The Baptism near the Arctic Circle

Trip Start Jun 07, 2006
Trip End Jun 25, 2006

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Flag of Finland  ,
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

We board our flight to Kemi/Tornio located close to the Swedish border on the northern tip of Gulf of Bothnia. This is new territory for us with new people to visit. We are to see Klo Gay and his wife Margaret are refugees from Maela, a large Karen camp of 60,000 inhabitants outside of Mae Sot, Thailand.

The Doh's were taken in by the Finnish government and allowed opportunity for a new life and ultmately a citizenship. We know very little about them except that they have relatives who had also emigrated and live in North Carolina. We are not certain about who exactly will meet us at the airport or how we will get from the airport to Margaret Doh's home.

When we step off the plane the air is damp and cool, a big contrast from Helsinki where it was sunny and warm. It is not difficult to identify Klo Gay and a friend. The friend is Meung Aye who has a car and who will drive us to the Doh's apartment about five miles away. He has had his driving license for only five days. We learn that Meung Aye is Burmese who served in the Burmese army and fought against the Karen, but who came over to the Karen and lived in their refugee camp. He is also a Buddhist.

When we arrive at the apartment I recognize Margaret by her voice. I have been speaking to her a number of times by phone from Indiana and now see her in person. We feel we are already acquainted. We come inside the apartment and Meung Aye's wife Ma Chou appears. She is Muslim, a Burmese of Indian origin. We hear children in the background. There are several families from Thailand who live in this complex.

Margaret quickly brings up the subject of baptism which is why we are here and have been preparing for several months. Her husband Klo Gay has been baptized since January 1998. She says that our original plan of going to the Baltic Sea two miles away for baptism might be a bit precarious and she offers a lake location instead. We then talked about baptism reviewing the main principles. Five of us set out in Meung Aye's little car for the lake. Klo Gay arrives a little later on his bicycle.

I baptized Margaret in the icy water. It was a baptism like no other I've experienced being done by a Ukrainian in Finland and witnessed by a Burmese, a Karen, a Muslim, a Buddhist and Christians. Quite diverse. Quickly we hurried back to the apartment where we concluded the ceremony with the laying on of hands. We are all very happy.

The Doh's 22 year old niece Elsa enters the room. Her father and Klo Kay Doh are brothers. Her English is excellent and she is eager to talk with us. She has been a refugee since the age of 11 and is now keenly studying English and Finnish. She is computer literate. They would all like to have a common computer so that they could have Internet access to all of us. We'll see what we can do to make that possible.

The Doh's serve us dinner and offer us to stay at their apartment overnight which we gladly accept. We are here for such a short time that it works well for us to be together as much as we can plus saving considerable expense.

We then sat and talked about life in the refugee camps. There are several refugee camps with refugees from the civil war that started in 1949 still coming over, however, the Thai government is shutting down the influx of new homeless. There are 50 million Karen who wish to form a new state. The Burmese will not allow them to do that and consequently a guerrilla war that has lasted for 57 years now that the world harldly knows anything about. Thousands of people are killed every year. The Karen have an army and call themselves the Karen National Union.

Margaret Doh's father Hle Htoo was a general in the revolutionary Karen army and his photo is prominently on the wall in the living room. Margaret was born in the jungle and moved with family from location to location as the war proceeded. Every one of her seven siblings was born in a different location. Margaret had been a refugee since age eight.

Beverly and I have been to Mae Sot in 1993 and kept part of the Feast of Tabernacles with a group of the refugees for two days and had become acquainted with some of the people who have now emigrated to the United States.

After a while Meung Aye and his wife Ma Cho come back and we talk some more before going to bed about 11:30 PM on the longest day of the year. Outside it's as bright as can be and the Doh's make an effort to shade the windows as much as possible in order for us to feel like it's real night time.
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