Walls that keep us ‘in’ or ‘out’

This week I was traveling on a long international flight. Usually my flying routine is sleep, eat and watch movies. The airline had a good selection, especially documentaries. So, I watched a short documentary about the fall of Berlin Wall in November of 1989.

It brought back lots of memories and a flood of emotions. I was just a teenager during those days and followed this world breaking news from Latvia, hoping with all my heart that the same power of change would transform my own nation. And it did!

I think about walls often. There are a few walls that come to my mind immediately. The Great Wall of China (which I have visited), the Berlin Wall (which I hope to visit one day… the part that is left as a reminder) , the Israeli Wall in the West Bank (which I hope will come down one day soon), the big border fences/walls on the US-Mexico border and the EU border in Greece… Just to name a few walls that are meant to keep people apart.

Some build prisons to keep people in; others build fortresses to keep people out. Like the Great Wall of China built to keep the invaders out. But most walls have two sides and it depends on which side you live. Like the Berlin Wall which was supposed to keep out the ‘fascists’ and ‘capitalists’ from the West. Only nobody from the West would risk their lives to climb this wall; the desperate attempts were made by people from the East side of the wall who felt like were living in a prison.

I watched again the scenes of people collapsing on the ground and crying when they had escaped to West Germany… People running through the barbed wire and not caring if they get injured. And then the amazing scenes of Berlin Wall coming down and people rejoicing and celebrating and embracing and crying… The wall that separated families and nation and people for decades coming down without any violence or single shot.

I remember in my own country Latvia how the Baltic beach was considered an invisible wall. The border of Soviet Union to protect us from those ‘capitalists’. The beach sand was raked, so that anyone trying to cross the sea would leave footprints… We all knew if anyone even tried  which way the footprints would point. In USSR we built prisons…

The Wall in the West Bank is called ‘separation’ fence or ‘security’ fence in the Hebrew and the wall of ‘apartheid’ in Arabic. It depends which side of the wall you live or what you think in your heart – is it to keep people out or keep people in?

In Europe, we build our fences to keep people ‘out’. Those we don’t want. We build fortresses…

These are the visible walls, but what about the invisible ones? I keep discovering them in my own heart. To dismantle a wall we start by removing one brick, one stone, one block at a time. So, I will start with myself because I don’t want to be just another brick in the wall.

www.usnews.com

When we look for someone to blame

Last week there were international headlines from Durban and other cities in South Africa. Any story about Durban catches my attention since I have been to this beautiful city on the Indian Ocean. South Africa is a country with amazing people. I remember sitting on the airplane watching a sunrise over the green rolling hills around Durban. Where are the lions, right?

Unfortunately last week’s headlines were sad and described tragic events. There were violent attacks against foreign immigrants. This is not the first such outburst of hatred, but the most recent one. The stories spoke of rising xenophobia in South Africa. The definition of xenophobia is „unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture”. As we know, it is not a South African problem; it is universal. Let’s think of our own countries…

After spending time in South Africa, I know it is very complicated and there are many challenges in this ‘rainbow nation’. Lots of bad governance, homicide, unemployment, poverty, growing in-equality between those who have and those who have not… From the news, the attacks are mainly in the poor townships and directed towards people from other African nations (with some exceptions of Asians)… That raises many questions.

Whatever the possible answers, it is clear that this anger and frustration is directed at the wrong people. Also, there are powers who can manipulate these feelings. It is easy for those who have power to start pointing fingers. The leaders can blame the media, the media can blame the leaders or the poor. Meanwhile many poor blame the immigrants… and so on. Lots of scapegoating. But the most important question becomes, „Who is my neighbor?”

I was so encouraged to read in international news about our friends in Chatsworth. Many churches, including Good News Center (a mixed Zulu and Indian fellowship), are responding to this difficult situation. Bringing food and aid to thousands of people who are sheltering in makeshift camps in one of the football fields in Chatsworth. Dennis John is a local pastor and a man of peace whom we enjoyed partnering with. He told the journalists that those behind the attacks were becoming more meticulous, driving away South Africans in relationships with foreigners.

There are peace marches and other statements of solidarity. There are many religious and civil society groups and NGO’s who are showing compassion and neighborly love. I don’t need the journalists to tell me; I know it because I have been to South Africa. I know the people there and I know that there is lots of light in the darkness.

I can only try to imagine the hardship and suffering of the people who are now afraid and so uncertain for their future. Coming from poor or conflict ravaged countries and hoping for a new and better life. I hope that the friendship of their true South African neighbors will bring them the assurance that they are ‘welcome’.

Xenophobia

Don’t judge the book by its cover?

In Latvia we like to use another saying “Don’t judge a man by his hat.” It can have different meanings like do not think he is smart or important or trustworthy because he wears a nice hat. Or that a person is not what he wears. Or that we cannot know the hearts of people.

But there are times when I look at someone’s clothes and I do judge them. So, let’s talk about it… Is it right or is it wrong? Actually the clothes that I have problem with are some T-shirts and the messages they advertise. There are times when I read someone’s T-shirt and think, “what in the world? …”

There are lots of markets here in Thailand that target the tourists since it is a very popular holiday destination. Gary and I enjoy many of them, especially the Walking Street in Chiang Mai which is every Sunday evening. Lots of creative and beautiful things for sale. And lots of T-shirts… lots of them…

Many of the shops I don’t even look at since the printed messages are so obscene and vulgar. But people buy them and wear them. Often I think that foreigners while traveling wear clothes that they would never wear in their home country because it would be too offensive.

So, here are TOP 3 shirts on my “DO NOT LIKE; CANNOT STAND; FIND OFFENSIVE” list:

USSR T-shirt

As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union and learns more and more about the evils of totalitarian systems, I have a strong reaction when I see this T-shirt. I remember seeing it while working in Australia and I wanted to go up to this young Australian and ask, “hello, mate… do you have any idea what you are wearing?” I always try to think of what would be an equally offensive or disturbing message to an Australian or any other person. And, of course, I realize he would never want to live in a country like USSR. For one, he would not be able to wear any T-shirt that does not agree with the System.

Equally disturbing to me is a shirt with the Chairman Mao. It has become such a fashion statement. Sometimes he is a Mickey Mouse, sometimes he is cool, and sometimes he is just the Leader. Why do people think that it is fashionable to advertise bad people? If he was still alive, he would probably be very happy for all this world-wide attention, “Look, I am a brand.” Someone who is in the company of likes like Stalin, Hitler and other totalitarian leaders…

And even closer to my current home, this is the one I hate here in Thailand. I think it is such degrading and offensive message and view of self and other people. Unfortunately Thailand has a global reputation of sex tourism, human trafficking, availability and cheapness of sexual ‘services’. And most visitors only see the visible side of it; the invisible is much more ugly, cruel and inhumane. Money and ‘honey’ is destroying people’s lives… It is not something to be proud of or to laugh at.

This makes the whole “Do not judge the book by the cover” challenging.

no money shirt

The danger of being a peacemaker

If you lived in unjust and oppressive circumstances, what would you do? If you were desperate to change the life around you, what kind of movement would you join? What kind of leader would you follow?

I think about the events that took place 2000 years ago but are as relevant today. During Easter we reflect on the story of Jesus death by public execution. The people of Israel were living under occupation, oppression, corrupt rulers and poverty. The land was occupied and ruled by the Roman Empire which had brought the so-called Roman Peace (Pax Romana). The occupied nations and people were pacified and controlled and kept ‘in order’. There were plenty of crucified bodies on a display as an ‘encouragement’…

One way I can relate is for those of us who grew up in the former USSR and in a occupied nation like Latvia. We were living in ‘peace’ in the most ‘peace loving Union’ of the world and the large Soviet military force that was stationed everywhere was a great reminder how this ‘peace’ was kept and enforced.

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I believe that life without communal and individual freedom, equality and justice and trust and good relations is no peace. And the land of Israel was no exception. There were always rebellions led by those who were not accepting this Roman version of Peace. Barabbas was one such rebel who took part in insurrection.

Jesus was also accused of being a revolutionary, of leading a movement that will upset this “peace”. Accused by whom? By the powers that be! His lifestyle, message and popularity were too threatening to them. Mostly the religious and political leaders who were trying to negotiate this difficult life under the Roman occupation and passionate about keeping ‘us’ and ‘them’ apart.

In fact Jesus was leading a ‘revolution’ but of a very different kind. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” He was turning the world upside down but without any weapons and violence. Even without wealth and political power. Remember what Jesus said when the soldiers came to arrest him, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?”

But in the end he was deemed more dangerous than Barabbas who actually killed some of his “enemies”. Pontius Pilate was confused. Not because he cared but because he did not see Jesus as a potential danger for the Romans. Even more – Jesus was telling people to love their enemies. Who would not want to keep him around, right?

(Have you ever wondered what happened to Barabbas? Did the Romans really let him go back to his freedom fight?)

So, why were the leaders more afraid of a peacemaker than freedom fighter? Why were they so against this non-violent transformation and healing of society? But then I have a personal choice, too. If I was standing in that crowd, looking at the hated Roman representative who has the power and is asking me to choose between Jesus or Barabbas, who would I choose?

Selma 1

Rwanda’s road of thankfulness…

Few days ago our friend tagged me in his post #TURASHIMA. It is a Kinyarwanda word that means “We are thankful”. Rwandans and friends of Rwanda are invited to reflect on Rwanda’s last 21 years and express why they are thankful. My friend invited me to join this campaign!

I feel blessed to be considered a friend of Rwanda, ‘Land of a thousand hills’ even though I have not had the chance to visit this beautiful country yet. I met my amazing Rwandan friends during our reconciliation studies in England and they have impacted my life in so many ways. It is April and it is the time of the year when Rwanda grieves the terrible tragedy of 1994. My friends survived the genocide and each has an incredible story.

DSCF0467With their permission I hope to share some of their stories in the future. But they are not ‘survivors’… they are artists, story tellers, peacemakers, leaders, advocates, truth seekers, brothers, sisters and dear friends and simply beautiful people.

Olivier is Olivier! Just like his famous saying, “Life is life”. He is very wise and deep thinker and a good leader. He is a true advocate for the voiceless and becoming a very thoughtful filmmaker. His experience of surviving the genocide as a street kid gives him great compassion for the fatherless. He encourages me when the hard questions of life get too heavy. I will insert the link to his short video #Turashima

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Antoinette is too much fun. She is beautiful inside and out, strong and passionate. Her laugh is contagious and she knows how to celebrate life. She is a great dancer (well, all Rwandans are great dancers) and she gives the best hugs. I know Anto gets very sad in April, missing her loved ones who were killed in 1994. I am so thankful for the way she loves God and people.

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Noel is a man of so many talents. Artist, filmmaker, songwriter, worshiper… and a smooth dancer, too. He even tried to teach Gary some moves with no success but we had great fun. He can get anyone to join, to sing and to smile. But he also likes to dig deep and ask provoking questions others are afraid to ask. And guess when is Noel’s birthday? Christmas, of course!

Then there is Immaculee, Michael, Fidel, Innocent and Godfrey. Everyone has taught me so much about life, relationships, God’s faithfulness, joy, pain, forgiveness and hope against all hope. These things you cannot learn from the books or lectures.

‘Murakoze’ (thank you!) for being who you are! ‘Murakoze’ for being a part of these ‘peaceroads’! Cannot wait to dance with you, my friends, again and have some great celebrations. Bring out that African drum… because there is so much to be thankful for!  #Turashima