By Michael Ashcraft and Clara Czer –
If she married Dave Eubank, Karen could expect a life of tramping through the tropical jungle among whizzing mosquitoes and bullets. She would carry her babies in a sling as she forded rivers and trudged through mud. Malaria, dysentery and typhus would stalk them.
No white picket fence?
“I’m not GI Jane,” Karen told God Reports, reflecting on 20 years of helping people flee the Burmese army in northern Myanmar. “I didn’t necessarily love every minute of it. I don’t like cold baths. But this is what God has for us. God knows the things that are important to your heart.”
Karen Eubank is not your typical missionary wife. Married to the “godfather of high-risk missions,” Karen raised three kids on the front lines of some of the world’s fiercest combat zones. Ultimately, the decision to renounce little league and submerge herself in the sweltering jungle wasn’t that hard to make.
Raised in a strong Christian church in Walla Walla, Washington State, Karen was dissatisfied with her ideal job in the public school as a special ed teacher. When she met Dave, a former U.S. Army Ranger, he invited her on a first date to hike Mt. Shuksan. It included a strenuous ascent and scaling sheer-face ice with crampons, an ice pick, while on-belay.
When she summited, Dave realized she was the woman for him. For her part, Karen wasn’t sure about him.
Marriage was bound to be, to say the least, unconventional.
But she didn’t have time to ponder the double nature of Dave, who was equal parts Charles Spurgeon and Indiana Jones. A telephone call forced Karen to make a quick decision.
Dave’s parents, longtime missionaries in Thailand, got a call from the foreign minister of the Wa people in Northern Myanmar. He was a lone Christian among animists and had heard Dave had elite military training. Could he come and help the Wa?
The Wa people were one of 56 ethnic minorities in the mountains surrounding Myanmar that were being hunted down and massacred by the Burmese Army. The Burmese people, representing 68% of the population, had waged a scorched-earth war against the minority populations. It’s now the longest running civil war on the planet – more than 70 years.
In terms of reaching unreached populations with the gospel, the Wa and other ethnic minorities were a holy grail. Because of the dangers, because of the arduous lifestyle, the number of willing missionaries was close to zero.
Dave was the right man for the job, and he immediately felt an intense longing to bring Jesus to Myanmar. How could he pass up the extraordinary invitation?
A heartfelt Christian, Karen knew what was at stake.
On the one hand, she was falling in love with Dave. But could she lead the daunting life of danger? Could she make all-night rucks braving disease and war? Would it be okay to raise her kids there?
“I was intrigued and pulled in the direction” of marriage, Karen shared. “(Dave was) the most amazing man of God I’d ever met. His commitment to God was so attractive. I wanted to be around this. The things I previously thought were important weren’t anymore.
“He blew away the picket fences.”
In addition to the questions of peril, Karen had another pesky question. Being neither a doctor nor a translator, what sort of useful ministry could she perform?
Dave had an answer: “People just want to see if you live your life any different than they would in their context, basically just living your life.”
Ultimately, God resolved the conflicting emotions: “Karen, you know enough about this person. You need to decide what you’re going to do. Just decide right now.”
On a date in Carmel, California, under a glorious blue sky that seemed like God smiling upon the couple, Karen decided to marry Dave.
“I just trusted God.” she says. She told the Lord: “You’ve got the future.”
Within a few months, they were married.
Their honeymoon was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where Dave’s parents were missionaries. Their honeymoon was a launch into lifetime ministry.
From Chiang Mai, they rushed into northern Myanmar on jungle trails (no official border crossing, no passport, which is the way they always do it) before the monsoon season struck.
Their hosts were the Wa living in the Shan State. Myanmar (formerly called Burma) does not control portions of different states and are waging war to cement their control. The foreign minister of the Wa was one of the very few Christians, a descendant of converts from missionaries in the early 1900s.
From the first, Dave met a medic who administered first aid and even performed minor surgeries to his people injured by war. This became their life: helping internally displaced people, extracting bullets, and documenting atrocities perpetrated by the Burmese Army.
As Dave worked, ethnic people joined his teams. Because he loved his experience in the U.S. Rangers, he called them the Free Burma Rangers (FBR). You didn’t have to be Christian to join, but the numbers coming to Christ and getting baptized is constant.
By filming the Burmese Army in action, Dave’s group was able to release footage to news organizations about rapes, captures and slave labor. His photographs have been used by the United Nations to charge Myanmar leaders. FBR has made an impact for more than 20 years.
But how did child-rearing go? A kid in the jungle is cute in The Jungle Book, but it’s not cute eating python for breakfast while carefully avoiding being eaten by a python for breakfast. For over a century, Western missionaries exposed to peril safeguarded their children in compounds with Christian schools hundreds of miles away.
Karen felt it was God’s will to keep the family united.
Then Sahale contracted typhus when she was two and Suzanne, malaria at age 5. As their lives ebbed away and Dave and Karen lacked appropriate medicine and facilities, Karen engaged in some heavy reflection.
“I had to backtrack through all the decision points that got us there. Was it right to marry Dave? Yes. Was he called to this ministry? Yes. Was it right for us to be together as a family? Yes,” she recalls. “So let me be obedient and use medicine as best we could find, and trust the team to care for our children.”
All three children have survived brushes with death.
As God would have it, the decision to defy danger has opened opportunities to share the gospel, Karen says. Motherhood transcended the language barrier; it transcended cultural barriers. The Wa and other ethnic people felt solidarity and love for this white woman through her white kids. The children brought smiles and sympathy.
“The kids have been a huge blessing, they opened up conversation,” Karen says. “Before kids, I struggled with how to communicate with ladies.”
Because of the open door through her kids, Karen launched her own ministry within FBR: the Good Life Club. She brings songs, the gospel message, T-shirts and bracelets. It provides happiness and gifts to people who don’t have much of either.
When FBR flew to Iraq to help the Iraqi Army expel ISIS from its territory, Karen staged a Good Life Club near the frontline where Dave nonchalantly told his team to pray for every mother while they checked for suicide vests, as documented in the Free Burma Ranger video available on Amazon Prime.
It’s pure Vacation Bible School stuff, except for the fact that more bullets were shot in one day in Iraq than during a year in Burma, Dave says.
Perceiving that the bomb blasts were getting closer, Karen wrapped up her Good Life Club prematurely. As the team left the site, Dave trained his rifle out of the back of a pickup while he matter-of-factly congratulated his wife for a very good presentation.
There are two kinds of fear: the slow and the fast, Karen says. There’s the fear of disease and the sudden explosions that catch you off guard.
“It was never scary beyond the point of sanity,” Karen says. “When the scary things came along, it was almost natural: you just want to help. It’s like if your neighbor’s house is on fire. Do you react with fear or respond to help? I’ve always taken comfort from the verse that says, ‘Don’t fear those who kill the body but those who kill the soul.’”
Most of the time, Karen and the kids are out of shooting range. It’s Dave who, using his Ranger skills, creeps up to the front line to film human rights violations.
One of the hardest parts of her job is not being able to fully solve problems.
“It’s very very painful to not be able to solve people’s problem,” Karen says. “I’m one who likes to solve a problem quickly, not just put band aids on things. In every situation, you do what you can. There’s always something you can do, just praying with people, listening to them, putting their stuff in a truck and helping them to move. It strengthens people.”
The people remain strong in spirit, Karen explains. Their thoughts: “The Burma army can take our village, they can take our crops, they can take our family. But they can never take our spirit.”
Karen and the kids say they don’t feel like they’ve missed out on life in America. If anything, they live richer lives for the experiences, whether it be swimming in roiling rivers or riding bareback on horses. The kids grew up doing workouts with the FBR.
“It wasn’t a ministry of deprivation,” Karen says. “There were so many things the kids were taking out of it, it made it all worth it.”
Karen doesn’t long for the American Dream.
“I am just so thankful that God brought Dave into my life,” she says. “Together I feel like there have been wonderful opportunities and visions for us.”
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About the writers of this article: Clara Grace Czer studies at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. Her journalism instructor Mike Ashcraft was a missionary in Guatemala for 16 years. Unlike Karen, at the first sign of trouble (his kids were in danger of being kidnapped), Mike fled. He admires missionaries braver than himself.
[…] Dave was the right man for the job, and he immediately felt an intense longing to bring Jesus to Myanmar. How could he pass up the extraordinary invitation? Read the rest: Karen Eubank raised her kids in the jungles of Myanmar […]
Don’t forget to credit the movie you got these screenshots and some of the story from! It’s a fabulous documentary – “Free Burma Rangers” is the name of the film.