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Reflections on the Healing Journey after Genocide

posted 21 Aug 2018, 14:47 by Mennonite Church Alberta
Audrey Brooks stands outside her home by the Genocide Memorial Garden she started 10 years ago (2008). In conjunction with the garden, Brooks began the Genocide Memorial Service. For the first nine years she held services at her home.  But this year her church, the Unitarian Church of Edmonton, helped her expand the celebrations by hosting this year's memorial.


Reflections on the Healing Journey after Genocide
 
July 15, 2018 marked the 10th Anniversary of the Genocide memorial service*, a yearly event usually held at the home of Audrey Brooks, founder and organizer.

For this special occasion, the service was held in the Unitarian church.   I had found the services meaningful in the past, but this time it was planned for Sunday morning so I would be missing the worship and singing in a Mennonite church.   I had also promised Jasmina Colic, from Bosnia, that I would be there.  She told me she was going to talk about me.  I found a spot with the folks of her community, wearing a T-shirt with the Srebenica massacre featured on the front. 
 
It truly was a special service with music, singing, poetry and yes of course the difficult stories from places around the world, like one from Venezuela which was heart-breaking. It was one of those rich interfaith events where you might find yourself inspired by those of faith different than your own. 
 
Jasmina then spoke, not of the Srebenica massacre, but of her journey toward healing here in Edmonton. This focus was a worthy addition to the memorial service, though not verbalized otherwise until she shared.  She spoke without notes and with passion, highlighting four people she has encountered. 
 
The first was a Serbian orthodox woman.  They spent time together, and Jasmina felt very positive.   But one day the friend happened to mention that everybody had suffered equally in that war.   Jasmina asked her, “But how can you think that way, there were no orthodox women raped, there was no big massacre.   The violence was not equal at all.”    The facts were just too different from what this woman was saying, and eventually Jasmina walked out of the relationship.
 
Another day, Jasmina was with a man in an elevator.  He asked if she was perhaps Polish, or Ukrainian.   She said, “No, I am from Bosnia.”   He said she must be Serbian, and she said, “ No”.   “Then you must be Croatian”.  She said, No”.  She waited.  He had nothing more to say.    Finally she said, “I am Bosnian Muslim”.   He said they needed to go for coffee.  She said, “How can we go for coffee when you cannot even acknowledge that I exist.”  She walked away.  The encounter was troubling to her. 
 
Then she spoke of Donna, her Mennonite Friend.   She described how we met many years ago at Al Rashid Mosque for Friday prayer.  She thought that because I was there,  I must be a convert to Islam.   I told her that “No” I am Mennonite Christian but came here because I lived in West Africa for many years.  From that day onward, we both felt that we needed to keep in contact.  and it  deepened.  We met for coffee, celebrated religious holidays in each others homes etc.    I listened to her stories , told my stories and we cried together.  I then invited her to our Christian/Muslim book club.  Then she said that I was there sitting with her people in solidarity.   
 
Then she spoke of a Bosnian Orthodox woman who attended the service as well.  She said that they are spending time together and getting closer.  She is very thankful for their friendship.
 
As the service ended we were invited to light candles for any situations around the world that needed prayer.  I went forward to light a candle for the Fulani people of West Africa who this year have been killed in excessive numbers.   My son’s work is focused solely on them, but our daughter also serves people of that tribe in her hospital. 
 
At the end, the organizer said that next year, she wanted me to speak as well.   I believe that Jasmina’s presentation shifted the focus from past back home to present life in Edmonton. 
The day after the Genocide memorial service a Bosnian Muslim was my bus driver.   He is the one that stopped and waited for me one night where there was no bus stop.   I told him on Monday that I was touched by his stopping for me.   I told him, “Horrible things were done against your people but instead of being bitter you have chosen to go beyond what your job requires to help someone out.  That is living with integrity.  You are a true person of faith”.  
 
I realized that what Jasmina had said carries lessons that apply to any of us who struggle to walk with others in solidarity as allies.
  • Put your self in spaces where “other” people are found.   Where people don’t expect to find you. 
  • Be open to meet with them setting the parameters.
  • Reciprocate hospitality.
  • Listen to their stories. 
  • Share your stories. 
  • Be empathetic.  Cry together.
  • Invite into a larger circle of connection, and create a space where all can be comfortable. 
 
Donna Entz




Postscript by Jasmina. I am the lucky one. I live in this multi-cultural society called Canada. In Bosnia there is one village where 40 nations are represented and all live together peacefully in one little town. We were used to being multi-cultural. But now Bosnia cannot be that place for me that it used to be. North is the concentration camp where I stood for hours in 35 degrees. South brings remembrance of where my father was held. It would have been so hard to relate to all the Serbian people in Bosnia. I would have been constantly triggered as I am when I go back. So Canada is good because it gives me other options of kinds of people to relate to. Donna was so helpful because unlike some people she never put pressure on me to forgive or to tell me to just forget it and move on with life in the present. Donna has all those years of experience in Africa and that shapes her response to others.

* According to this year's invitation, "the annual Genocide Memorial Service began as a witness to violence committed against human beings because of wars, greed, ethnic cleansing, slavery, gender bias, colonial appropriation of people and their lands, instances of neglect and political oppression, that resulted in mass extinction of helpless men, women and children. "
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