|Bilay with his two-year old daughter Smiley|
Bilay: This Is My Story
Written and transcribed by Amber Wunderlich
Bilay is a Karen man from Burma who has had limited use of his legs since a young child due to a Polio infection. He walks on his hands and knees. Currently he is in Thailand along the border in a village called Takkolang where he has built a boarding home for poor Karen students from Burma and from refugee camps. Some of these students come from broken homes. He is also a lay pastor for a small Adventist church, as well as a kind father and husband.
|Bilay working on building a house|
for his family (I'm not even sure how he
got up there...)
The first time I met Bilay I was twenty-one years old. I had just ventured to Thailand for the first time and was volunteering along the border. Contrary to my thoughts at the time, I knew nothing about what I was doing but I was blessed enough to meet some lovely people along the way who would help lead and guide my younger self, and Bilay happened to be one of those such lovely people. He is a bit of a surprise to meet for several reasons. The first being that he doesn’t walk like the vast majority of us as he walks on his hands and knees (but he doesn’t let that stop him from doing anything!), and another reason being that he has a different way of thinking and living. I have to say it’s been an honor and privilege knowing Bilay because of his trust in God and also because of his kind and compassionate spirit. If you do not get the chance to meet him and spend some time learning from him, then perhaps the best way to get to know him is to hear his story*. So here goes!
|Bilay with the students he houses|
I was born on the Burma side. Now I am forty years old. When I was five years old I have a memory, that I had pain in my body and I was crying every night. My mom and dad went to find the medicine for Polio. They saw a man, a jungle medicine man. They told him, our son is crying every day and every night. They asked him, “Can you help us?” He said, “I have medicine for your son. I go to make it.” So my dad came back home to bring me there to the medicine man. That night, I slept and in the morning I could not walk. Sure I tell you, I could not walk and I had a lot of pain. My legs were very, very painful and sensitive. I could not even let my mother touch them. To this day, we do not know what the jungle medicine man did. My legs hurt for a long time. So my mom and dad went to look for English medicine from a white man. He gave them Penicillin and injected it. After that, I had no more pain but still I could not walk anymore. My mom and dad tried to find more medicine but we stayed a long ways away in the jungle from anyplace. After that, I still grew and grew and grew, except my legs were a little different.
I was thinking to myself, I want to go to school, but my mom and dad were very, very poor. My mom and dad were doing the farming every year. I wanted to go to school, but I could not go. My mom and dad thought that in the rainy season it would be too difficult for me to walk to school and again, they were very poor. So, they didn’t take me to school. I did the farming with my mom and dad. I could crawl and do the grass, take out the weeds - like that kind of work. I did this every year.
Then, the Burma government and the Karen government were fighting. Fighting and fighting, and they were coming closer to my village. When they came to my village, my mom and dad ran. They could not carry me. So I ran one way and they ran the other way. My mom and dad ran to the jungle. They said to me, “Go with you friend. Go in the boat.” It was a small boat so they could not go with me. I was 25 years old. I ran. And I ran to towards the Thai border. I felt scared. Running was very painful for my body and my knees were so bloody. I was staying in the jungle hiding and a Karen leader said to me. He said to me, “Stay here and keep this gun since you cannot run. When you see the Burmese soldier coming, you kill one and then kill yourself.” I had three guns and many, many bullets with me. I stayed there for one day, and then a motorcyclist came by, and the person saw me and took me to the border. So God helped me.
Before in Burma, I knew a little bit about God, but I didn’t know much. My home was very far away from the church. Sometimes I would hear the pastor speaking and feel very afraid but then later forget about what I heard. I wanted to know more about God, but didn’t think about it much. Then, I came to Thailand and I stayed with a Thai person for three months. Then my sister came to see me, and asked me to go to a refugee camp with her. I was thinking, “I don’t want to go and stay inside there.” But my sister was crying because my family was separated as we had run to different places. I was staying in the refugee camp when I saw the people who had many, many things and food to eat. Like the Karen government people, and they were wearing the beautiful shirt and went to church. I never saw western clothes or had any before. So I went to church to see the people there in the western clothes. I was very confused. I asked my uncle, “Why do they have the nice and beautiful thing. I don’t understand.” He told me because they are teachers, or government leaders.
In the camp, I began to learn more about the Bible and I wanted to go to Bible school. I had a friend and he taught me a little bit of the Bible every time I saw him. I had another friend who was working with a foreign woman helping her build a home for children. He took me by motorcycle there and this woman was really happy to see me. She told me, “I have a new student, Bilay!” I was going to school every night and learning English. I was so very happy! I never thought this would happen to me. The woman asked me to teach the Bible to the younger students there and gave me time to teach them and 1,000 baht for one month. I was so happy to teach and I never saw any money like 1,000 baht before. I was teaching them every night. Then, the woman told me to go to a Bible school in Chaing Mai. Ok, so I went and learned the Bible there for five months.
At that time I was thinking, I just wanted to be a pastor and only take care of the church, because I had stayed at a children’s home before I knew it was so much work every day. After I left the children’s home, I came to Takkolang to build a church here. I built only a small bamboo house and then had the church meeting inside my house. Then one woman came to see me. She told me, “Please, I want to tell you about something. I said, “What do you want to tell me?” She told me, “I have two children I want to keep here.” I was thinking if they were boys it would be ok, no problem, because I did not want any girl to say in my house since I was not married yet. She told me, “I have one boy and one girl.” I don’t have a wife. I don’t want the girl to stay with me. But, I tell them they can come to stay with me because they need somewhere to stay. Another day, the woman came again saying, “I have another student.” Then another day, school is nearly starting, and the students who have nowhere to stay start to come. Another man and woman came and asked me if three students can come to stay with me. So, I have to build more on my house!
Still I was thinking, “God, why do you do this? This is not what I was planning.” So I have to pray to God. Then God showed me, this is what I should be doing and gave me a heart to help the students. He showed me to think like this: I was looking at Thai people and they love their country and people very much, they help each other and work together and are loyal. I was thinking, why do the Karen people and government leader not care about the poor people? Why are they fighting, and not love each other. They don’t hold the people close to their heart. So I was thinking, if I stay here and help the new students it will be very good for them to learn about love.
I want the children to know about Jesus and God. I want them to have an education, and to learn to take care of the old people and their Karen people. I want them to learn like this, some Karen people do not care of each other, so I want the student to know how to take care of the poor people and each other. I want to teach the students, “don’t do like those other people are doing.” I also want them to learn how to go and do for themselves.
Then, one day I went to Chaing Mai again for training. I was praying about how to do everything for the students. My friend called me and told me a friend will come to visit Thailand and is looking for some places to visit, but I was far away from Takkolang. My friend called me to ask me to come visit the visitor, but I didn’t want to go because I could not speak English well. So my friend kept calling me until I decided I needed to go anyways, so I called another friend to help translate. I came and met the visitor and he looked around my area that day. He did not talk to me, he just talked to my friend and he didn’t know anything about me. He came back with me to my house to drop me off, and then the visitor saw me staying in my little bamboo house with all the children. He asked me, “Why do you have so many children in this little house?” So, my friend translated for me. “I love these students. They want to go to school and learn, but they have no place to stay so they came to stay with me and go to school.” So he told me, “I want to build one dormitory for the students.” I was so very happy and thankful, and he came back to help build it later.
Another problem that I had, was that I was not married yet. Sometimes the people would gossip about me and the girl students staying with me even though I never did anything wrong and always treated the girls respectfully. So I was thinking I needed a wife to help me, and then maybe no one would gossip about me then. So I prayed to God, “Please, find me a wife.” And he gave me one, and now I have a family already.
Another thing I worry about and think about is, how are we going to feed the students because we don’t have money, and more students were coming. But every time I just pray and trust in God, and God is helping me and doing for me. In the future I want to build a new dorm, one for the boys and one for the girls. I want to have very clever students and teach them English. I want to build classrooms here. I want to build big! So, this is my story.
One of the lessons I have learned from Bilay, is that God often chooses to use the least expected to carry out his work. By that I mean, some of us would think Bilay should be the one who is receiving help from others because of his limited mobility, but instead, he is actually serving others and carrying out God’s work. So remember, if you feel discouraged and oppressed, and are thinking you cannot do something, allow God to strengthen you and use you in-spite of your weaknesses. For God is good and faithful.
“Listen my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he has promised those who love him?”
*Due to Bilay’s limited English language skills some of the grammar has been corrected for easier reading, and in order to help the reader better understand the content.