Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jean Paul Samputu: Planting the seeds of peace

'If you don't forgive, it will destroy you' singer and Rwandan Ambassador for Peace said in Canada last fall.

Jean Paul Samputu's former neighbor and childhood friend - in 1994 - murdered Jean Paul's father and mother as well as three of his brothers and a sister during the Rwandan massacre/genocide of minority Tutsis by majority Hutus. The United Nations estimates 800,000 people died. Other groups state varying numbers. And of course the tragedy was much more than numbers killed and includes tensions and trauma which continue today.

In a dramatic turnabout - finally - Samputu approached the killer of his family members and talked to him. The pair now travel together in Africa, talking to people, both Hutu and Tutsi.

We need them - so urgently - to speak throughout our hurting revenge-filled world.

NOTE: I pulled the following short piece together from several sources - let me know if you have others about Samputu or people like him - and any suggestions , corrections or additions. While this post is way too short to do the story justice - you can look up today's BBC transcript-audio later today! This man, like so many in The Journey, is a true hero for our day.

Yesterday I was haunted all day and into the night by the following terrible story I believe to be actual since it comes from a friend who's made many missions of peace into the Occupied Territories. It was sent with the title, "Sopie's Choice" which some of you will recognize as a story about a similar holocaust event.

From the introduction: "I received the following letter written by my friend a Jewish-American woman who founded the Middle East Children's Alliance, a great organization to contribute to if you can ( Her account turned my stomach: January 23, 2009 'Dear A, I entered the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night with my friend and fellow activist Sharon Wallace after waiting ten hours at the Egypt/Gaza border. The destruction and trauma is even greater than I expected.

'Out of all the devastation I have seen so far, there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to "give as a gift to Israel."

'As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her.

'Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her. The concept of "Jewish morality" is truly dead. We can be fascists, terrorists, and Nazis just like everybody else.' "

(back to me, Connie) So, naturally I was haunted all day and slept only a little and most fitfully...Of course, this will be one story among any number I've read or heard during the last terrible weeks of the Gaza massacre which just won't let me go-- These include a few incidents of Hamas violence, reminders of so many like acts of brutality in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere - some encouraged or aided by US.

Personally, I have an unusually heavy feeling these days of absolute powerlessness to help such women, parents, innocents and understandably not so innocent ones -- in various places --with their grieving.

What can we do? What can I do? Yet I must do something...all of us in the US and those who want peace in Israel and the middle east-- MUST do something that will plant the seeds of peace. We must act collectively and with Divine Love as an oft hidden yet sometimes noticed ruling dynamic in the universe -- that of compassion and peace -- to help save other children Palestinians, Pakistanis, Afghanistanis, Israelis -- from such horrific deaths and sights.

Sometimes my meager writing seems so small...even in terms of my own family and neighborhood. (I live near a small town mini-ghetto of sorts -- yet it is not unlike the one I lived in in South Central LA, California USA as a child..)

As I tried to get sleepy, last night, I read a helpful piece that we all need a mission - a purpose in life - or we die. This mission must usually go beyond our own smaller while important family & our routine obligations - in order to connect us with our ultimate "calling" and to give us, most of us, a purpose encompassing enough to help us overcome the many obstacles which people so oft give into which may end in depression, despair or worse. (Some of the quotes were from Victor Frankl who survived the camps of the holocaust of WWII and became a noted psychiatrist. Frankl's redeeming purpose was to live to tell his story to the world, which he did.)

During the reading of the "helpful piece" mentioned above, I recognized that frequently lately I have been sensing a temporarily disconnect from a catalyzing mission, a sense of incompetence, impotence and the paralysis of silence.

I slept fitfully. Then, early this am the BBC radio awakened me with a unique song - one which tugged at my soul. This was Samputu's voice -- who reminded me that many others in many small and large ways, do indeed have a very urgent message and purpose for the world today. And we have mentors and role models to guide is. Jean Paul Samputu is so obviously our brother, although he lives so far away.

Look him up on BBC soon for this day in the archives. There should soon be a transcript-audio available.

Who knows, he may also be available through World Vision Canada or some other way as a powerful speaker and musician who's singing tugs at the heart. Why don't we see if we can bring him and his friend turned killer turned friend to our various conflict-driven places to help plant seeds of peace for future generations?
Jean Paul Samputu was caught up in the horrific Rwandan Genocide and has suffered much to come to the place where he can now so freely tell and sing his story.

The hatred Jean Paul Samputu had for the neighbour and best friend who killed his parents and four of his siblings was eating him alive. He turned to alcohol and much more.

Samputu, a 46-year-old Tutsi, said the killer, who served a 12-year prison sentence, had been his next door neighbour and a childhood friend. "It took me nine years before I forgave him. During that time I became an alcoholic and a drug abuser," Samputu said when he spoke in Canada last autumn. According to a Canadian paper, The Gazette, Samputu told how after nine years he became sober and realized the anger he was holding on to was no way to honour his dead loved ones. He also said he finally began to consider the well-being of his own wife and three children.

He does not believe in any one church, but he has said that his admiration for Jesus Christ led to much of the transformation that followed. "If I had not been healed I would have passed this hatred to my children and they would carry it on."

Samputu also credits his father legacy and memory with his willingness to forgive.

In Canada last September, Samputu noted a current Canadian tragedy: The fatal shooting by police of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva in Montreal North - and the riots that followed the next day. These reveal fresh lines of resentment between racial and ethnic communities and the Montreal police, he said. Both sides in the debate need to search for common areas of understanding, or suspicion will grow into something much worse, Jean Paul warned. (We in the US should take sober heed!)

The Rwandan singer and peace activist spoke on Mount Royal Canada for the International Day of Peace. Samputu went as an ambassador for peace with World Vision Canada 2008 when he helped mark the International Day of Peace.

When Samputu spoke with the BBC reporter, he said his father - were he here today - would have said in no uncertain terms never to revenge or kill.

Jean Paul said, "Generations carry the wounds of unforgiveness. Future peace depends on us..."

"There is too much anger and fear. You have to forgive. If you don't forgive, it's going to destroy you.

"We must ask: 'What can we do to prevent this in the future?"
"The image of the enemy is a moral and political burden because you are negotiating with someone whom only yesterday you called a...a murderer... You promised your followers that this person would be severely punished as a reward for the oppression they had lived through. Your followers, meanwhile, are telling you justice requires punishment. They ask: "How can you negotiate and talk to a person who is responsible for all the disasters of our people? ....I AM NEGOTIATING BECAUSE I HAVE CHOSEN THE LOGIC OF PEACE and abandoned the logic of war. This means my enemy of yesterday must become my partner. He may still be my opponent but he is an opponent within peace..."

Adam Michnik - Polish Activist

NOTE: I found this quote by Michnik on the site for The Parents Circle
here We, the Palestinian and Israeli Members of the PCFF, Bereaved Families Supporting Reconciliation and Peace - Make This Urgent Appeal -
"It Won't Stop Until We Talk"

Take a look - certainly if you are for peace and deep listening, you'll admit this group is certainly making a lot of strides in the right direction, no?


Connie L. Nash said...
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Connie L. Nash said...

By whatever coincidence, the Gaza story and this story of the Rwandan who forgave BOTH involve the murder of FIVE innocent people.

Not mentioning this for proof of anything - just that sometimes life has a way of embedding certain juxtapositions into our memory, our reflection...