What Do You Do with Your Brokenness?

I wrote this post in light of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and our recent attendance at the Engaging the Other conference in Bloemfontein, South Africa.  All three people in this post spoke at the conference.

Father Michael Lapsley offers closing remarks at the Engaging the Other conference.

Father Michael Lapsley offers closing remarks at the Engaging the Other conference.

What do you do with your brokenness?

Father Michael Laplsey has had to answer that question since an April morning in 1990.

That’s when the New Zealand-born priest and ANC member opened a letter bomb sandwiched between a pair of religious magazines at his home in Zimbabwe.

The blast blew off both of Lapsley’s arms and cost him the use of his right eye.

Yet, amidst the wreckage of his home and body, there was a glimmer of hope.

Had he opened the letter at a slightly different angle, it would have killed him.

For Olga Macingwane, the question has been posed since 1996.

On that day she and 16 other people were injured in a bomb set by a young right-winger, Stefaans Coetzee, to explode on Christmas Eve in her home community of Worcester.

Olga Macingwane prepares to speak at the Engaging the Other Conference.

Olga Macingwane prepares to speak at the Engaging the Other Conference.

To this day, she cannot stand for long periods of time.

As a result, she has not held a job.

Worse than that, though, was the loss of her children.

Because the bomb left her physically damaged, she was unable to give them the care they needed.

Bowing to reality, she had them move to other people’s homes.

For Marguerite Barankitse, the brokenness happened in 1993 during the civil war in Burundi.

Tied and bound naked in front of a church, she was forced to witness the murder of 72 people.

Some of the victims were her family members.

Marguerite Barankitse at the Engaging the Other conference.

Marguerite Barankitse at the Engaging the Other conference.

Others, she thought, were the seven orphans she had begun to raise after their parents had been murdered.

What do you do with your brokenness?

For Lapsley, the bomb did not slake his thirst for justice and a free, democratic and non-racial South Africa.

He redoubled his religious and political work, returned to his adopted home when permitted to do so, and testified before the Truth and reconciliation Commission.

He told the story of what happened that fateful morning.

If the person came forward and sincerely repented of his actions, of course he would grant the perpetrator forgiveness, he said.

That has not yet happened, but Lapsley’s work continues.

He’s written a book about his experiences.

He’s created the Institute for the Healing of Memories.

And he’s expanded his focus from trying to heal South Africa to heal the world.

Laplsey travels more than two-thirds of the year, carrying his message of possibility and hope to whomever he meets

For Olga Macingwane, the brokenness lead to silence and anger for more than a dozen years.

In 2009 she heard that Coetzee, after years of reflection and dialogue with imprisoned apartheid killer Eugene de Kock, wanted to meet his victims.

She agreed to meet the bomber, but did not want to speak.

That feeling didn’t change in the hours that she rode from Worcester to Pretoria, where Coetzee was being held.

But then he started to talk.

And began to cry.

Olga could see that the man truly repented of his actions and was seeking redemption.

As a Christian, she felt she had to respond.

“When I see you, I see you as my son,” she told Coetzee. “I have to forgive you.”

They hugged.

Everyone in the room wept.

Marguerite Barankitse negotiated for her life with the killers, one of whom was her cousin.

She said that she would pay them if they released her.

They consented and cut the ropes that bound her.

She was at probably the lowest part imaginable in her life.

Then she heard the orphaned children.

They had hidden in the sacristy.

“We survived so that you could raise us, Mom,” they told her.

So she did.

But she didn’t stop with them.

Maggie, as she is known, has gone on to raise tens of thousands of orphans from whatever remains of their childhood through to their adulthood.

More than 75 percent of the staff of the organization she founded are orphans she has raised.

What do you do with your brokenness?

People around the world have responded to Lapsley’s healing message.

Olga not only gave Coetzee the mother he never had while growing up in an orphanage, she helped save his life.

About 90 percent of the prisoners in Pretoria are black.

They know who the right-wing killers are.

But they also said, if Olga accepts you, we have to accept you, too.

Maggie has received the Nobel Prize for Children.

More than the international recognition, she has helped the nation as, she said, write a new page.

A page based on love, new pages that we write for humanity, she said.

In his concluding remarks at the Engaging the Other conference, Father Michael said that the experience of being a victim can lead in two directions.

In his case, as with Olga and Maggie, it lead to becoming a survivor, and, eventually, a victor.

But it can also lead to becoming a victimizer.

He also said that he believes in a day of judgment.

But he added that he does not think that God will ask whether you have ended racism in your country.

But God might ask whether, through your brokenness, you have lived in a way that has made the word more gentle, more kind and more just.

The answer for all us, he hoped, was Yes.

We know what Maggie, Olga and Father Michael are doing.

What about you?

4 responses to “What Do You Do with Your Brokenness?

  1. Just beautiful, Jeff. Thank you.

  2. Very timely, Jeff. There are many courageous loving people in this world. You are doing good stuff.

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