Hannover and Hiroshima and the church without roof

So many reflections after my recent trip to Hannover, Germany. I had the most unusual tour of the city. It told a story of significant past, diverse community, powerful kings and fascinating facts, but also tragedy, violence and beauty from the ashes. In the literal sense.

In just one night of October 8, 1943, more than 200,000 bombs were dropped on the city of Hannover. Not much was left standing. I think of my own city, Riga, and what it looked like after the war. I think of Sarajevo in Bosnia, Aleppo in Syria, Gaza in Palestine, towns and cities in eastern Ukraine…

Now you walk around and enjoy beautiful buildings and parks and street-side cafes. You see people enjoying a good life. You see diverse cultures welcomed here. Hannover is a very nice place to be. Still, the scars remain and I appreciate how people in Germany do not hide from these scars. As painful and ugly as they are. It speaks about healing and restoration.

There is a church without roof, now covered by our beautiful sky. Aegidienkirche originated in the 14th Century. It was destroyed in a bomb attack in 1943 and has not been rebuilt. Its ruin is now a memorial to the victims of war and violence. Like many other people before me, I stood there thinking, “If these ruins could speak…”

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The church has a Peace Bell, which the city of Hannover received in 1985 from its partner town of Hiroshima. The bell has a twin, which hangs in Hiroshima. Every 6th August a special memorial service to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima is held in this church. As part of this service the peace bell is rung at the same time as its twin in Hiroshima chimes.

There is a statue of person who embraces. The person is on his/her knees. To me it shows humility, brokenness and longing to embrace and to be embraced. When we speak about forgiveness and repentance and redemption, there are many powerful and beautiful symbols. During workshops on reconciliation I ask for mental pictures and commonly people see ’embrace’ or ‘handshake’.

‘Ubuntu’ is an African thought and expression which is usually translated as “humanity toward others”. No wonder my African friends love to hug and to hold hands. There is something deep within us that tells us that an act of embrace is the acknowledgement that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa describes it like this, “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

And one more thought as I reflect on this embrace. Theologian Miroslav Volf from Croatia said it the best: “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners.”

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Crisis of conscience in the land of confusion

The speed of changes in our globalized world seems faster than the speed of light. My mind and my whole being cannot travel so fast… as the events and situations and challenges and questions swirl around us. I suspect I am not the only one who feels like the whirlpool is getting stronger and harder to resist. Like a scene from the “Pirates of the Caribbean”…

Our common responses are – engage or escape. I can say, “Well, there is nothing I can do. I cannot change this world.” I can blame global conspiracies, corrupt politicians and weak governments and greedy people. I could say that all of this is normal and expected and therefore I should just accept it and go on with my everyday life.

I strongly believe that we have to engage our world on the deepest level possible – our conscience.

One of the main problems of our times is undeveloped, weak or confused conscience. We cannot reap where we have not sown. Which means that if we have not constantly cultivated and cared for our conscience, we cannot expect any good fruit. Especially now.

Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize because he was known as a man of conscience. He said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Also Lev Tolstoy challenged his fellow Russians and all of us, by writing, “The changes in our life must come from the impossibility to live otherwise than according to the demands of our conscience not from our mental resolution to try a new form of life.”

We know that the life styles of the privileged have become unsustainable; conflicts because of power and resources are repeating; suffering of the underprivileged is continuing; the damage of our environment seems irreversible; the lack of good leadership is undeniable… Many years ago the British band “Genesis” were singing, “There’s too many men…Too many people… Making too many problems… And not much love to go round… Can’t you see… This is a land of confusion” Well, the wise king Solomon already said that there is nothing new under the sun.

Therefore my thoughts on conscience is nothing new either. I believe that conscience is a God-given instrument and without it life is impossible. It has rights and it has duties (J.H.Newman) but how do we care for our conscience? If we believe that we are the only true judges of our conscience, than we are in grave danger. I know how deceiving and corrupt my heart can be. I know how to quiet my conscience and I have done it many times. I need a higher judge than myself. I need God.

I conscientiously object selfishness, confusion, greed and indifference not because of personal moral integrity but because I believe in a higher law.

Many people are concerned and anxious about the infringement on our privacy. You know, the Big Brother is trying to watch us. But I believe that I am already living under 24/7 ‘surveillance’. I have rights and I have duties because I am created in God’s image and He has given me dignity and worth. And He has given me my conscience as the best instrument for living with dignity.

Do I live according to my conscience in the time of comfort and in the times of challenges? Or is it abused and compromised? If we lose or disengage our conscience, then we lose the whole world!

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Asylum seekers should know us by our love, not our fear

To begin with I want to tell my friends who are of different faith or no faith; this blog is mostly directed to those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ. Some parts may feel like an internal family debate, but in reality these are crucial questions for everyone.

Also, as I write this, Europe is on my mind. Again, I welcome everyone else to join the discussion because this topic is truly a global issue and a global challenge. It is the same ‘hot topic’ in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. Except maybe in some small islands in South Pacific… (no, I have not been to all these places but I do travel a lot for work and have lived in three continents)

And don’t worry; I will keep this blog short even though there is much to say. As we know, the issues are very complicated. There is already lots written and said in media, government, workplaces, family… One of my friends in Latvia commented, “On this issue everyone in my family has an opinion.” This is truly a debate that involves the society as a whole. Many of the opinions and arguments are thoughtful and respectful and helpful, while many others are simply xenophobic and unhelpful and very very fearful.

What I want to focus on this time is FEAR! People express many views and emotions when they talk about immigration, refugees, asylum seekers. Common ones is anxiety and fear. I can relate to it very well because I have struggled with many fears in my own life. Some of them are now gone; others are still lingering. So, I try not to judge other people but I can be a judge of myself. And I can speak as a Christian who is called and commanded to follow a higher law.

Jesus was constantly opposed by people who did not like his way of building God’s Kingdom or the people He included. They had their own ideas of what it means to be a godly person and what it means to have their national identity and morality and religious authority. Keep everything ‘impure’, ‘unknown’ and those ‘others’ as far away as possible. Wash your hands after you come home from a public place because who knows what or whom you have been touching.

Once Jesus answered them like this, “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. (…) You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Harsh words but how many times I have felt that this is exactly what I have done; I have focused on many important things but have gotten completely blindsided but missing the main point.

The question of receiving asylum seekers is a matter of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness! The fair treatment of the immigrant and the host community is primarily a Justice issue. Having compassion and empathy for asylum seekers is Mercy. Believing and trusting God when He talks about the love toward our fellow human being is Faithfulness. There is so much to say about each of these but I will leave that for other blogs.

What are we afraid of? Let us think about our fears and anxieties! Let us deal with them! One of my teachers said, “Holiness is moving towards darkness.”  Those fearful corners of our hearts are truly dark but everything brought in His light becomes light. And then we can love anyone who becomes our neighbor freely and practically and sacrificially!

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Latviski:

Iesākumā es gribu pateikt saviem draugiem, kuriem ir cita reliģija vai arī nav nekādas ticības, ka šis raksts ir vairāk domāts tiem no mums, kuri sauc sevi par Jēzus Kristus sekotājiem. Tāpēc manis teiktais daļēji izklausīsies kā ģimenes saruna, bet patiesībā tas attiecas uz jebkuru.

Vēl, man rakstot, prātā ir Eiropa. Protams, visi var piedalīties diskusijā, jo šī tēma un problēmas ir patiešām globālas. Tā pati ‘karstā tēma’ Āzijā, Austrālijā, Āfrikā, Eiropā, Amerikā. Varbūt vienīgi kādās mazās Klusā Okeāna salās par to nedomā…

Un neuztraucieties; šis raksts nebūs pārāk garš, kaut gan teikt var daudz. Mēs jau zinām, ka šie jautājumi ir sarežģīti. Daudz jau ir rakstīts un pateikts gan plašsaziņas līdzekļos, gan no valdības puses, gan darba vietās, gan ģimenē… Viens mans draugs no Latvijas ieminējās: “Par šo jautājumu katram manā ģimenē ir savs viedoklis.” Šīs diskusijas iesaista visu sabiedrību. Daudzas domas un argumenti ir pārdomāti, cieņas pilni un palīdz domāt un rīkoties, bet citi ir vienkārši noskaņoti pret svešiniekiem, nepalīdz meklēt risinājumu un veicina arvien lielākas bailes.

Par to es arī gribu šoreiz parunāt – par BAILĒM! Cilvēki izpauž savus uzskatus un emocijas, kad runā par imigrāciju, bēgļiem, patvēruma meklētājiem. Bieži redzama reakcija ir uztraukums un bailes. Es to varu saprast, jo man pašai dzīvē ir bijušas daudz un dažādas bailes. Dažas no tām ir izgaisušas, dažas vēl mēgina turēties. Tāpēc es cenšos nenosodīt citus, bet pati sev gan varu būt soģe. Turklāt es varu paust savas domas kā kristiete, jo mēs esam aicināti sekot augstākai pavēlei un likumam.

Jēzum vienmēr nostājās pretī tie, kuriem nepatika Viņa pieeja Dieva Valstības celšanai, vai arī tas, kādi cilvēki tiek aicināti šajā Valstībā. Šiem kritiķiem bija savas idejas, ko nozīmē dievbijība, vai ko nozīmē nacionālā identitāte un tikumība un reliģiska autoritāte. Turēt visu “nešķīsto”, “nepazīstamo” un “citādo” tālu tālu prom. Atnākot mājās mazgāt rokas, jo nevar taču zināt, kam vai kādiem cilvēkiem tās pieskārušās.

Reiz Jēzus atbildēja tā: “Jūs atmetat to, kas svarīgākais bauslībā – taisnīgu tiesu, žēlsirdību un ticību. (…) Aklie ceļa vadoņi! Jūs knišļus izkāšat, bet kamieļus norijat!” Skarbi vārdi, bet neskaitāmas reizes esmu sapratusi, ka tieši tā esmu rīkojusies. Esmu pievērsusi uzmanību labām lietām, bet esmu bijusi gluži akla pret pašu svarīgāko

Jautājums par patvēruma meklētājiem ir Taisnīgas Tiesas, Žēlsirdības un Ticības jautājums. Taisnīga izturēšanās pret imigrantiem un pret vietējo sabiedrību ir Taisnīgums. Spēja just līdzi un sirds, kas iežēlojas par bēgļiem, ir Žēlsirdība. Uzticēšanās Dievam, kad Viņš liek mums mīlēt sev tuvāko cilvēku kā sevi pašu, ir Ticība. Par katru no šīm lietām var daudz teikt, bet tas nākamajiem rakstiem.

No kā mēs baidāmies? Pārdomāsim savas bailes un bažas! Skatīsimies tām acīs, un tiksim ar tām galā! Viens no maniem skolotājiem teica, ka “svētums ir tuvošanās tumsai.” Tie kakti mūsu sirdīs, kas pilni bailēm, ir tiešām tumši, bet viss, ko Viņš ceļ gaismā, top gaišs. Un tad mēs varam mīlēt tos, kuri kļūst par mūsu līdzcilvēkiem, brīvi un aktīvi un upurējoties!

Burma road continues… by train

Just returned from two wonderful weeks in Burma (also Myanmar) where I was invited to teach. It is a beautiful country with great people. Yes, there are lots of challenges and problems and the country has a long journey ahead toward restoration and development and peace. Still, the energy and hope and times of change are in the air…

Here is a short photo journey from our train ride around Yangon, the capital city. The train makes a full circle in approx 3 hours and gives a glimpse in the daily lives of people and the city. Train is a great place to get some rest or take a nap. I love sleeping on trains. Except this time I kept my eyes open to catch all the sights.

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People work very hard to earn daily income. Some of the train stops were busy vegetable markets.

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The farmers are gathering one of our favorite vegetables to eat – watercress. Most of the vegetables in Southeast Asia are the green leafy kind.

There is a popular song from 70’s, written by a British musician whose stage name was Cat Stevens. It is called “Peace Train” and some of the lyrics come to my mind:

“Out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again

Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun

Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too
Cause it’s getting nearer, it soon will be with you

Everyone jump upon the peace train
Come on now peace train”

Restoration and stability is longed for in Myanmar and it is one everyone’s lips. We feel privileged to be a small part of the peace building process there.

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I imagine differently than John Lennon

Music is a powerful communicator and musicians have a beautiful way of connecting their message with the audience. There are thousands and millions of melodies that speak without lyrics… Still, I like words. I like musicians who are good story tellers. And I like the ones who use their voice and art for something good.

Sometimes I hear a word and immediately think of a song. Hearing about zombies, makes me think of ‘The Cranberries’. Even though their hit song has nothing to do with zombies, but speaks about violence in our hearts and communities. The official video highlighted the conflict and pain in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It is one of the popular cover songs all around the world but how many people actually pay attention to the deep message inside?!

For me, ‘U2’ is in a category of its own. Often Bono is described as part preacher, part politician, part social activist and musician. And when he hangs out with another Irish musician, Bob Geldof, watch out… the Irish can be very passionate and persuasive.

All this came to my mind when I was watching the movie “The Killing Fields” about Cambodia and the soundtrack included John Lennon’s “Imagine”… People call it the ‘peace song’ but I realized that I actually disagree with his imagined version of peace. John Lennon said:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

So, basically if we got rid of religion, national borders and all possessions, we would become united and loving and selfless. Lennon said that he was not only one with this point of view and he was right… many people feel that way. But their dream has a major flaw – what about the question of human heart? Yes, violence and selfishness and greed can be taught, exemplified and encouraged, but even without any of that – it comes naturally to all of us.

Christians call it the problem of ‘sin’ or missing God’s ideal; Buddhists call it the problem of ‘suffering’ which comes from our desires; Muslims call it the problem of disobedience if people are not submitted to God…

I don’t know of John Lennon’s worldview but it reminds me in some ways of the Marxist ideals. I grew up in a society where we told that all problems come from religion, nationalism and capitalism. So, telling your children about God was forbidden; being Latvian or Armenian was discouraged because we would create a new international person and things were owned by the state. And that was a ‘dream’ that most of us were very happy to wake up from.

I choose to join another dream. Desmond Tutu put it like this: “Extraordinarily, God the omnipotent One depends on us, puny, fragile, and vulnerable as we may be, to accomplish God’s purposes for good, for justice, for forgiveness and healing and wholeness. God has no one but us.”

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The old man who is still looking for peace

You never know who you may meet while traveling. Last week I spent some long hours on the plane from Riga – Moscow – Bangkok. Sometimes you have an encounter and think, “Interesting timing! Why am I meeting this person here and now?”

When boarding the plane in Moscow, I noticed that I would sit next to an old man. I thought to myself, “He will probably sleep most of the way, so not much talking here.” I don’t mind to talk to strangers; I like to meet new people but sometimes it is nice to put the headphones on and just watch movies. The old man had an English newspaper and I asked if I could borrow it after he finished reading.

He answered in English with an American accent and asked where I was from. “Latvia”, I answered and heard the common reply, “I have never met anyone from Latvia.” As I had guessed, he was an American but living in Thailand. And we started to talk… and continued for many hours.

Read on and you will understand why he is still on my mind. He was traveling back from Russia where he had attended the Victory Parade on May 9 in Moscow. Then he had traveled to Crimea, the peninsula of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia last year. Why so interested in Russia? All four of his grandparents had lived in parts of Russian Empire before the communist revolution of 1917 and had emigrated to the USA because of pogroms and persecution. So, I discovered he was Jewish…

Why live in Thailand? Well, he was trying to be a Buddhist and wanted to spend more of his life in meditation. As we talked though I discovered that he was still very far from finding that inner peace. He was a very angry and frustrated man. Mad at so many things – mad at his own country which he considered the most evil nation messing up the world, mad at his family which he blamed for being pro-Zionist and conservative, mad at his friends in Thailand who wanted live a relaxing life without worries… basically he was mad at the whole world.

Except Russia. He respected Russia and felt like this nation is totally misunderstood. He went to the Victory Parade out of gratefulness that Russian people had sacrificed so much to defeat the Nazis. Then he went to Crimea to see it for himself and to hear the stories. He came away convinced that Russia today again was protecting people against the great evil of ‘Fascism”.

My mind was racing… If you read my reflections from two weeks ago, you will understand why. What to say? We had to travel together for many hours and I could tell that he would get very angry if I disagreed with him. I told him that he was obviously a seeker. Seeking peace and truth… Well, I am a seeker of peace and truth also. I told him that actually I teach about peace building and reconciliation. He was very attentive now. I said that I cannot speak for Russia or Ukraine but I can speak for Latvia. I shared my family’s story and he admitted that he had never heard this side of the story. Story of the small nations that were caught in the middle of power struggle between two totalitarian regimes and two totalitarian leaders – Stalin and Hitler and how people in Latvia suffered under both.

I talked about ‘Shalom’ – peace with God, with yourself, with others and with creation. He asked, “Are you Jewish? How do you know about Shalom?” I said that I am a Christian, that I read the Bible and that I believe in the vision of this universal, cosmic peace. Then he started talking how Jesus was a ‘communist’ since he gave food and healthcare for free, stood against the establishment and rich classes and then was killed for it.

During our conversation I realized that he was very leftist in his thinking and had a positive view of former Soviet Union. Now you know what I mean… what a mix of ideas. An American Jewish guy who thinks like a communist but tries to be Buddhist. No wonder his inner person was in such a turmoil. As we left the plane, he looked so lost and lonely… still not finding what he is looking for. I wish him to find ‘Shalom’ that is so incredibly close to us that we too often miss it.

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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?

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Tale of two cities

What does Coventry, England and Dresden, Germany have in common? Beauty, life and forgiveness out of ashes and destruction!

I like history. Blame it on my dad who should be a history teacher. I just wish I had my dad’s memory for facts and dates and names and places. You know how they say that “one thing we can learn from history is that we never learn from history”. I guess I am not the only one with memory problems…

During my studies in the UK, we discussed a lot of history. Events and actions that become a part of our story. And I learned about some of these moments that have shaped the story of England. Here is one beautiful story.

Coventry was once described as the most well preserved medieval city in Europe, but it was all but destroyed during the German bombing in November 1940. One of the many buildings hit was the 14th century cathedral. Few months before the end of the war in February of 1945 Allied forces decided to replicate the Coventry Blitz. The bomb attacks were planned by looking at how Coventry was destroyed and trying to repeat it in Dresden, Eastern Germany, a city almost untouched by the war until that point. Well, the Allies succeeded in their mission… an eye for an eye… a city for a city…

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But this is not all that these two once beautiful but horribly scarred cities have in common. Following the destruction of Coventry Cathedral, its Provost Dick Howard made a commitment not to revenge, but to forgiveness and reconciliation. From the Cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over they should work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’

The words ‘Father Forgive’ were inscribed on the wall of the ruined church. Not ‘Father, forgive them’ but simply forgive. Forgive us all.  Two charred beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were bound and three medieval nails were formed into a cross and the Cross of Nails became a sign of friendship and hope in the post war years, especially in new relationships with Germany. Few years later Coventry became a twin-town with Dresden in Germany.

I visited Coventry and I was struck by how special this place is. Especially the Cathedral. May I say that these are the most beautiful ruins I have ever seen? These walls tell a story that I cannot forget or ignore…

The million dollar question – can we learn to learn from history? An eye for an eye… a city for a city … or ‘Father, forgive’

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Where to begin?

If you wanted to study about reconciliation, where would you start? Well, I started with Google search… It can be quite overwhelming to dig through all the resources and information available but eventually I found what I was looking for – School of Reconciliation and Justice (SORJ) in Harpenden, England.

I read the introductory statement of SORJ: „Our aim is to train individuals or teams to work in many different areas of society that need God’s work of reconciliation and restoration. If You want to be involved in peace building in an area of conflict; or if You want to be an advocate for the voiceless; or if You want to develop a restorative justice team in an inner-city; or to work in the political arena; this school will help you in developing your plans and your heart to serve God in these areas. During this three month school, we will be training with international practitioners, researching current issues of conflict or injustice issues, and taking time to seek God’s heart for reconciliation and justice around the world.”

When I told my husband about this course, he was very supportive until he found out that it was in England. Why? England seemed far far away from Burma border. Weren’t there similar study courses in Southeast Asia? Most likely there were, but there was something special that drew me to this particular school. This training was born out of a movement called Reconciliation Walk.

To quote  Reconciliation Walk website: „This movement was born in response to the 900th anniversary of the Crusades, an epoch that represents the failure of the Church to embody Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. Through an apology and thousands of face-to-face meetings between Western Christians and Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians, we sought to erode the bitter legacy and mythologies of enmity that originated with the Crusades.”

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The Reconciliation Walk was a real peace-road; a literal walk across the path of the first crusade.The participants were bringing the message of peace, forgiveness, and hope across the nations of Europe and Middle East. I wish I would have been able to participate in something like this but I also know that there is a unique journey for every one of us. I cannot walk in someone else’s shoes or actual footsteps, but I will have my own path to make and my own footprints to leave.

I was looking for not only theory, but the practice of reconciliation. With such topics as Character Development of the Peacemaker; Foundations of Reconciliation and Justice; Principles of Forgiveness; Origins of Conflict; Faith, Geopolitics, Nationalism and Tribalism in today’s Conflicts; Effective Peace building models for transforming communities; Conflict Mediation; Restorative Justice and Advocacy, this seemed like a great place to start.

So, in 2010 I boarded a plane from Bangkok, Thailand to London, England. Little did I know that this school would be much more than I expected or bargained for.

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Burma road…

There is a well-known verse in the Bible. “He has told you, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Because of my work, I have been privileged to visit many countries. In many places I have met people from very poor and sometimes very oppressive living conditions. And I have met many refugees – people who have had to flee their homes and country because of poverty, war or climate change. This story is about Burma and ‘peaceroad’ I discovered without looking for it. It found me…

The past few years my husband Gary and I have been living and working in northern Thailand. We started hearing of a small town called Mae Sot on Thailand – Burma border. I was aware of the military regime and civil war in Burma, and the subsequent human crisis  but not fully aware of thousands of refugees from Burma living in refugee camps or so called “temporary shelters” in Thailand. So, in 2007 we visited one of the main refugee camps – Mae La Temporary Shelter.

Through our friends who started an organization called “Compasio” (http://compasio.org/) we came in contact with Parami Learning Center –  a school for B28urmese migrant children.  The director, Min Lwin, was involved with human rights groups and worker’s rights groups which were focused on helping refugees and migrants. Most of the teachers were ethnic Karen. Others were Burman, Chin or Karenni. (Burma is a very diverse nation of 51 million people with more than 130 ethnic groups.)

I was asked to teach English and we started a monthly English class. Soon it became more than just class. I have always said that “teaching is relationship” and through sharing personal stories, experiences and struggles we became very good friends. And then the difficult questions started coming.

The more I listened, the more my friends would ask for my opinion or advice. Most of them were Christians; some were Buddhists. They wanted to know  my views on reconciliation… The vision and hope is peace, reconciliation, and democracy in Burma, but it starts in the place where they are at right now. My friends said, “How can we change our nation if we struggle to change our personal lives, our personal relationships and the relationships in our communities?”

I was deeply challenged. I believe that the core of God’s good news is reconciliation – setting things right. But you will know the tree by its fruit, and so many times I did not see the good fruit in my own life or in the life of church community. My friends admitted that their communities lacked a helpful and constructive dialogue about these hard questions. It is easy to think that I know or believe something until it is tested in real life.

What is the response to oppression, totalitarian regime, ethnic cleansing, rape, murder, land grabs? What are the things we propose to bring healing and restoration to broken lives and to broken communities? How to make sure that we are part of the solution, not the problem? One day Min Lwin wrote to me, “Many areas in our community have conflicts. Race, age (the elder gets more respects), class, religions, and all you have mentioned. I like this subject very much but I feel that a trainer of the course should have a clear mind. I am good at solving other one’s conflict (I think) but I myself am violent.”

Did I have a clear mind? Was I qualified to talk about these issues? Where does peace start? Where does reconciliation start? How do you forgive someone how burned your home and killed your family? How do you reconcile justice and mercy?

It is like riding on a train where someone ahead of you has switched the railroad track. You may notice or maybe not right away that the train is going new direction. This is a new and unknown road. And then I am looking for guiding posts. I know that they are there; I just need to open my eyes. And I start to meet people who have taken this road before  and I learn from them. I knew that I wanted to pursue this. That I absolutely had to pursue this.

Without hope, truth, forgiveness, restoration, healing and reconciliation, what is the point? Without these things, it is not a life worth living.

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