Thursday, August 21, 2014

A moment I wont forget..

There have been a couple of moments in my work this year that I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time. The latest happened last Tuesday when I joined our staff in a village in Nakivale where they were running our Tutapona Empower trauma counselling program.

My usual bouncy, morning drive from Mbarara where we live brought me to the refugee settlement. I spent the next few hours chatting with our staff and attempting fairly unsuccessfully to pick up a few more phrases in Ki Nya Rwanda. A slow, steady rain started at lunchtime and continued through until we arrived at the village where we’re working currently.Due to the rain and the leisurely pace of arrival of our participants we considered postponing but eventually seventeen adults (and a small sea of kids) were ready to start. While we were waiting someone asked what my name was in Rwandese, to which I replied confidently: “I’m well. How are you?” I’m a fast learner.

We’d reached a point in the program where we encourage a method of trauma recovery in which people talk about their painful memories. This has the potential to be a key step for some in recovery from their psychological trauma but can also be a tricky, difficult session. After some explanation of this process, those willing were asked to tell a small part of their story in a safe, confidential setting.

This particular village is made up of Rwandans, both Hutu and Tutsi who have arrived in various waves since around 1990. Some fled their homes as a result of the 1994 genocide and others during prior and subsequent outbursts of violence. I’ve been attending sessions like this one for nearly eight months now and I regret to say my tolerance for nasty stories has increased. When I was driving home last Tuesday evening though, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d heard.

Five members of the program talked about how they’d ended up becoming refugees in Nakivale. I won’t retell their stories but I was deeply shocked by what they said. Many are the sole survivors from their families. Some have been subjected to both physical and psychological torture and have seen things they wish they could un-see. 

The pain in this group was very evident, not just among those talking. As people spoke several women were crying which I’ve seldom seen here before. One old man covered his head with a ski jacket. We were shown scars from bullet wounds and burns. A woman told us she’s had nightmares nearly every night for twenty years and badly wanted them to stop. A recurring question directed at us was:
“How can I forgive that?”

Uganda currently has about 350,000 refugees within her borders and almost all have fled from war zones past and present. I’ve definitely wondered at times if even God can help these people. Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” are put to the sternest test here.

On the remaining days of the program it was encouraging and surprising to see these people make quite fast progress in processing their trauma. A man with horrific burns all over his back told us he was choosing to release the people who’d done that to him and killed his family. He doesn’t know who they are but wants to stop obsessing about them and to move on with his life. Of course this is not a one off decision. He’ll need to re-make it every time he puts a shirt on.

Several others made the same choice. I write about this not to make a case that our program is exceptional and can heal people from this stuff. In fact most of the time we feel majorly inadequate and frequently leave a village wondering if any change has occurred. Instead I’m making the point that it’s staggering what people can recover from.

My faith leads me to the conclusion that it is God who enables this healing.

Tim Manson
To learn more or donate to the work of Tutapona visit

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Meet Lawrence*

Last week I had the priveledge of interviewing and photographing a number of people that were finishing up our two week trauma counselling course through Tutapona. This is Lawrence's story.

"My name is Lawrence* and I’m 44 years old. During the war in Rwanda my neighbour falsely accused me of a crime I did not commit and I was imprisoned for seven years. In September of 2002 I was returned to my wife and children. One night as we were sleeping in our hut I smelt something unusual and looked up to see our entire house had been set on fire. I ran for the door to get my family out and as I tried to push it open the plastic sheeting fell on me. I moved outside with it on my back. My wife and all three of my young children died inside. I slept in the bush that night out of complete shock. My neighbours found me in the morning and I spent four months in hospital for the burns to my back. I came to Nakivale in 2003 as I had no-one left after the genocide. Today I am re-married with three children but am unable to do much work because of the burns cause much pain and itchiness. Tutapona came to our village and taught us that forgiveness is a sacrifice. They taught us that to forgive others is a gift we can give ourselves. I have forgiven the people that hurt me.”

*Name changed for security reasons

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What No One Tells You About Fear & Comfort Zones

Last night I read a blog post that encouraged me so much. It summed up how I'm feeling at the moment and I've posted some of the key parts here. The original blog is here by Ann Voskamp

More than being afraid of a dangerous world, maybe we should be much more afraid of comfort zones. Because when you’re tired enough of your comfort zone — you can start living in the dangerously alive zone. 

When you’re tired enough of listening to all the talking heads, you can listen to the One who speaks to your soul. The One Who calls you to freedom that only comes outside of comfort zones, to give yourself away and not be afraid. Life is too short to miss out on the harvest opportunity for which God has specifically blessed you for in the first place.   

Under the same sky as us all of us last month, the alleged rape of a six-year-old girl in a school triggered a series of street protests by angry parents and political activists over the lack of safety for women and children in one of the world’s largest countries.

A 16-year-old girl in Delhi was gang-raped at gunpoint in June, and a seven-year-old girl was found hanging from a tree in a village in West Bengal state.  

Women under all our sky are facing daily violence, carrying invisible wounds and unspeakable rejection… so how can we be caught blithely cat-napping when our girls, our daughters, our sisters are being kidnapped and our girls are driven from being kids to being our slaves, to being our whims trafficked and bought and sold, as if that chain of DNA that makes you female are chains that make you invisible.

How can we not, the Esther Generation, rise up and say for such a time as now we will risk everything inside the gate for those sisters outside the gate. For such a time as now we will risk comfort, for such a time as now we will risk ease, for such a time as now we will say no to oppression’s disease, for such a time as now we will give up, so our sisters can rise up.

We’re all called out of our comfort zones because we have sisters outside the gate. We cannot stay inside our comfort zones when we’ve got sisters outside of the gate. Because there is nothing worth having inside the gate when you’ve got sisters losing everything outside the gate. Because you could do this: Every day you can do one thing that you wish you could do for every one.

You can’t be a world changer until you serve. And you can’t serve until you break free of your comfort zone. Living outside your comfort zone isn’t living irresponsibly — it’s living obedient. And the bottom line is: We will be known by our fruits — not by what name we call ourselves or by what fame we want to be known for. We will be known for our actual fruits, not the intentions of our imaginations.  The greatest of these is love. And love’s actual fruit is service: Love bears service. Love says: Let me serve. 

God beckons you to look into your bucket of seeds and ask your heart how much of a better story you’d like to sow.   God asks you to look into the bucket of blessed seeds you’ve been given — and ask your heart how much you’d like to be part of a harvest.