A letter from Peter Dove, whose work with Imagine Thailand our church supports:
"I had “ a moment” recently—a surreal and magical moment. The moment was when a former political Burmese dissident walked across the room to shake the hand of a former soldier. Last week I saw the other side of this war—hope, reconciliation and friendship.
For these men, and others in the crowd, the story begins over 25 years ago, when student demonstrations protesting the military dictatorship led to thousands of student deaths, mass imprisonment of dissidents and the banning of the National League for Democracy. Kyaw (not real names) was just a teen when he was taken away. He joined the thousands of others rounded up and crowded into squalid and torturous prisons. He would spend a total of 17 years, divided across three incarcerations, of his young adult life in prison. Released in the last few year and now working with a local NGO, last September he was accepted as a Fellow among the inaugural class of the Deboer Fellowship.
Among the 32 Fellows were others who joined Kyaw—Aung and Chin both who also languished in prison for years for speaking against the military junta. But, so too was a former soldier. Syn “served” 13 years with the feared Tatmadaw, 6 of them with the elite Defense Services Academy only a few hundred meters from where we met tonight. When he spoke Syn reminded us, in Burma, one only leaves the military through one of two ways—retirement or killed in duty, but he was—as Syn described it—miraculously released for medical reasons. In the fall he too received his acceptance to be a Deboer Fellow.
The Deboer Fellowship was initiated by the a US-based Deboer Foundation, a group that has made this troubled area their sole concern for the last 26 years. The primary work of the Foundation has been to launch (in 1989) and support World Vision's work here. With political and economic reform Deboer has now decided to advance citizen leaders through this Fellowship. I have had the privilege of being asked to be an instructor.
The inaugural class of Deboer Fellows met in a mountain and military town. Fellows came from across the county drawing from a wide spectrum of experience and vocation. Few knew their cohort participants prior to arrival, and when they gathered former dissidents were surprised to see ex-military making up the Fellowship. The training over the week had been intense, going for 12 hours a day. We explored personality, leadership, and conflict resolution among many topics. I taught on behavioural assessment tools and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
On our last day, as a way of closing, we asked the Fellows to speak to each other. They sat in a large circle. One Fellow began, identified another Fellow and honoured that Fellow in front of the others. Then that honoured Fellow, would take a turn, recognizing another. We asked them to speak words of thanks and admiration, and it was during this time when I had my moment. The dissident chose to honor the soldier, walking across the room and shaking the hand of a former adversary.
This wasn’t a Hollywood moment. No slow motion angles, no embrace, and no tears, just a decision to honour a new friend, who, to many, would seem better fit to be an enemy. Later, after our closing ended, the guys—ex-military and dissident--went out to visit with Kyaw’s old military friends who remain in the town. In a society that is deeply divided by 60 years of civil war and 25 years of ruthlessly persecuted political activism, the picture of these guys walking off for a drink, together, is more than memorable—it is prophetic. The picture symbolizes what can be and, we trust, what will be.
Now if you think this account is simply meant to validate the Fellowship or our work, it’s not. The Fellowship is a wonderful context with deep and meaningful teaching, but it would be presumptuous to assume we manufactured this reconciliation. I have no idea what path our dissidents have taken to become friends with those who were party, either because of duty or desire, to their torture and persecution. I have no idea how much command chain soldiers inwardly resist the expectation to suppress their peers. However, I can say that friendship after war is possible. I can say that there is hope, and I can say that the Deboer Fellowship in the right place to create an environment where reconciliation is possible. Tonight I saw someone who had lost the most vigorous years of his adult life to a despotic military regime, embracing a new friend. That, in my mind gives new definition to “Fellowship.”
This is one story from Imagine Thailand. There are many more, like when Hannah took a group of mostly Muslim students to serve in local Buddhist schools, handing out Christmas gifts from our International Evangelical Church in Bangkok, or when Ly-Mei and Te' installed a huge clean water system at the TB Unit of Shoklo Malaria Research Unit in Mae Sot , or when Jarren and Cindie hosted a Christmas party for students from Prince of Songkla University in the Deep South, or when Tak and her growing team passed out Happy Bags to public school children in Takua Pa. Every story reflects another bridge built, another friendship fostered, and a deepening fellowship with our neighbours..
You are part of this bridge building as well. Thank you for being part of the team. To follow up on some of these stories please click on the Facebook button and if you wish to support Imagine Thailand and our work in Southeast Asia please check out our website and click on the donate buttons available.
Peter and Cavelle Dove