Life Story: Peng Len Thakbal
The Burmese junta is slowly closing an iron grip on the country they call Myanmar. In 2005 they moved into the Matupi Valley of the Chin Province of Burma. This province is isolated by high mountains and inaccessible roads. Although it uses the Romanic language alphabet, like other Chin provinces, it has a unique language called Matupi. It was a beautiful valley with mountain flowers, waterfalls, and churches where wonderful worship and praise is offered unto the Lord. The military began using subscripted labor drafting breadwinners to carry guns, build roads and otherwise do their bidding. Families were left without means of support.
One of the men repeatedly drafted into unpaid service was Peng Len Thakbal. He is the father of five children. His oldest daughter, Frosintina was at school in Rangoon. She had finished primary and secondary school and was starting University studies. After being called up again and again to leave his farm and serve the military without pay or food, Peng Len fled the soldiers as they worked near the India/Burmese border. This caused the military to begin harassing his wife and children, pounding on their door at night, calling them in for questioning about his whereabouts. It just became unsafe, especially for the unmarried young women in Matupi who were being forced into marriages with the soldiers.
Ultimately Peng Len had to choose to leave his beloved Burma because the penalty for fleeing conscripted service was death. On foot, he ran south to the capital city of Rangoon. Rangoon is much more sophisticated, with many foreigners keeping an eye on things but it was not safe for Peng Len to even stay there. He caught a ride in a car to the southern Burmese/Thai border. Then he traveled three days by foot over the hilly country of Thailand. At the Thai city of Ta Kuah Thung he had to catch a small boat and then subsequently a ship to make his way to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
After two months he was able to get in contact with his family by phone and soon he obtained United Nations refugee status for his whole family. The amazing part of this story is that his wife Nu Nu and five kids had to make this same ten day journey to Malaysia at which point World Relief accepted their case and brought them to America.
Today Peng Len has a steady job at Flowers Bakery in Jamestown, NC and commutes the two miles to work by bicycle. All the children except Deborah are in school and learning so very much.
Update: (2/26/09) Frosintina and Peng Len have their drivers licenses’ now and they have a used Ford mini-van large enough to bring their who family to church. The girls are are Ragsdale High School and Jamestown Middle School respectively. The family has already spaded their garden and planted some early vegetables for this next season. Peng Len’s job is stable, Americans always need bread and so he has regular work cleaning the bakery.