Bricks and Landmines

I crossed the border and went into Burma on Sunday for the first time. I had a lot of mixed feelings and tons of thoughts running through my head before I left, but I was also very excited to make a connection with the land and people I came here to serve.

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By the time we crossed the border, my thoughts were still all over the place. I thought about the news articles that describe what is currently happening. I imagined the reality that these people have lived with as their country was isolated in war and struggle for the past 60 years. Where do I begin to attempt to understand?

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Our village is small and on the outskirts of town. A rich landowner has allowed families to come and live on his land so they can use the sandy river banks to produce bricks and earn him money. There are about 20 straw huts on one strip that comes out from the riverbank.

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The adults, and even some of the kids, work all day in the heat to pump sand and water from the river, mold and shape bricks, dry them out, and bake them by fire.  The kids run around playing in the dirt. Some of them attend school, but not many. Most of the young girls grow up and get married or pregnant at an early age. It’s a simple life. It’s a life of struggle with no hope for things to change. What happens when the resources for making bricks are finished? What happens if the landowner shuts down the business and decides to kick these people off their land? Nothing is certain for them.

Bricks are their “I’ve got nothing else” option. Without land, education, or diversified skill sets, they are stuck here. We are trusting God for favor, inspiration, and the means to offer something to these people that produces more and better options.

We fell in love quickly with the people of the village. Christin sat in the hut with the women who fed her some of their lunch. Seth played new sports with the kids, swam in the river with the men, and even got a cross-cultural lesson in Burmese clothing! (I wish I had a picture of that to show you!) I spent some time playing with the kids and asking one of our contacts, Mio,  about the people’s lives and stories. We walked away from the village dirty, tired, and happy. I am hopeful that our efforts here at the border can make a difference for these people… my new friends. I want Christ to fill this land with hope.

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Mio wanted to take us to visit some friends of his in Myawaddy. Through the backstreets of town he led us down an alley to several huts where about 8 families lived in slum-like conditions. Urban poverty and rural poverty are equally devastating but completely different. Mio explained to us that these families have only one source of income. The men leave town, go into the mountains, walk deep into the forest, and cut down a certain tree for the wood. This wood makes kindling that can be sold in towns and villages for everyday use. While it sounds harmless, one of the husbands has already been killed by a landmine. These landmines have been placed all throughout the countryside and jungle forests as ethnic tribes and the military government fought one another for control. Nobody mapped out where the mines were placed, and straying off roads into the unknown is extremely dangerous. You never know when your next step could be your last. The women in these families wait for their husbands to return home and sometimes they never return. It must be excruciating to endure. The constant waiting and wondering must be terrible. All the while the women struggle to feed and clothe their children and live in a filthy, muddy alleyway of huts.

Hiking through land-mine ridden jungle forests to make a living is their “I’ve got nothing else” option.

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Bricks and landmines are the desperate, last-ditch option for these people I’ve met. I know that others have turned to drugs, human trafficking, smuggling, and other kinds of organized crime to make a living. They have turned to these things because they have nothing else.

This is absolutely unacceptable to me.

The goal is to spend time building relationships, creating trust, and developing a plan. Seth, Christin, and I are going to make a community development plan over the next 2 months that will create more options for the people of this village. It’s going to be tricky. We’re going to need some crazy favor from God to work this out, but I know He sees them and wants a better reality for them as well. God is going to show up. We are showing up. While we are developing a plan to possibly start educating the children, training the adults, and creating a church, our team will also be opening a restaurant in Thailand.

Why are we selling burgers? Because selling burgers allows us to eventually create more options… something besides bricks and landmines… for our friends in Burma. We’ll make money and we’ll fund our projects in this village and hopefully many more. Please give to our Burgers for Burma campaign to get this restaurant started and invest in hope, opportunity, and a new reality for the people of Burma.

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