Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wipe Away their Tears

A few months ago I was in Sri Lanka with TEAR Fund gathering images and stories for our upcoming Summer Campaign. I took our incredible film company, Exposure with me and they made this beautiful 4 minute film. Here is a quick blog on my reflections during our time there.

With its sunny skies, swaying coconut trees and luscious palms it’s easy to see Sri Lanka for what it looks like - beautiful beaches, fertile surrounds and soaring temperatures. But beneath the surface one finds a land recovering from a 25-year civil war that has left an indelible mark upon its people. My first briefing was with our programmes officer who plonked a map on the table, followed by a land mine. That was a conversation starter.

The civil war, fought between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the government troops, took the lives of over 70,000 people and displaced more than 280,000*. The LTTE were fighting to establish a separate state in the north.

On August 22, we headed into the north of Sri Lanka with TEAR Fund’s partner, World Concern. We handed over our passports at the check point and after the security procedures were complete, made the 1.5 hour trip into what was the centre of the war zone a mere four years earlier. As I looked out the car window with land mine fields, burnt-out buildings, and bullet holes filling every blink; my heart sank. How had I missed this?
 We arrived at the home of a farmer and his family. Outside their house there was a massive hole about four metres in circumference in the ground. He told us it was from a bombshell. The trees in front of his home were riddled with bullet holes and his former home was a pile of rubble. He told me, “My wife and I were forced to flee our home due to the war, 11 days after our first child was born. I took everything I could physically carry. Both my mother in-law and my brother died. Because we had little food to eat, my wife was unable to breastfeed our daughter. I had to take out a loan of US $100 and give a pint of my blood to buy 400gms of milk powder. We moved 25 times before we finally settled at the refugee camp. I saw shell attacks and plenty of bombing and thought I would die.  When we were told we could finally re-settle, I couldn’t even get to the road to reach my land. Even though our situation is improving, I still believe I will never have a good future. My only hope is my children’s future. I do not feel safe. I wish I could leave.” 

Later that day we drove through the place where the majority of the war was concentrated. As you look out the window all you can see is houses, libraries, orphanages, businesses and buildings that are nothing but a taunting reminder of the aftermath of a war that ended in 2009. Bullet holes still riddle everything from concrete to palm trees. Abandoned ruins line the streets. The silence and stillness as people carry out their lives amidst this backdrop, palatable and haunting. It was as if they were frightened to see who or what was passing by.

We finished our day in silence. Standing on the beach where the war was reported to have come to its bloody end. Digging my toes into the warm sand and watching the sunset felt surreal. Here it was widely reported by international press that over 20,000 people lost their lives in a ‘safe zone’.* I can’t even begin to describe how I felt driving away in my air-conditioned car to the safety of my motel an hour and a half away from the war zone these resilient people call home.

For these people, I have no deeply satisfying answers. I can’t see justice on the horizon for them. But I can see the first ray of hope. Justice is God’s and he promises this life is not the end. When I came home I was so deeply moved by the time I spent in Sri Lanka that I spent hours ‘debriefing’ with my husband. You know it’s an important conversation when your 6’1 hunter gatherer of a man has tears running down his cheeks. Of course, that set me off.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the scene in the Book of Esther where Mordecai is outside the gates of the palace pleading for Queen Esther to save her people. We too could have been the ones outside the gate. This ‘accident of latitude’ means we could have been the ones born into war, raped for profit or starving.

This Christmas, TEAR Fund is doing all we can for these people. Our campaign, Wipe Away their Tears is our opportunity to declare God’s promise in Revelations 21: “He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” May your kingdom come.

*"LTTE defeated; Sri Lanka liberated from terror".Ministry of Defence. 18 May 2009. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
"Slaughter in Sri Lanka". London: The Times. 29 May 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2009.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Long may the adventure continue...

It is with great excitement that I write tonight. Tim and I are moving back to live in Uganda! This time we’re going for a year and we’ll be living in a town called Mbarara about four hours South West of the capital Kampala. We’ll be volunteering with our friends Carl and Julie Gaede and their newly formed organisation, Tutapona  Karl and Julie Gaede are both trained psychologists that felt God’s calling on their lives to work with those most traumatized by war and violence.  While the UN and World Food Program are taking care of the immediate needs for many refugees and former child soldiers, Karl and Julie set up a not for profit organisation called Tutapona that provides trauma rehabilitation services to victims of rape, mutilation, abduction, former child soldiers, and anyone affected by the horror of war. We think they’re awesome and so we’re going to join them on January 7th 
Tutapona trains local Ugandans to deliver their trauma rehabilitation program and they’ve just been given permission by the Ugandan government and UNHCR to work in every refugee camp in the country. Their next program is set to open in the largest refugee camp in central Africa, Nakivale, Uganda. This camp has been serving displaced people for decades. It’s home to 70,000 refugees from upwards of 10 African countries, including Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

With an opportunity that big, their organisation needs some serious man power to get to the next level. That’s where we come in.  Many of you will know that we’ve recently settled into life here in New Zealand by purchasing our first home, securing stable, secure jobs that we adore, and building up relationships with our incredible friends and family after living overseas in Dubai and Africa. It sure didn’t seem like perfect timing to be making another international move. BUT, that’s just our human understanding. God’s thinking is much bigger, and always better than ours. The ways he has shown us that this is where we need to be blow us away - everyday. More on that later. Meanwhile, I made the decision to accept the role reluctantly as I LOVE my job at TEAR Fund (and that’s an understatement).  In the end our decision was made based on our strong sense that God was calling us back to Uganda to work for him, to help our friends out and to trust him to take care of the details.   

Tim will be doing teacher training with the guys who have been delivering the programme and may be involved in some delivery as well. I will be helping them with their marketing and communication needs as well as staying connected to everything we do at TEAR Fund through a contracting capacity. On the ground and in the field experience is priceless and only helps us become better at our jobs, more empathetic to the cause and more passionate about why we do what we do. Both of our jobs have ever so graciously given us this time as a sabbatical and we are so grateful! We’ll be back in November ready to start back at our jobs and excited for the next season.

There was a quote I mulled over a lot before I sat down with Tim to give him my verdict on his grand decision to move our lives again. Mother Teresa said, “Love has a hem to her garment that reaches the very dust. It sweeps the streets and the lanes and because it can it must.” For me it was simple. Because I can, I must.  We can’t wait to get stuck in.

We’ll be blogging about our time in Uganda right here on this blog and would love you to join us! Feel free to comment and ask questions, we love hearing from you!

Long may the adventure continue,

Love Helen and Tim xo