other under-represented groups for leadership.

    Bible school students at Than Him CampThe highlight of our visit for me was the opportunity to visit the Mason Bible School, named for the translator of the Karen Bible.  For nearly an hour our students and their students shared a lively discussion about preparing for ministry, their mutual longing for graduation, and the importance of "keeping the faith" while completing their studies.  Just prior to our departure, the Mason students asked the Central students to sing for them; we offered a presentable rendition of the Doxology (mostly in harmony) and then were rocked on our heels by their energetic Karen singing.  I am glad it was not a sing-off!

    As we departed the camp for the return trip to Bangkok, our hearts were heavy and our minds perplexed by the intractibility of political situations that push people to such extremities.  How can our witness promote justice for them?

Molly T. Marshall