As they escape to farther and colder climates, the former ranks of God’s Army have found that their present is still weighted by the past. Even for the younger generation, those who have never set foot in Myanmar, their lives are tied to a village long gone or an army since beaten.
Luther and Johnny’s mother, sisters and other relatives were resettled in Auckland, New Zealand, 12 people now crammed into a five-room house. More than a decade after arriving in the country, the twins’ mother, Pe Khen, cannot get used to the highways or the inability to just stroll to a friend’s house on a dirt path. Everyone is isolated, Ms. Pe Khen said, even if a dozen relatives live together.
“I want to go home,” she said. Then she reconsidered. “I don’t want to go home.”
She sighed. Neither was wrong. But neither was right.
Dreaming of a messiah
Everyone in the village near God’s Mountain, deep in Karen country, knew that Johnny and Luther Htoo, born in 1988, were special.
There was the tale of the time when Luther went to bathe in a stream and shape-shifted into an old man who might have been an apostle. There was the moment when Johnny supposedly walked on water, his long hair flowing like they imagined Jesus’ did. By the time the twins were a decade old, the villagers said, the boys had assembled armies of invisible men who could ambush Myanmar soldiers with barely a rustle of bamboo to give away their positions.
The villagers had longed for a messiah, and they received two.
“When I was pregnant, I dreamed that my sons were famous soldiers who wanted to be reborn,” Ms. Pe Khen said. “After Johnny and Luther were born, life got better. We could hunt more animals in the forest, and we were safe because they protected us.”
The Htoo twins came from a family that farmed the land and fashioned homemade bullets for hunting. Myanmar Army offensives forced them into the forests along the porous border between Myanmar and Thailand when they were in kindergarten, and the boys were expected to join the Karen National Liberation Army, the largest Karen militia, as their father had.