A Hero Who Trains Heroes

On the Anniversary of Burmese Military Coup, Free Burma Rangers Founder Needed More than Ever

Superheroes are a multi-million-dollar industry. We have shows about individual superheroes, superhero groups, the backstories of superheroes, and—as in the recent Disney Hawkeye miniseries—the training of new superheroes.

That last one is interesting. It only takes a glance at the news to understand the reasons behind the superhero genre’s popularity—life feels too big for us, its problems too grim, and we long for someone brave enough and powerful enough to step in and make things right.

But Hawkeye surfaces something else, something stronger and more positive: Some of us long to be that person. We want to be more-than-average tough, brave, and sacrificial. We want to be heroes. But like the would-be superhero Kate Bishop, we need someone to show us how.

Hero mentors like the fictional Hawkeye are out there in the real world. Let me tell you about one.

First, some context. As you may or may not know, Burma (called Myanmar by some) is a country with a long history of ethnic oppression and genocide. For a brief time it looked like peace and democracy might prevail, but one year ago this month, a military coup dashed those hopes.

As I write this, thousands upon thousands of people are fleeing for their lives, living in small communities deep in the jungle, struggling to find food, deprived of medical care, always vulnerable to attacks by the Burma Army. Rapes, murders, torture, the burning of villages—those things happen, and they happen to ordinary people like you and me.

Enter Dave Eubank, former US Army Special Forces and Ranger officer. Eubank, a Texan, is the son of missionaries to Thailand. He didn’t feel a calling to be a missionary himself; he was a soldier. Which, it turns out, is exactly what the oppressed people of Burma need.

In 1997 Eubank and Eliya, a Burmese medic, founded the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a humanitarian group whose goal is to protect oppressed ethnic minorities of all races and religions. Most of the Rangers are Burmese. Some are American or other nationalities. Most are men, but some are women. They are of all faiths. Some have military backgrounds, some don’t. What they all have in common is a desire to step up and protect others. Eubank says:

People of different faiths are welcome to be part of the Free Burma Rangers but the leadership of FBR are followers of Jesus. Our mission is to give help, hope and love and to put a light on the situation in conflict areas where we are invited. We work to free the oppressed and stand for justice and reconciliation wherever we go….

We started with the idea that even though we are small, if we helped one person they would be glad and we would be glad. I go to try to help because I feel it is God’s place for me – that is my soul; because oppression is wrong – that is my mind; because I love these people – that is my heart; and because I like to like to be on the frontline – that is my body. My wife and children go on missions with us and we now have 70 multi-ethnic, multi-faith relief teams and a wonderful staff of both locals and foreigners to support all of this.

Over the past twenty-five years, FBR has been active in war zones in Burma and—during times of relative peace in Burma—in Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, and Sudan.

Here’s what they do: Eubank trains the Rangers, and the Rangers go out in groups and do everything they can to protect displaced people. They fight only defensively. Skilled in evasive tactics, they guide families out of the way of enemy patrols. The Rangers make a hard-and-fast promise: If the people they’re helping can’t run, neither will the Rangers. They stay. They stand. They bear witness (at times providing video evidence of atrocities in order to stir the sympathies of the global community). They get shot at. Sometimes they die.

For some of the actual footage of real-life events they’ve managed to capture, see the inspiring and award-winning Free Burma Rangers movie, which Crosswalk rightly calls “the most harrowing faith-based movie ever made.” It’ll make even the most timid viewer want to stand up and be heroic.

Eubank emphasizes that while FBR is about helping the oppressed, “we’re also praying for the oppressors—and asking God for love for them. No one is beyond redemption. A Burma soldier who once murdered villagers left the army, joined our teams, repented and was baptized. He is a new man in Christ and this is our prayer for all of us: that we are the people God created us to be.” Yet Eubank doesn’t sugarcoat this process; forgiving and receiving forgiveness can be a hard and painful process for all involved.

The Rangers go out on missions; meanwhile, at a fixed location deep in a narrow valley, FBR provides medical care and trains local people to be medics. International doctors and medical staff, including my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, hike into the jungle to help with this. (Volunteers must pass a physical endurance test, because the trek to the Jungle School of Medicine is long and arduous.)

Eubank’s wife, Karen, who has worked alongside him while raising their three children, leads an effort to encourage local children, who often are very shy and fearful, and to provide preventative healthcare education.

That’s right: Way out in the dangerous jungle, where on a bad day bullets fly and on a good day there are venomous snakes and no running water, there’s an “ordinary” American family doing extraordinary things—heroic things—and training others to be heroic too.

There’s no college major for this. There’s no Institute of Hero Studies. There are just people who want to do more than watch superhero movies—people who looked around, saw a need, and decided that they would be the ones to help meet it.

And, like Hawkeye, they’re passing their knowledge and skills along.

PhD, is an editor for the Discovery Institute and the author of four dystopian novels and many shorter works, both fiction and non-fiction. Before turning to editing, she taught as an adjunct English and humanities professor. She and her husband homeschooled their three children.

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