Everyone has a story to tell | Daily News


Healing lessons by Rev. Michael Lapsley

Everyone has a story to tell

Almost a decade of ending the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for a separate state, Sri Lanka heightened its expectations of a better life. The country was on its path to development when Easter Sunday carnage took place once again shattering peace bringing devastation for many. Lives were lost, injured and scars were left and wounds to heal. Once again the process of healing and reconciliation became much needed and addressing this aspect and requisite for necessary healing both individually and corporately, National Christian Council of Sri Lanka invited a freedom fighter who turned himself into a healer.

Healing of Memories Programme, Founder/Director, Rev. Michael Lapsley is currently in the country respectfully listening to the survivors of Easter Sunday attack guiding them in their journey of healing. The Institute for Healing of Memories (IHOM) headed by Rev. Lapsley in Cape Town, South Africa seeks to contribute to lasting individual and collective healing that makes possible a more peaceful and just future. It strives to be a leading agent of hope, transformation and peace by empowering individuals, communities and nations through healing of memories.

“At a time when the war ended in Sri Lanka, the keen question on every mind was how the nation heals from war. `Healing of memories’was invited to come and share experiences. We have worked with Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and all religious communities. What we like to offer is a safe space where people can heal of psychological, emotional and spiritual distresses of the past. Since my last visit, horrendous terrorists’ attacks have taken place here in Sri Lanka. A part of my visit is to express sorrow, solidarity with those who were victims of that outrage,” Rev. Lapsley said.

Earlier during his visits to Sri Lanka, he has conducted over thirty workshops, facilitator trainings, meetings with inter-faith leaders and state institutions, including theological reflections in Colombo, Jaffna, Batticaloa and Galle. “When a country goes to war, it is always about the failure of politics that leads to war. Two questions come up at the end. How can a nation heal from that war? And also the question of what is the root cause of that war? If we do not deal with the root causes of the war, the seeds will grow again. How do we create an inclusive, just society for everyone? How do we heal the wounds of that war? How do we attend to the physical needs of the victims? One of the questions still haunts the country, is the disappearances that occurred during the war period, the people who have not accounted for. Those who have crossed generations are also not still attended to. These remain as oppressions,” Rev. Lapsley explained.

He also pointed out that wherever people are excluded there will be a war. “It does not matter whether it is religions, race or ethnicity but when people are not inclusive a war will begin,” he added.

Inclusive society

He pointed out that in the aftermath of a war, every community has wounds whether you are a part of the forces of the government, strategy forces or the forces opposing the government. “The very fact that the recent terrorist’s attacks were aimed at a faith community we have to focus our mind on the relationship between the faith communities. Those of us at a distance from Sri Lanka have been very disturbed by the growth of Islamophobia and the tendency to blame an entire faith community for the actions of a tiny number of people. So the issue of interfaith solidarity has a great urgency not just in Sri Lanka but across the world,” he said.

“From the beginning of healing of memories, we have sought partnerships with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians all together. It is a part of the successive leadership in the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka. We have met with Buddhist, Muslim leaders to create the much needed partnerships,” he added.

Rev. Michael Lapsley. Pictures by Shan Rambukwella

Rev. Lapsley spoke on the role of media in such a devastating situation. “The extraordinary responsibility of the media is the that you can lift up individual horror stories in such a way that it will form hatred, bitterness against individuals or you can lift up the stories of generosity, kindness, compassion of interfaith solidarity,” he said.

He pointed out Rwandan genocide as the traumatic and negative example of the role of media in the world. In 1994, the Rwandan government launched a meticulously planned genocide against its Tutsi minority, killing approximately 800,000 people in 100 days. It was a radio station that disseminated hate propaganda and prepared its listeners for the coming violence. Although many years have passed, the Rwandan genocide still has much to teach about centrality of media in cases of state violence and regulation of hate speech.

“Media has a key role in nation building and a healing of a nation. Media can turn the attention span and can keep coming back to the incident of the attack. Media should be prepared to share the good news stories, talk to politicians, police and the victims. Unfortunately there is a tendency to elevate the bad news but it should not be that way,” he stated.

“I believe that time has come for Sri Lanka for a new national conversation and that national conversation needs to be not just about politics which is important but we have to speak about the pain. When we are able to hear one another’s pain we are able to begin to experience a true form of solidarity,” Rev. Lapsley said.

He also highlighted the issue of the rise of violence in other aspects as a war concludes. “There is a great deal of evidence across the world when an armed conflict comes to an end it does not end eventually. We have seen in post conflict situations in the world an escalation of domestic, family and sexual violence. People make the mistake of failing to see the relationship between the violence that happens in the public and the violence that happens in private space and indeed people at the end of a war are filled with hatred, bitterness and often this hatred and bitterness are carried out against families,” he explained.

Healing of Memories will show how to bring change and healing not only for one generation but across many generations to create Sri Lanka of our dreams.

Life testimony

Rev. Lapsley reminded that when a terrorist attack happens, people die, people are injured and the consequences are lifelong. “When terrible things happen there is an immediate response of solidarity and generosity. Often society focuses on the solidarity for a short time. The loss the relatives or the survivors feel is lifelong so the attention has to be on long term needs,” he said.

He reveals that however bitter the situation or the experience one has gone through, healing is possible. “Our response is to reduce crisis. We promise you one step on the way to healing. We make survivors understand that it is normal to be bitter. That is a part of humanness but the terrible feelings inside are destructive. If the survivors are left stuck in a moment of history while others move on, it will not heal. Even with a great loss healing is possible. People need someone to listen to; they should be accompanied in their journey of healing. Healing is difficult but it is possible. We do not have to be victims forever,” he explained.

Rev. Lapsley holds his life story as a testimony for what he preaches. Father Michael Lapsley was born in New Zealand on June 2, 1949. He was trained as an Anglican priest in Australia, where he joined a religious community, The Society of the Sacred Mission. This organisation transferred him to South Africa in 1973. Father Lapsley served as a university chaplain at three campuses in Durban, while in South Africa. While serving as a priest, Father Lapsley became involved in politics as he felt it was his duty to speak out against the injustices of the Apartheid regime. In 1976, the Apartheid government exiled Father Lapsley for his affiliation to the African National Congress (ANC) as well as for the support of students after the 1976 student uprising. Father Lapsley then moved to Lesotho and later Harare, Zimbabwe, where he served as a chaplain in the ANC. In 1982, Father Lapsley moved from Lesotho to Zimbabwe, after the South African government launched a raid into Lesotho that killed 42 people. It was believed that Father Lapsley was one of the targets. While living in Zimbabwe, he discovered he was on a South African government hit list. On the April 28, 1990, Father Lapsley received two pieces of mail from South Africa. Included in one of the pieces of mail was a powerful letter bomb that gravely injured him. This attempt on his life was organised by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a covert organisation of the South African Government’s security apparatus. He has dedicated his life to helping others deal with the suffering and scars inflicted by oppressive regimes.

“People have asked me how I survived, and my only answer is that somehow, in the midst of the bombing, I felt that God was present. I also received so many messages of love and support from around the world that I was able to make my bombing redemptive – to bring life out of death, good out of evil,” he said.

“Quite early on after the bomb I realised that if I was filled with hatred and desire for revenge I would be a victim forever. If we have something done to us, we are victims. If we physically survive, we are survivors. Sadly, many people never travel any further than this. I did travel further, going from victim to survivor, to victor. To become a victor is to move from being an object of history to become a subject once more. That is not to say that I will not always grieve what I’ve lost, because I will permanently bear the marks of disfigurement. Yet I believe I’ve gained through this experience. I realise that I can be more of a priest with no hands than with two hands,” Rev. Lapsley added.

Rev. Lapsley hopes to continue his work to support those who have suffered as they struggle to have their stories recognized. “Everybody has a story to tell. There should be respectful listeners to listen to their stories, to heal and restore life,” he concluded.

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