International Ministries

Sounds of Silence

March 10, 2016 Journal
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“For there shall be a sowing of peace; the vine shall yield its fruit, and the ground shall give its increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things… Fear not, but let your hands be strong.” Zechariah 8:12-13 RSV

I just returned from a two-week trip to the Philippines where I spent significant time with 31 cultivators of peace from 13 countries across Asia and the Pacific.  

Alongside IM colleagues, Dan and Sharon Buttry, I co-facilitated a 10-day intensive Training of Conflict Transformation Trainers (TCTT).  We shared both lighthearted and profound moments together, heard echoes of God’s reign in multi-lingual choruses and felt the dew of heaven in lively impromptu dancing. I am convinced that there will be vines of peace yielding fruit growing in Nepal through the four leaders who just finished facilitating their own conflict transformation trainings back home amidst ongoing recovery from the devastation of last year’s earthquake and tense border issues that make everyday life extremely difficult. We witnessed the tenderness of God’s embrace in bringing our friend Apo from Fiji to join us so soon after the typhoon wreaked havoc on his home and homeland. We prayed often for and with him, and as he left he affirmed how encouraged and strengthened he was to go back home to serve God and his people. 

I am still processing the lessons I learned and the soul gifts I received from this transformative time, but one particularly poignant moment during the ten-day training continues to speak to me in a deep way.  I’ll call it my first “silent interview”.  The day’s focus was on the different responses to trauma, especially trauma related to violence.  We were doing a Bible study on 2 Samuel 21 and I was to interview a volunteer who would play the part of Merab, the mother of five sons who king David had killed to appease the Gibeonites, victims of generational trauma as a result of the genocide perpetrated by David’s predecessor, King Saul.  A very quiet female participant from Indonesia who rarely spoke up in the large group gatherings, volunteered  (with a little encouragement from me). Though a bit high risk for her, she agreed, partly out of deference, but mostly I believe in response to the Holy Spirit’s nudging. When painful stories aren’t ready to be put into words, talking fails. Knowing this, I reluctantly asked her to share her experience. The sound of her silence was deafening. She shivered and wept while I tried to put into words what I was observing in her. After what seemed like an eternity, I asked if she would be willing to show me how she was feeling with a piece of paper. She agreed. I invited her to do whatever she wanted with the piece of paper. She took it, crumpled it, tore it and then tossed it on the ground in front of her. By the grace of God, I was able to hold the space and stay in the silence.  As we looked together at the powerful outward expression of her inward pain, the tears subsided and the shaking ceased, though those around the circle who witnessed her act were moved to tears.  I had asked her to speak the unspeakable, but she courageously portrayed the pain of a heartbroken mother with more depth and meaning than I could have ever imagined. 

After the session I checked in with the young woman and she shared with me why she chose to stay silent during the interview.  She said that as they were studying the text, she noticed that Merab’s story was silenced. We don’t ever hear what happened to her. The story focuses on Rizpah’s and David’s responses. Since in the text Merab was silent that was exactly what she intended to dramatize. I honored and thanked her for the powerful way that her act created a safe space for others, opening up avenues for healing. What could have been one of my biggest facilitator failures became one of my most memorable facilitator moments. So honored to be a part of this significant work. 

Thank you for your prayers and your friendship that help strengthen my hands and give me hope for the journey ahead. 

I covet your prayers as I leave next week for a relationship-building trip to Cuba with 8 other International Ministries colleagues committed to walking alongside and learning from our partners in ministry there. 

May we sow peace and grow in grace,