David Eubank’s secret mission had its cover blown by CNN this week. In a CNN Report on June 6, 2017 they talked about a rescue mission to save lives being attacked by ISIS in Mosul, Iraq. CNN reported (with pictures), “Also on the front line is a forward field clinic manned by ex-US Army Special Forces soldier Dave Eubank and his team with the Free Burma Rangers, a non-governmental service organization. Just days earlier they responded to a call from one of the Iraqi units. "They said civilians coming, a lot (of them) shot. We got there and a guy came crying, crying, he said, 'My daughter was shot in front of me, her head was blown off.'" Eubank recalled.” [Here is a link to the CNN report: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/06/middleeast/mosul-front-lines/index.html]
CNN did not explain how Free Burma Rangers came to be in Iraq, nor that this sort of horrendous episode is what Free Burma Rangers have been involved with these past 20 years.
David Eubank founded the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) in 1997, by his own account. In the past 20 years the Rangers have done missions impossible to imagine. For most of those 20 years the FBR mission was clandestine. From a base in Thailand, the FBR worked across the border inside Burma with refugees, technically called Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who had been ravaged and brutalized by one faction or another of the military regime in Burma. Their strategy was to train teams of rangers to provide emergency medical and survival assistance to IDPs whose homes and lives had been radically disrupted. In the process the FBR mission expanded to include gathering information about human rights abuses and on-going military action in Burma, which was often hard to get without eye-witness reports. Recently, following their policy of going where indigenous groups invited them, FBR has developed ranger teams in Sudan and Iraq. Wikipedia lists the accomplishments of FBR succinctly in round numbers: total teams trained: 300; relief missions conducted: over 1,000; patients treated: over 550,000; people helped: over 1,200,000.
To see how this is a Christian mission, it might help to go back to the beginning, about which I have some personal insight. David grew up here in Thailand, the son of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) missionaries Allan and Joan Eubank. Allan had been in the US military in Korea during the war, and David entered military service where he was in the US Special Forces in Panama. He was a ranger. His expertise was survival training. But he felt a calling to missionary work. For this he went to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. When he was nearing graduation he contacted me and began a process of “discernment” that led him back to Thailand in 1996 where he and his father felt they might undertake a pioneer mission to the unreached Wa people in Burma. To put it simply, the Wa are warriors – among other distinctions. The first plan was to convert the Wa to Christ, using time-honored missionary strategies. But David was approached by an ethnic Karen Christian medic who challenged David to come across the border to help in the wars. Together Eliya and David developed a vision for providing holistic intervention. Eliya Sampson became the first ranger. It would be an understatement to say that official church mission bodies were skeptical about the rangers. Of necessity, FBR is an independent non-governmental organization, off official “radars” where they wanted to be, until this week.
Today FBR describes its mission as “to provide hope, help and love to internally displaced people inside Burma, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Using a network of indigenous field teams, FBR reports on human rights abuses, casualties and the humanitarian needs of people who are under the oppression of the Burma Army, FBR provides medical, spiritual and educational resources for IDP communities as they struggle to survive Burmese military attacks.”
The motto of Free Burma Rangers is:
Love one another
Unite for freedom, justice and peace
Forgive and do not hate each other
Pray with faith, Act with courage
For more about the Free Burma Rangers: www.freeburmarangers.org
In my 50 years as a church worker and university administrator here in Thailand I have never heard of a mission like the Free Burma Rangers or a missionary couple like David and Karen Eubank. Many missionaries have had remarkable careers providing medical aid, educational development, and church growth. Some missionaries have confronted danger and led people to safety. But the Rangers are unique.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.