Ex Army Ranger, Christian Missionary, Full Time Guerrilla

Karen families receive medical treatment from Free Burma Rangers. Photo: <a href="http://www.freeburmarangers.org/Resources/Photos/">FBR website</a>.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

“Mordor is the SPDC [Burmese government], and guys like us are hobbits,” Tha U Wa A Pa says by way of explaining why he built a training base for medics in a land-mine-infested war zone in Burma, where he lives with his wife and three children.

Tha U Wa A Pa and his Free Burma Rangers document the atrocities of the Burmese army and provide medical and tactical help to those fleeing from it. It’s a quest requiring almost inconceivable bravery and, in Tha U Wa A Pa’s case, a conviction that God has chosen him for this task. Though he uses a Karen nom de guerre (meaning “Father of the White Monkey”—a.k.a. his daughter), he’s the son of prominent American missionaries in Thailand, an alum of Texas A&M (BA, poli-sci) and a former US Army Ranger. After graduating from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Tha U Wa A Pa became a missionary in Thailand himself. Which is where he was in 1997, when a major SPDC offensive sent a flood of Karen refugees across the border. Tha U Wa A Pa loaded up a backpack full of supplies and, together with a KNU soldier he met along the way, rushed into Burma as if it were a house on fire. The two men treated as many wounded as they could, carrying a guy who’d stepped on a land mine to a hospital to have his leg amputated. Over the next three weeks, they ferried supplies and patients back and forth over the border.

Since then, the Rangers have trained more than 110 roving teams who provide medical assistance to (and document the plight of) the more than half a million internally displaced persons in the eastern Burmese jungle. Rangers have treated some 400,000 people for malaria, AIDS, dysentery, diarrhea, malnutrition, worms, anemia, skin disease, and infections. They pull teeth and deliver babies. Six have lost their lives on the job. As the junta’s violence escalates, so do their efforts; the Rangers’ budget is up to $1.3 million a year, all donations, mostly from churches and their parishioners. “We’re just little guys trying to do some good,” Tha U Wa A Pa says. “On the surface it seems like Mordor has all the strength and power and might. But if our fellowship of hobbits stays united, good will defeat evil in the end.”

In 2006, MoJo human rights reporter Mac McClelland found herself living in Thailand with activists engaged in battling Burma’s dictatorship. What she didn’t know at the time: Those activists were associates of a US-designated terrorist organization. To read an article about Mac’s adventures with the activists/terrorists, click here. To see a slideshow of Burma’s dirtiest exports, click here.



Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend