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Free Burma Rangers: Missions of Mercy Compelled by Love

Maintaining calm amid chaos, theirs is a mission to free the oppressed with help, hope, and love.

Fighting war with love may seem surprising, but some risk their lives going into dangerous war zones and have the courage to stand with those under attack. Their motivation is not to win wars but to bring relief to those caught in the conflict.

We hear about the ravages of war and the plight of refugees fleeing for their lives. But rarely do we hear of true heroes who run toward the battle to save the suffering, the forgotten. The Free Burma Rangers (FBR) is a multi-ethnic humanitarian organization whose mission is to bring help, hope, and love to the people trapped in some of the world’s hottest conflict zones, including Burma, Iraq, and Sudan.

Mainly operating along the border of Burma, also known as Myanmar, FBR provides emergency services and relief to sick and injured displaced people. Over 100,000 people were forced from their lands in Burma, resulting from a long-running violent campaign against ethnic minorities by the military junta that wants to eliminate all resistance. Originally founded to help people oppressed by the Burmese government, the organization has spread its humanitarian efforts to conflicts worldwide.

Led by Faith

Free Burma Rangers was founded and led by David Eubank, a former U.S. Army Special Forces Captain who has seen his share of bloody battlefields. He grew up in Thailand, where his missionary parents ran a school. Eubank is also a pastor trained at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. For Eubank, his faith both leads and sustains him, he says, “I want to follow Jesus in this and share His love with all in need.” True to his word, it is the path he has chosen and lives by every day. He is known as Tha-U-Wa-Pa by the Karen people of Burma, one of the minorities he helps serve.

Seeing injustices against the Karen people in the late 1990s, Eubank combined his faith and military experience to form the unconventional humanitarian service movement in 1997. Since then, FBR teams slipped across the Thai border into Burma thousands of times, avoiding detection by border patrols and armed soldiers to bring relief to oppressed people.

His wife, Karen, and three children join him on his humanitarian missions, usually staying outside of conflict zones. Karen recalls a feeling she had, that God told her, “This is the path I have for you.” Just a few days after their wedding in 1993, the couple went on a relief mission in Burma. They never looked back or had any regrets. Their children have journeyed into war-torn places since they were infants and enjoy working alongside their parents and FBR teams.

Release the Oppressed

Since FBR’s founding, thousands have joined to serve from all ethnicities, faiths, as well as the faithless. Over 300 teams have been trained, and there have been over 1,000 relief missions. FBR has treated over 550,000 patients and helped over 1.5 million people. Over 30 Rangers have given their lives in the service of helping others.

Oppressed groups in Burma that FBR helps include the Kachin, Shan, and Ta’ang in northern Burma and the Arakan in western Burma. There are also over 100,000 Rohingya living in concentration camps. As the Rangers fight against oppression, they also pray for the oppressors because of their firm belief that no one is beyond redemption.

The Rangers from Burma felt compelled to help others under attack in other parts of the world, including Sudan in 2014, and Kurdistan in 2015. FBR also provided relief missions to help the Kurds in Iraq who were under attack by ISIS. When Mosel fell, the last stronghold of ISIS, at least one FBR relief team was there to help.

Love in Action

The Burma teams administer medical treatment and provide food, clothing, and shelter on the front lines. They escort internally displaced people to displacement camps and refugee locations, set up children’s programs in the camps, and distribute human rights documentation. FBR’s principle work is to empower small teams with skills and equipment to conduct relief missions under any condition, be it in jungles, deserts, or mountainous terrain, wherever humanitarian aid is needed most. Ranger teams carry on using their guiding principle to “not be led by comfort or fear, but be led by love.”Relief teams consist of a team leader, medic, photographer, videographer, and a children’s program counselor. In addition to their regular duties, they also perform recon missions with resistance fighters. While working in Iraq, the Rangers worked with the Iraqi Army to assist displaced persons. Large scale operations are also conducted in cooperation with multiple teams to maximize relief efforts.

Photos taken in Kachin State, Burma with Free Burma Rangers relief teams from May 21 – June 15, 2013.

Part of the Rangers’ duties includes human rights and conflict monitoring and reporting. FBR collects firsthand accounts and interviews, records video, shoots photographic evidence, and then passes these to news outlets and international monitors who are unable to access the areas where the Rangers go. FBR uses the recorded information in the “pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation in Burma.” Their reports have been instrumental in exerting international pressure on the Burmese government to admit to the use of airstrikes in large civilian populations and temporarily halt the attacks.

Free Burma Rangers relief mission to Kachin State, northern Burma—also known as Myanmar—from January to February, 2015.

Health care workers take a 14-month training course at FBR’s Jungle School of Medicine Kawthoolei (JSMK) in Burma’s Karen State. A school and hospital clinic, JSMK has trained medics since 2011, who then work with FBR teams providing relief health care. Some receive additional training, and after a year, can diagnose and treat more complex health conditions.

Becoming a Ranger

Each year, a two-month intensive Ranger training program on practical relief, survival skills, and socio-political awareness is conducted by FBR with local pro-democracy ethnic groups. Up to 20 teams come from all over Burma to complete the training course and go on relief missions. The course is grueling, and training takes the volunteers beyond what they think they are capable of doing. After graduating, these teams of volunteers become front line relief responders, fully equipped for periods of one to three months.The men and women who join the organization are volunteers supported by their own means or through churches or organizations. Many participate as former persecuted Christians from Burma, and their personal experience becomes a motivating force. But everyone joins out of love to fight oppression, restore dignity, and has a desire to reconcile their country.

An Unprecedented Journey

A documentary was recently released, telling the inspiring story of FBR relief efforts and the Eubank family, titled Free Burma Rangers. The film is a gripping real-life action-adventure, revealing the terror of war and the humanitarian need that comes with it. You can watch the trailer here:

Eubank and his teams continue to heed the call, giving aid to the oppressed, willing to give their all. In the film, while under rapid gunfire, he speaks these sobering words, “There’s no promise of justice on this world. There’s no promise of a safe way out. In fact, we’re all going to die. And so, the question is, how are we going to live?”

You can learn more about the Eubank family and the Free Burma Rangers at freeburmarangers.org. Be sure to read the moving personal stories of Burma Rangers and those who died while giving aid to the oppressed.