[Feature] "Don’t Forget Us" - Christian Refugees on Sino-Burmese Border

The worship place in the refugee camp on the border between Burma and China
The worship place in the refugee camp on the border between Burma and China (photo: Gospel Times)
By Yi YangJanuary 17th, 2017

Since June 2011, the Myanmar government forces and Kachin state army continued have been fighting with each other. Thousands of civilians crossed the Sino-Burmese Border to escape the war. Chinese churches of Lisu and Jingpo nationality offer help to refugees because they share the same language and belief. They vividly show the mutual love between brothers and sisters.

There are 80,000 refugees temporarily staying at Yingjiang County, Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, the majority of whom are Kachin and Lisu people. They are almost Christians. Knowing the situation, Yingjiang Church has helped the refugees for five years, supporting them food, clothes and daily necessities.

"Today we are in two countries with the boundary. But we understand more that the Lord's love is boundaryless because of the faith, your love to God and everything you have done." Says a letter from Kachin Baptist Convention(KBC) to Yunnan CCC&TSPM.

A five-year-old log cabin

In the second half of 2016, the heat had gradually dissipated. I followed Brother Li from the Longchuan Church to the refugee camp on the Sino-Burmese border. There were more than 1,000 Christians from the Lisu Nationality.

There were simple and small groceries on the border selling food and daily necessities. The road leading to the refugee camps was not flat with many dead trees on both sides. We could only see log cabins instead of normal houses. The whole way was full of dust.

We rode a motorcycle to the refugee camp with a metal door open. The small living space was woven out by bamboo strips. A log cabin could only hold five or six people. Children's clothes were hung in the room. Everything was in a mess. A small black pot for cooking and a plastic bucket to hold water were neatly arranged in the aisle.


The refugee camp
The refugee camp


When they are in need of water, they can only carry a barrel to fetch water from a water tower.The bathroom was open with a wooden door. On the aisle, the children ran around and a few women carried their children. An old man sat alone on the wooden pillar with no words. Under the plastic shed there were a number of old motorcycles. Around the house there was piling wood and a small groove for drainage. A black tube was lying on the ground. 

It is hard to imagine that they have lived in that environment for more than five years. A banner hung in the room tells us that UNHCR and other relief agencies have been there. However, it was hard to tell the words on the banner. There were only a few melons and vegetables on a small black table. There was a hole on the ground for cooking. The old wooden table was messy. A little girl in a green print dress and orange T-shirt crouched over there, cooking the rice with a spoon.

The cooking girl
The cooking girl


Brother Lee introduced that the Burmese government granted refugees a piece of land to use. However, the refugees have to earn their own bread. There shelter was built on their own. They got some limited rescue out of humanitarian spirit. When Myanmar is relatively safe and peaceful, less people will pay attention to refugees.

Fortunately, children can go to schools set by Myanmar government. However, the education is not for free. The wife of Principle Cao introduced that more than 300 children go to school at present. In addition, the children in the border areas can learn Chinese as long as they pay. However, few of them can afford it.

Worship in refugee camps

When I look around, the tablecloths on the service desk were clean. Under the table there were flowers. The green chairs on both sides were new. The camp for praying and worshiping was surrounded by wooden walls. Long benches were set in the middle. The refugees usually come here to worship.

Brother Li, who was also from Lisu Nationality, can speak the same language with refugees. He often helps them. He told the author that refugees fled to the border areas due to instability and war in their own country. They don't dare to go back. They are afraid to be killed by landmines on the way back. Some refugees lost their home a long time ago. They can only live in other places to guarantee the safety of their life. They stay here for their children's education and their own livelihoods.

Principle Cao of the Longchuan Bible Training Center and Brother Li both visited the refugee camps. Some Chinese Christians from other places such as Zhejiang Province and foreign Christians have also provided help to build the church.

Brother Li said that the United Nations Refugee Agency used to provide rice for refugees. Edible oil and vegetables can also be bought at the border. However, the main income of a refugee family was from men who work outside home. It is no wonder that I could only see women, the elderly and children in the refugee camp. The men make money in other places of China such as Longchuan. They may repair cars or cut sugar canes to earn dozens of dollars every day to feed their family. By Sunday, they will go to the refugee camp to worship.

The pastors and the wife of Principle Cao want to build a church there. However, they could hardly make their ends meet. How could they afford that? Cao said that the refugees are almost all from Lisu Nationality. The camp for worship is currently under the management of her and Principle Cao. On Sunday they would worship God in the same place which was donated by a rich person in Longchuan.

In addition, Brother Li said that most people in Myanmar believe in Buddhism. They have freedom to choose their own religion. He used to preach in the refugee camp. However, he is already busy with ministry in the Longba Church and the teaching in the training center. He couldn't preach there often. "I feel I owe something to the refugees." Brother Li said.

Don't forget us

"Don't forget us. " When Brother Li and I left, the wife of Principle Cao said. I was surprised at that moment. I immediately replied that I won't forget them forever.

It is known that the pastors of the campus and the wife of Principle Cao is planning to lead the refugees to build a larger place to live in. At present the training center is too crowded. The current place was given to the refugees by the Burmese government. If they want more place, they could only pay for it. So the refugees could only solve the problem on the existing land.

"If someone wants to help us and provide more shelter, they will have more space. They have no oil or meat at present. They can only have their stomach full. They need money. God also helps and pities them, "Brother Lee told me.

For a long time, Brother Li and other members of the church have been trying to help the refugees. They provide them with hymn books for praying, edible oil and other daily necessities.

Brother Lee also shared a story with me. Some Burmese went to China to seek medical treatment. However, they missed the best time to cure the disease due to language barrier. Only a small number of people who can speak Chinese would lead others to make a living on the border.

"They want to learn Chinese so that they can see a doctor and buy things in China. The language barrier has caused a lot of trouble for them. However, the power of fellow workers in Longchuan Church is limited. They have no more funds or time to support the refugees. They could only visit those refugees who speak same language with them occasionally. "Brother Lee so explained.

In fact, the Lisu church on the Sino-Burmese was very poor. For example, the new building of Longchuan Bible Training Center was built two years ago. Before that the walls of the training center were made of cement, plastic or wood. Until now, the students still have to grow corns and other vegetables on the farm after school to make a living.

Translated By: Emma Ma

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