We are in the midst of very strange times and we hope that you are safe and well wherever you are.
However, we hope you would be interested to know that the work of Touch of Hope is still continuing, and would like to know our future plans.
I went to Osijek on March 4th travelling on an empty plane to Munich and a half full plane to Zagreb. The main purpose of the visit was to lead a weekend interactive workshop at the Red Cross Centre in Orahovica for the group which came to Nuneaton just over a year ago. Orahovica is a beautiful little town set in wonderful countryside just one hour from Osijek. The Centre always has immaculate lawns! It is wonderfully equipped with a swimming pool and it is one of my favourite places to meet. Joining me was our ‘new’ but not so new co-worker Snjezana Kovacevic. Nena Arvaj who has been our co-worker for a very long time is now working full time at Osijek hospital and cannot be our co-worker now. We thank her for her commitment and expertise. However, she did come to the workshop and helped with translation.
Snjezana was one of the first workshop leaders going right back to Bench we Share days and worked with us for a long time before leaving for new work. So, it is really good that she is ‘back’ with us in Touch of Hope.
The workshop plan was first to recall the UK visit in terms of mind, body and spirit. The ‘highlight’ for them all was the meeting with Jo Berry and Pat Magee and the discussion we had about forgiveness and reconciliation. The visits to Coventry Cathedral and Nuneaton Mosque were greatly appreciated. They loved staying with their hosts and wished they could have had more time with them. It was a time of learning and spiritual renewal. They realised too that their perception of English people being ‘cold’ is entirely erroneous!
Secondly, we played with LEGO! We used LegoR Serious PlayR, a resource which helps people to translate thoughts, feelings and ideas into working creatively with the LEGO bricks. The group expressed the issues in their own communities and how they were going to tackle them through LEGO.
Thirdly, we asked group members to imagine he or she was on their way to a Touch of Hope workshop when suddenly they get caught in a downpour of rain. Each person finds him or herself sheltering from the rain in company with a stranger who asks, ‘What on earth is Touch of Hope?’ The small group task was to say in just five minutes ‘what is Touch of Hope?’ One group said, Touch of Hope runs a series of workshops on which we discuss together about our wounds, about health, forgiveness and about reconciliation. The focus is on individuals who are able to share their experience of healing and to be channels of healing in their own communities.
One of the Croatian participants Matej, said after the weekend,’ when I was born, the hospital doctors made a mistake and caused my bad vision. I had to fight for equality in society since childhood. At school I experienced peer violence. I have never given up and tried to show other people that I’m not so different. The second challenge in my life was coexistence with Serbian people. Today I’m trying to apply all things that I learned on the Touch of Hope workshops.’
PLANS FOR FUTURE WORK
1 Whilst in Osijek Snjezana and I met with Damir, the President of the Association of victims of Serbian Concentration camps. We plan to offer to the Association our first course of workshops which explores Health and Healing, Communication skills, Identity, Wounds, Forgiveness and Reconciliation. We plan to start in the Autumn.
2 It was great to have two recently trained facilitators, Evica from Beli Manastir Croatia and Anita from Novi Sad Serbia working with us in Orahovica. We plan to have an ongoing Continuous Professional Development workshop for recently trained facilitators on the theme of Handling conflict, both external and internal.
3 We continue to encourage new facilitators. We plan to hold workshops to equip new facilitators to lead workshop activities.
4 We plan to hold a reunion next year to mark 25 years of my initial visit to Osijek in 1996. The reunion will be for all those who have been on Bench we Share and/or Touch of Hope workshops. We tried to arrange the reunion for this year but could not find suitable dates and then COVID 19……
CHANGES AT CFR
CFR is combining with Red Letter Christians UK and Newbigin School for Urban Leadership to develop the work of reconciliation in the UK and worldwide. The centre Barnes Close is being refurbished and renamed ‘The Green House’ with a fresh vision for it to become the place to belong for growing leaders into fullness of life. The renewed centre plans to re-open on May 14th. The Green House will continue to host reconciliation initiatives and provide training with college and university partners. The new CfR Community Co-ordinator will be Rev Dr Ash Barker succeeding Rev Ian Ring. Michelle and Ollie Chavez are the new ‘The Green House’ wardens.
Rev Clive Fowle
Updated June 2021
Thoughts on Reconciliation fromm Jan Scott of Community for Reconciliaation
Some thoughts on Reconciliation
I have been part of the Community for Reconciliation (CfR) for nearly 30 years and Chair of Trustees for nearly 8 years. For a small organization we are quite complex and it is not easy to say in a few words what we are about – CfR is different things to different people. You may have visited Barnes Close, the home of CfR. But CfR is much more than that. A recent review of our overseas work was very encouraging. Projects in Romania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and previously India are well supported. But you know most about Footprints and the fact that you are reading this is demonstration of your support for the work that Clive Fowle and others have been doing in the former Yugoslavia for many years. I recently visited Croatia and Serbia as part of a small group led by Clive and Inderjit Bhogal and just over a year ago I visited our partners in Kenya and Rwanda. So what have I learned about reconciliation in these and other travels?
Relationships are broken in many situations – between individuals within family life, in churches and in society at local, national and international levels. Reconciliation is positive but often costly. It involves finding a creative way forward where there are differences; healing where there is hurt; opposing injustice and working for peace. We therefore seek reconciliation within ourselves, between each other, and between God and us. At the heart of this is the costly sacrifice of Jesus, bringing about our reconciliation to God.
While it can be summed up in a short paragraph, the outworking of reconciliation is varies in different contexts. There are however, common themes.
My visit to Rwanda, just over 20 years after the genocide came the same week as the Africa Leaders were meeting in Kigali. Security was tight as planes came and went bearing various Heads of State. (You will remember that the genocide was prompted by the shooting down, over Kigali, of a plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in 1994.) However my first impressions of Rwanda, having previously spent two weeks in Kenya, were of a clean, quiet country with many new buildings. Yes, there are poor areas are Kigali, but nothing on the scale of the slums around Nariobi. I was told that it was safe for me to walk to the shops and cafes of the central business district on my own - in daylight. This was not the case in Nairobi where the Catholic Retreat House where I stayed was surrounded by high walls and a big gate manned by at least one security guard. I was advised not to venture out, not even to the market a couple of blocks away. I was driven everywhere. Having visited Kenya in my 20s and, with a couple of (female) friends wandered around wherever we fancied, this came as an unpleasant surprise.
So back to Kigale, where I was welcomed by a group of young women learning to sew. At the end of their course they will have a skill and with some business support and a smattering of English they will be able to earn a living. These are girls born around the time of the genocide, often as a result of rape, with no family support. They were interested in my family and when one discovered I have a son in his 20s, did her best to convince me that she would be an ideal wife for him!
At Rukumbura, a small village, an hour’s drive from Kigale, I was welcomed by a group of women singing and dancing. They showed me their banana plantation, rainwater harvesting, bee hives, sewing and carpentry classes - all set up with overseas support. CfR has recently sent them money to buy 30 goats. All these resources are for the benefit of the whole community - not just those who are able to work. The majority of adults are living with AIDS as well as the psychological trauma of past events. When I asked whether they get fed up of well-meaning, middle-aged, white women visiting, they replied “No, it makes us feel safe.”
There are many villages like Rukumbura. Our partners in Rwanda have facilitated countless mediation workshops and other projects in the last 20 years. Is this very different from those workshops led by Clive and Judith in Croatia? Probably not. However, I was struck by the Government’s decision to release thousands of perpetrators of the genocide from prison - the prisons were far too full and those who had killed less than 100 people - deemed to be lesser criminals - were sent back to their villages. There, they were tried in the Gacaca Courts and now live alongside the families of their victims. Such prisoners, doing community service, keep the city and countryside clean and tidy. One important element of the Reconciliation Workshops is that everyone eats together. This is initially a problem as each side is convinced that the other will poison them - they refuse to eat and to speak, until with prayer and patience one person will share their experience and another will say that her experience was similar. Gradually they all share and eat together.
It is estimated that about 90% of Rwandans will say that they are Christians, and the church has considerable influence. Communities meet regularly for worship, prayer and teaching. Undoubtedly there has been a vast amount of healing and reconciliation, however . . . remember I mentioned a plane crash in 1994 was the catalyst that started 100 days of killing. Within hours of the crash, road blocks were set up and guns were readily available. All was prepared in advance for this genocide. Did no-one see it coming? Did no-one try to stop it? What did the churches do? Where was God in all this? Can we prevent something similar happening again? What is our responsibility?
In the Genocide Memorial in Kigale, there are displays of other such conflicts around the world, including the former Yugoslavia and the Holocaust. I believe we must be prayerful and vigilant - and ready to speak up or to act when necessary.
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