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Sunday, 03 December 2006 00:00

We can heal the wounds - by Richard Naidu (fijitimes)

We Can Heal the Wounds

Richard Naidu
(posted on www.fijitimes.com 03 Dec 2006)

He may have lost both his hands and an eye, yet by becoming a facilitator of healing for others, Father Michael Lapsley is, as he describes himself, a victor.

Father Lapsley’s decade-and-a-half-long activism against South African apartheid, both from within and outside that State could have ended in him living the rest of his life bitter and a victim when in 1990, a letter bomb delivered to him in Harare, Zimbabwe, from the then South African Government destroyed his hands, an eye, and left his eardrums shattered, among other injuries.
Yet today, this physically-impaired, soft spoken Anglican priest takes a probing challenge that he believes must be genuinely answered for healing and reconciliation to take place in nations that have experienced conflict.

He believes individuals in such countries must be allowed to deal with how they have been affected by their nation’s past, so that both, they and their nation, can break free from the past and move forward.
And, they must do so moving away from a purely intellectual understanding and interpretation of the past, and bare their hearts to reveal often deeply buried emotions and scars so healing can begin to take place.

Such a framework is provided for in workshops conducted by the South Africa-based Institute for the Healing of Memories, which Father Lapsley helped to launch in Cape Town in 1998, after repatriating to South Africa in 1992.
New Zealand-born, Father Lapsley first moved to South Africa in 1973 and served as the National Chaplain of Anglican Students while attending university in Durban. He was later expelled from the country by the then apartheid government “due to his political and social organising efforts”.

Until the letter bomb in 1990, he had lived in exile in Lesotho, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe and had become a member of the African National Congress, while conducting an ecumenical program of popular education about apartheid and destabilisation under the auspices of the Lutheran World Federation.

The institute, set up after his return to South Africa in its post-apartheid era, is a response to the “emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds that are inflicted on nations, communities and individuals by wars, repressive regimes, human rights abuses and other traumatic events or circumstances”.
It’s healing of memories workshops are “a small but powerful step towards healing the wounds of the past”.

A group of about 36 members of Fiji’s military, police and prisons service personnel attended one such workshop in Suva two weeks ago. It was held in response to specific requests from the military and the police to help participants deal with the trauma they experienced during the 2000 coup.

Father Lapsley said as was often the case; participants went from being apprehensive about how to share the painful, to appreciating the concept of healing of memories.
“Among the recommendations was that it would be wonderful if this kind of thing could go right through the disciplined forces and in fact roll down to the different sectors of the country,” he said.

“The major complaint seemed to be that they hadn’t had this kind of workshop earlier –– that it would have helped in the healing process if they had been given the opportunity to work through what happened immediately after the events of 2000. There were many within the disciplined forces who had deeply traumatic experiences and never had the opportunity to work through them,” he said.

“If you have in you rage, bitterness, hatred etc and you are a member of the disciplined forces, perhaps the only place where those feelings will be expressed would be in the bedroom, in intimate space. And there are many situations where terrible things have happened in society, including violence. And the violence comes to an end, but not in the bedroom. So for all those reasons for the sake of family, the sake of the individual, for the sake of the nation ––it’s very important. 

The workshops feature a key element in Father Lapsley’s own journey to recovery –– that “every story needs a listener”.
While he received the best medical care, “of equal importance was that I was prayed for, I was loved and supported by people all over the world”, he said.

“My own story was acknowledged, reverenced, recognised, given a moral content. People said ‘what happened to you was wrong’. Often the victim is blamed for being the victim and it’s important that the moral order is restored and it’s asserted that what happened to the victim was wrong and not that what the victim has done was wrong.”
Thus, the power of the workshops lies in their storytelling model. 

Over a two-and-a-half day period, participants share their stories in groups of five to six people, which gives them the opportunity to have their pain heard and acknowledged –– elements Father Lapsley said were necessary in the path to healing.
“People have this poison in them and if there is to be healing, there has to be storytelling and a letting go of that which is poisonous and painful. We make very modest claims for what we can do. And in a sense we can’t do anything. We create the space where healing can take place,” he said. In the Christian tradition, Jesus said he came for the sick, not the healthy. So it’s in the acceptance of the truth, that ‘yes, I do have a dimension of brokenness, incompleteness’, then there’s a possibility of healing.”

In the South African experience, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) provided apartheid victims with an avenue for telling their stories, as well as making reparations, as a way to bring about national reconciliation.
“One of the important things in our TRC in South Africa was that it acknowledged and recognised all communities, the pain of all sides of the conflict. It doesn’t help if one sector’s pain’s heard but another’s is not. If there is such a commission, the way it is conducted, the balance of its role, the integrity of those who lead it, the fairness, the balance will be very important elements,” Father Lapsley said.

He said while each society had to find what would be an appropriate means of bringing about reconciliation, “what’s important is that if there is a process towards national reconciliation, there has to be a buy-in from the key stakeholders. You can’t have a process where one party says this is what you should do, but the other party that you want to reconcile doesn’t play”.

A joint initiative between the Ministry of National Reconciliation, New Zealand AID and the New Zealand government, Father Lapsley’s work in Fiji is set to continue into 2007.
“I have not come to say to the nation, ‘this is what you must do’. What I can do is share my life story and what I’ve learnt from other hurting people in other parts of the world. I think the ability to contribute is because in the end, we are one human family and what we’re capable of in our ugliness is the same as in our beauty we’re capable of as human beings.
“That’s the basis on which we’re able to say something to each other across the world and be of encouragement to each other in this journey towards healing and peace.”