The Dark Night of Trauma: Finding Light

imageRwanda and the USA have one thing in common—violence at home has erupted wildly in the last 30 years. Both countries need immense healing from trauma. You may think of healing as a soft, fuzzy kind of work. Trauma healing can be tender, but even more, it's tough work. This healing has a real impact on whether within our countries we stop murdering each other. Killings usually lead to trauma, and unhealed trauma leads to insecurity and often more violence. It's a huge deal which deserves our attention.

A research scientist, John Gottman, found that when our pulse rises 10 beats above normal, the rational part of our brain begins slipping out of gear. We start reacting from our reptilian brain. We literally start to 'loose it.' This happens if we're arguing about who uses the shovel, who cleans the dishes, who wins the presidential candidacy, struggles around disputed territory or fear from a terrorist attack.Read more


Umuganda Sustains Life

imageOn Saturday I took the 15-cent bus (moomoogee) down to Kigali center. I wanted to buy African fabric, but to my dismay, I found many stores closed--those local stores with hand-made items. Do you want to know why? Soon after President Kagame came to power, he instituted community meetings on the last Saturday of the month. The monthly Umuganda meetings are obligatory for all Rwandan adults. These meetings start at 9, include announcements, and then all do public work project.

Umuganda can be for building schools, digging ditches, or rebuilding widows' houses from mud huts to cement hygienic abodes happened. Umuganda has helped in the physical rebuilding and also the knitting together socially differing groups. Rwandans never refer to former ethnic groups. In recent years Umuganda focuses often on environmental projects: protecting erosion or the planting trees.

imageIn 2014, President Kagame called upon all Rwandans to join hands in eliminating the root causes of stunted growth in children through a program, Kitchen Gardens, supported by Umugandas. The proliferation of kitchen gardens across the country could see steady gains against nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition.Read more


Rwanda—Stand Up and Walk

imageRwanda is amazing. It rains every other day, mostly the sun beams on the papaya and jacaranda trees. We have power outages many days sometimes for an hour but usually shorter. Birdsong loudly blooms overhead or whenever a clutch of trees clings to the hillside. Flowers bloom all year round‚ lavender, red, yellow and magenta.

By 6am it's dawn in Kigali and you see people on the move. Besides language and smells, the roads, and city transport are challenging. I get up, tie my mosquito netting overhead, take a shower (sometimes even a hot shower). I go onto the back terrace for 20 minutes of yoga. Some mornings I'm out for a brisk walk, accompanied by birds whistles. I can understand the Rwandan bird chatter about as well as I understand Rwandans speech.

imageOn Sundays, Jonathan and I hurry through breakfast. We plan what songs we can sing. This takes discernment since Jonathan and I have different tastes in music. We can't just sing our Cuban Quaker songs. Songs that we have success with have lots of Aleluja choruses. Rwandans like Give me Oil in my Lamp; Day by Day (Godspell); some songs for grace. Once we were asked to give the message, or to pray aloud. Maybe next Sunday I will share this favorite Jesus story.Read more


Here We Are in Rwanda

imageRwanda spilled its greeting on us when we arrived at dusk in Kigale. We watched the vibrant shades of green turn to undulating shadows. The sun bowed below one of the many hills with its checkerboard of houses, corn fields and thickets of papaya/avocado/banana groves. Kigali had a rapacious beauty, a touch of wildness on the roads.

I am traveling this year with Jonathan—my beloved helpmeet, my conspirator (laughing at our many mishaps), and my traveling in the ministry companion. Eden Grace, working from Richmond Indiana calls this ministry of ours, those who visit as 'living letters' (2 Cor. 3:2) bearing testimony of truth and divine news of G-d at work.Read more


The Pregnant World

A child at Ramallah Friends MeetingIt has arrived. For thousands of years people look forward to this dawn. For the people in darkness have seen a great light. The moon has grown this week from a cupped hand to a dangling half circle—and now, on this longest night, is a protruding a belly, proudly sailing pregnant in the sky. This shortest day has passed, and the promise of more light is upon us.

We in Palestine are waiting—when will the baby be born? Our hearts dare to hope. This child appears to authorities as illegitimate, it doesn't have a passport or even a green card.

Dead SeaIn Jesus' time as well as in our present time, forces of darkness proliferate. Ramallah Friends call Mary, the Lady of Palestine. She lived all her life under the harsh rule of the Roman Empire. She lived among armed soldiers, laws that discriminated against her people, in a foreign language that dictated her life. She couldn't give birth at home in Nazareth, due to the heavy taxation of Caesar Augustus. Yet we are told that even while denied her basic human rights, Mary witnessed to the goodness alive for her in 'this world of woe.'Read more


Tree of Trust — AVP in Hebron

imageWe had 14 women in an AVP (Alternatives to Violence) workshop on healing from trauma in Hebron, Palestine. The facilitators were Lubna, Manar, Narjah, Miriam and Minga. Eman and Lubna were my translators. This workshop is popular and very much needed. One woman was taking it for the second time. At the end, most of the women wanted to continue learning from AVP.

We had obstacles the first day. Women trickled in, so we started 30 minutes late. Three women left early commenting that their husband needed them (or expected/demanded them) home. These women, not in control of their time, didn't continue. One woman complained loudly saying that the brainstorm we did about self-care doesn't work, and several women could not access a 'safe place' (an exercise) . We ended on an upbeat, matching the women with a listening companion, someone to be emotionally supportive.Read more


Jesus' Message in Jericho

imageSo Jesus lives in Palestine. He's born a Jew in Bethlehem and becomes a rabbi in Nazareth. He tries to break the chains of the Occupation and three years later he's killed by the Occupiers in Jerusalem. It's all so real for me. But a whole new chapter in this story of liberation was unveiled to me in Jericho. Jericho is 4,000 years old (at least) and is 250 meters below sea level. It's moniker is Jericho: the oldest and lowest.

Jonathan and I took a small bus (size of a van) to Jericho which is due east of Ramallah. The carved terraces were steep and breathtaking, Two-story towers peeked from the thighs of the hillsides. These granaries, many now uninhabited, housed Palestinian farmers. The families would keep crops or livestock in the first level and sleep on the top floor during the harvest season.

imageJericho was a more pleasant trip than any others, mostly because there were no check points. Israel took down the checkpoint from Jerusalem to Jericho in 2009. (Currently in the West Bank there are 600+ checkpoints, and other temporary ones). We passed settlements who use the rich soil and springs for agriculture. How much warmer Jericho is than Ramallah. The date palms and citrus fruits were bearing fruit. Roses and jasmine floated in the air. On a hike following the old route to Jerusalem we saw pelicans, quail, mountain goats and hydraxes. A hydrax is a fast, furry animal the size of a beaver and related to the elephant. (Yep, size isn't everything.) Hydraxes are trapeze artists scampering up and down the cliff walls.Read more


Murder & Stones in Jerusalem

imageCome walk with me in Jerusalem and I'll paint a portrait dabbed with history, blood, and desire. When you visit the Old City use artistic nimbleness. The streets are paved with pale limestone blocks, some as big as the pillow on your bed, shiny and smooth.

I walk down el Wad Street in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, it's also called Hagai street by Jews. I say "Saba al Kier" (good morning) to Arab shopkeepers, but when I turn the corner I'm in a Jewish section so I wouldn't speak Arabic. I can easily offend someone. I am often in need of forgiveness in these narrow hallowed streets.image

In Jerusalem, on Oct 3, 2015 a double murder sparked a wave of violence. Nehemia Lavi was murdered while coming to the aid of  Aharon Bennett: both were stabbed to death. I stood among the shops where they were murdered, between Holy City Souvenirs and Abu Aziz candy shop. A building arches over Hagai/El Wad street—surprisingly it's a Jewish community center and has served as a synagogue for over 100 years. Yitzhak Rabin's parents met here. El Wad/Hagai Street is an access road for both religions. For Muslims, it leads to the gates of the Temple Mount. For Jews it's the route leading to the Western Wall. About 1,000 Jews currently live in the Muslim Quarter.Dome-and-MosqueRead more


5th Graders Growing Up During the Occupation

What if from the time we are 5 years old, all problems between people were handled with compassion and clarity? At Ramallah Friends School (RFS) children are empowered to address interpersonal problems. And then they take action to follow-up on the problems.

imageI participated in several 5th grade ethics classes, where the school counselor deftly facilitated working through struggles. All students are encouraged to write any on-going problem with others in a notebook during the week. Often the students don't want to admit the problem. "I did have a problem, but I forgot what it was, so it wasn't a big deal."

The counselor doesn't let this pass. She draws out the student. He talks about how 3 boys, his friends, kept a secret from him. He couldn't take part in their game. He was treated as an outsider, with some derisive teasing. At this Quaker school, any student's problem becomes the group's problem.Read more


A Jew & a Quaker Work for Justice

Jean ZaruJean Zaru is a Palestinian Quaker who speaks and writes about current life in occupied Palestine. What is a Quaker response? I listened closely as Jean spoke at the RamAllah Friends Meeting last Sunday. "I'm not saying that the oppressed are blameless, but it's hard to keep up hope." She says most Palestinians are so intimidated by the arrests, the teargas, the limiting of their movement, that they don't stand up to the injustices.

"We need to speak Truth to Power. By Power I mean structural power. The powers of domination in Palestine include access to family living in different towns, medical access, and economic structures." (The separation wall and check points prevent Palestinians from work.)

image"I find hope in two ways. Hope comes from the courage of people who keep working and creating despite the hardship here. And hope comes from our faith. If we can find hope after the resurrection then we can find it now. I won't be reconciled to hopelessness. The prophets like Micah tell us that God requires us to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with your God. Justice is important. We all need to respect human rights. Mutual rights will bring us to the justice that God requires of us."

Tamar came to live in Israel 10 years ago and is raising two children in Jerusalem. I wanted to talk with her about the school she chose for her kids, a bi-national, bi-cultural, bi-lingual school called Hand-to-Hand. When researching schools, she wanted a place where her children could befriend and understand both Jews and Arabs.Read more


Talking with Jewish Settlers

imageOn a cloudy day Jonathan and I took a bumpy bus-ride to Gush Etzion where Palestinian Ali Abu Awad started talking to Jewish settlers. We heard the following story from 3 settlers. The three work for the program Roots. They organize after school programs for both Arab and Israeli, summer camps, photography club, and field trips to sites. The children come from settlements where Jews want their kids to know Palestinians and vice versa. Gush Etzion seems to encompass a huge block of land with 8 nearby settlements.

The Jewish men at Roots defined Zionism as a movement to let Jews live fully their religion, be close to the land and build their livelihood from the land in Israel. This was revealing and similar to aspirations of what Arabs have told me living in Palestine. One of our hosts left his settlement where he was replacing car windows broken by stones thrown, to make time to talk with us at Roots. I was very appreciative of their openness and very aware of their privilege and comfort traveling wherever, and whenever they want.Read more


Peacework in Hebron Palestine

imageHebron is a tinderbox. There are confrontations daily. Before the sun rises the melodic cry of the muezzin drifts across the dark city. People cook their tea and have pita, yogurt, and diab (mix of tahini and grape syrup) for breakfast. Hebron, maybe 1/2 million people, is full of traffic by 7 am. People are tense, wondering what clashes may happen today. The last prayer from the minerets is about 6:20, after sunset. We rest and heal in the cocoon of the Assfour, our adopted family.Read more