The country matters. Context always matters. Each situation plays out in unique ways due to the specific circumstances in which the people find themselves and place helps shape those circumstances.
The country matters not. What my sisters and brother told me could happen – happen exactly as they described it or happen as variations on a theme – in too many countries of the world.
We sat in our conference room and they told me of human rights abuses in their country of birth. Each of them had fled for various reasons. And while they each fled to different countries first, they all ended up in New York.
At first they told horrible, but generic stories. Stories of torture, disappearance, deprivation, separation, violation. Such stories prove hard for me to read; they prove harder still to hear – to hear from sisters and a brother who know the people, the children of God, who are ill-used and abused. But out of respect for God’s children, I refuse to turn away from such stories. I read and sit in witness. Out of respect for God’s children, I refused to turn away this afternoon. I sat in witness.
Then they told the stories of their family …
… of cousins tortured …
… of brothers killed …
… of a sister repeatedly raped and finally shot …
… one bullet to the brain.
“I have two sons,” F. said as tears dribbled down her cheeks. “I do not know where my sons are. Do you know what it is like for a mother not to know where her sons are? Not to know if they are safe? Not to know what might be happe … ?” She could not finish, did not need to finish. I do not know. I can never know. I can only imagine what it might be like for a father. I can never know her pain, her grief, her anguish. I can only sit in witness, honored that she would share it with me.
Tears flowed from eight eyes.
The stories continued until they had spent their need to talk. Pain and heartache filled the silence surrounding us.
Finally, B. spoke, “But we have hope.”
And my heart cracked again. Unconquerable love breaks our hearts as surely as does unspeakable evil.
“We have hope. And we will continue to work to change things in our country.”
More tears flowed into the silence that followed but, at least for me, hope and courage and grace now danced amid the moisture on my cheeks. I wiped away the snot that clogged my nose. And somehow I had the good sense to say nothing, but simply to sit in witness.
M. broke the silence by asking me to look for ways to support them and to pray for them, for those they love, and for their country.
I did. I will. They stood to leave. We shook hands. We hugged. They left. And I remember. I pray. I write in witness. And I wonder what more I will do. To be continued …
See you along the Trail.
As I was writing this entry, a friend posted a link on Facebook to a story that spoke to me in similar ways: ‘Comfort Woman’ Activist Still Going Strong at 89. Ms. Kim Bok-dong was forced to serve as a “comfort woman” during World War II. For years, she and other survivors lived silently with their scars. But in 1991, things changed when a Japanese government official blamed the system of “comfort women” on civilians, denying any government culpability, the women broke their silence and told their stories seeking an acknowledgement of the truth in an effort to “help other victims who go through the same atrocities.” In March 2012, Ms. Kim Bok-dong founded the Butterfly Fund to aid victims of sexual violence in Congo, Afghanistan and Uganda.
Unspeakable evil and unconquerable love break my heart once again. Thank you, Yena, for sharing this story at this time and for our brief virtual chat.