Most kids believe in monsters at one time or another. There’s a thousand different iterations of the Boogey Man across the globe and without a doubt, we’ve all been a little spooked by the idea of him. Maybe an older cousin told a creepy story or a late-night movie lodged an image or a book from the top shelf gave us an idea; make-believe monsters seem to make their way into our lives.
But there are some children who do not have the luxury of make-believe. There are some children who know monsters to be very real.
Six of my fifteen students are Burmese refugees. They are Karen, an ethic minority group that has been at war with the Burmese/Myanmar government since 1949. This conflict is one of the world’s longest running civil wars, and it’s one that you’ve probably never heard of. Karen people have a beautiful, complicated, vast history that I’m slowly learning. But theirs is a history marred with war.
Two of my babies sat down with me today and delineated some of the horrors of the conflict. Through big, bubbly smiles they told me about things no ten year old should have any concept of. They talked about the torture that children would endure if they were taken by the Burmese. They recounted stories of uncles loosing limbs, of fathers being captured, of grandparents they never knew because of landmines. In childlike language, they spoke of concern for little girls at the mercy of Burmese soldiers.
They talked about monsters.
“Miss Theus,” one of the boys asked, “my dad can still go to Heaven, right? He’s killed people, but only bad guys.” And then, beaming with pride, “My dad is a general in the army (the Karen National Liberation Army). He’s very important in my country.” My heart burst. Of course he can go to Heaven. Of course you’re proud of him. Of course you want to be like him. Oh no, please don’t think about going back. Oh no, please don’t join the army too. Oh no, please don’t try to avenge your uncle’s death. Oh no, please don’t go hunting monsters.
They told me about their Boogey Man, a creature something like our American Big Foot. This ominous being leaves huge footprints in its wake and will eat you if he catches you.
“When you have to go to the bathroom at night, you have to take a spear with you,” one of my boys told me.
“Yeah,” a girl chimed in, “And you have to run. There’s no lights and it’s very dark.”
Running from a boogey man is a whole lot easier than running from a guerilla solider.
Blessedly, my babies came to America when they were all about five years old. And God has worked through some amazing people here to keep them in school. Their lives are okay now; significantly fewer monsters. But the monsters still haunt them, I know.
Sitting there listening to my students talk about the violence of their homeland, the terror of their past, I couldn’t help but think of the uncertainty of their futures. The odds are against them. Success will be hard-fought, and the battle starts now, in my fourth grade classroom. I love them I love them I love them and I want to fight all of their monsters, to fix all of their problems, to right all of the wrongs done against them in their short lives.
One of the boys said it so simply: “I just want peace for my people. I want them to have freedom and a place to live.” When Jesus comes, my child, when Jesus comes. No more monsters then.