One by one, around the circle, participants held up their drawings, charting their life’s journeys. Doris shared about running into and staining in the mountain to escape Boko Haram fighters, after her older brother, uncle, and several friends were killed. Ibrahim told about being arrested by militants, being shot at as he ran into the bush to escape, but managed to survive. Elizabeth spoke about her grief since her husband and three children are still missing, and presumed to be dead.
Set in a beautiful rural retreat center, outside Jos, Nigeria, 28 men and women came together for 6-day advanced training in trauma healing, sponsored by EYN (Nigerian Church of the Brethren) and MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) in Nigeria. Peter Serete, assistant program coordinator of the Friends Church Peace Team of the African Greatlakes Initiative, in Kenya was the head trainer. Each participant had already experienced a basic workshop and was being trained to be “healing companions” to others. Out of this group 15 will be chosen to be trained as a trainer and spread what they have learned more widely to those who have been traumatized.
This workshop strengthened participants’ ability to offer compassionate and healing listening and to provide safety for others to share their pain and start their healing journey. The group looked at the role their faith plays in their healing journey and discussed constructive ways to deal with the negative emotions that trauma generates. Sessions were preparing them to be able to go back to their home areas and help Christian and Muslim neighbors deal with their suspicions and fear and work for reconciliation. They noted how the trauma they experienced, if not recognized and dealt with well, can lead them and others to continue the cycle of violence in their nation and communities.
Sprinkled throughout the workshop were games and activities which illustrated some of the lessons and helped build community among them. In two lines, men and women held hands and tried to cross the “river” marked out with masking tape on the floor. Four papers on the floor represented rocks to step on as they cross. The only rule was that there must always be the feet of two people on each rock at any one time. The “stones” were snatched away if there was only one. After each team found ways to have all in their line cross, they reflected on this trust-building activity. They saw it as symbolic of the healing journey, the need for each member of the team to work and plan together, and the need for stronger members to help the weaker, in order for the team to make it.
Tears flowed as many shared about a hurt or wrong done to them that they are struggling to forgive. When they read in the New Testament the call to love their enemies and to forgive, they take it very seriously. “It is not easy to forgive Boko Haram and those in my community who destroyed my home and stole my cattle,” one said. “But we must, and it is only by the grace of God that we can do it. And it can free us.” Another said, “My father’s friend killed our father, I was thinking of revenge. But now I am convinced to go and forgive him.”
In moments set aside for worship, the men and women reclaimed their hope and their trust in a loving God. Toward the end of the week, there was a ceremony of burning pieces of paper, on which they wrote things still troubling them that they want to release, followed by spontaneous songs and prayers.
After their previous, basic workshop, these men and women had responded with such testimonies: ”I walked out of the first workshop a changed person,” one woman said. “I can now laugh and sing again. My husband sees a change in me.” Others tell how their initial training helped them face and release their bitterness and anger, or come out of their depression so they could care for their families.”
For the trainers, this work is not just an abstract assignment. Each of them had also experienced trauma, and many of them had been displaced, so they were also on their own paths to healing. “Being able to teach and encourage others, has also accelerated my own healing,” Dlama Kagula, told me. This accounted for the compassion and understanding the leaders demonstrated throughout the sessions. Clearly God is at work among these who have been wounded, who are taking steps to open their lives to healing, and who want to help others find what they have been given.
By Peggy Faw Gish, 18 May 2015