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In this year of the international Oscar, few feature-length award winners can boast the scope packed into Free Burma Rangers: The 97-minute documentary spans two decades in war zones 3,000 miles apart. At the center is a missionary family whose American ordinariness draws viewers in to the extraordinary story of their life’s work.
Dave and Karen Eubank made a mission trip to Burma for their honeymoon and never left the front lines. The two started Free Burma Rangers in the mid-1990s and over 20 years trained 70-odd teams to treat the wounded and spread love amid an unending civil war. Work that expanded into Iraq and Syria sticks to Dave’s unorthodox original vision: “Go to the sound of the guns, go to the sound of need, and trust God to show you how you can be useful.”
The film splices actual footage, from sunrise drills to close-up battles, with commentary—from the Eubanks, their three teenage children, and the ethnic fighters who join their cause. Discipleship based on the sacrificing love of Jesus is the steady undercurrent to a fast-paced and suspenseful chronicle of war and evil. Weeks into the battle to free Mosul from the Islamic State, Iraqi army Gen. Mustafa al-Azzawi tells Dave, “You’re just like us, you know you’re not God.”
The eponymous movie showcases the Eubanks’ work but defies any attempts at gloss, pitted against backdrops out of their control. In Mosul Dave faces inner demons too, and in a street strewn with dead bodies, he must decide whether to risk everything to save one Iraqi girl.
High stakes set apart Free Burma Rangers from most Christian docudramas. The graphic images of blood and death are real, and elementary-age viewers probably should stay home. Producers planned to show the film in theaters nationwide for two days only, Feb. 24 and 25.