Saboi Jum was a Kachin Baptist leader from the north of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. He was an ordained minister, serving from 1990 to 2000 as the General Secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, one of the larger ethnic groups within the Burma Baptist Convention (later Myanmar Baptist Convnetion). Most of the Kachins in the northern areas of Myanmar are Christian, overwhelmingly Baptist.
In the early 1980s as a trusted church leader Saboi Jum launched a mediation effort between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Ne Win military government. After an initial ceasefire between the Kachin forces and the Burmese military, confusion arose stirred up by the Communists in Burma. The ceasefire collapsed, and Saboi had to lay low.
During a trip to the U.S. for mission education, Saboi visited Dan Buttry, at that time directing the Peace Program for the American Baptist Churches. Buttry learned about Saboi’s mediation efforts and desires for peace, so when plans were developed for the first Global Baptist Peace Conference in Sweden in 1988, Saboi was invited to speak.
Out of Saboi Jum’s challenge the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and American Baptist Churches began an initiative in support of Saboi’s mediation efforts. Dan Buttry joined the Burma Peace Committee Saboi organized, the only non-Burmese citizen on that committee, and together they began a process of communicating between the military government and the Kachin Independence Organization under Brang Seng. Eventually the direct talks were held starting a process that culminated in a ceasefire between the KIO and the SLORC government in 1994.
During that process Jum, Buttry and an international team tried to bring the entire Democratic Alliance of Burma into agreement about entering into peace talks with the government. That effort failed because on the one hand the DAB couldn’t agree about pursing peace talks, and on the other because the government wanted to conduct ceasefire talks with each ethnic insurgency separately and refused to engage the democracy movement directly.
After the collapse of the DAB mediation effort and the establishment1994 ceasefire, Jum established the Shalom Foundation (Nyein Foundation in the Burmese language), the first nongovernmental peace institute in Myanmar. He used the foundation as a basis for training and for conducting mediation efforts with the various ethnic groups. He organized Christian and Buddhist leaders from the various ethnic groups that had insurgencies into a mediators “fellowship.”
Many people outside of Burma in the democracy movement or related to the various ethnic insurgencies were highly critical of Saboi Jum, some even calling him a “sell out.” He had close ties with some of the top generals in the Burmese military though which he pursued his peace efforts, but he also maintained his close relationship with the to insurgent leaders, particularly in the KIO. Such critiques are easy to make from outside a dictatorship. But within Myanmar Saboi Jum created space to conduct extensive trainings in conflict transformation throughout the country. Utilizing the military government’s pledge to one day restore democracy, he began trainings to educate people about the democratic process. Jum took whatever space he could find and enlarged it to teach peace and participatory processes.
The ceasefire between the KIO and the Myanmar government became strained as hopes for economic and political improvements for the Kachin people were disappointed. Under the ceasefire it seemed that the military and corporations from outside benefited and exploited the resources in the Kachin State. In 2010 while other ethnic groups, such as the Karens, were finally negotiating their own ceasefires, the conflict in the Kachin State reignited. Jum, though with failing health, continued efforts to find ways to open up communications and try to find areas of common ground and agreement.
In 2014 Saboi Jum stepped down from his duties at the Shalom Foundation. He died June 26, 2017. Jum’s daughter Ja Nan, who has had extensive education, training and experience in conflict transformation, had taken over directing Shalom Foundation before her father retired.
Shalom Foundation website: http://nyeinfoundationmyanmar.org/