By Laura Shipler Chico
On the third
day of an Advanced HROC workshop in Ruhengeri, Rwanda, my co-facilitators
asked me to begin the day with silent worship.
It is customary for each morning of our workshops to begin with worship – usually
at least thirty minutes are devoted to singing songs of praise, reading
a relevant passage of the bible and listening to a sermon from one
of the facilitators or one of the participants. But this was the
first time my Rwandan colleagues had asked me to lead the group in
It had been an
intense two days. The twenty participants were being trained to
become Healing Companions – informal community peer
counselors who would accompany family, friends and neighbors on the
long journey from genocide to recovery. And to be effective Healing
Companions, all agreed that they needed and wanted space for their
“Will they really like the silence?” I
asked, a bit surprised at the emphatic insistence of my co-facilitators.
“Yes, yes,” said one. “It
may be hard for them. Some may cry a lot. But it will be good.”
And so we decided that we begin the day with just ten minutes of
silence and close with a simple prayer. After that, one of my colleagues
would ask the group to go around the circle and every participant
would describe what the silence had been like for him or her.
“We spend a lot of time thanking God and asking God for what
we want,” I said the next morning to introduce the session. “This
morning we are going to sit in silence and listen. We are going to
listen deeply to God.” And so we did. And then, one by one
the participants started to share what they had experienced. The
statements are paraphrased from memory, and not exact quotes.
There have been times in my life when I wish I were dead, but if
I had died before I would not have lived to have this beautiful moment.
I didn’t hear any words, but I had a problem and I felt it
tight in my chest, and during these ten minutes, I felt… He
relaxed his fingers and touched his chest, and let a deep breath
I heard God say to me, I have a plan for you. I know now that there
is a reason that I am alive.
A young man
Before, I saw that my life had no meaning. I thought that there
is no reason for me to be here. But now I hear that God has a plan
for me, that I am meant to help people.
A young woman
Again and again
this was the message – you are not nothing.
You are alive because you have something to give.
Round we went, each person sharing soothing words of deepest wisdom
that helped them find a place in their wounded world.
To be honest,
I don’t always know if I believe in God. But
in that room, on that quiet morning, I did.