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A letter from Burkhard Paetzold in Germany

Spring 2014

 “Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith.  Where there is despair, hope.  Where there is darkness, light. And where there is sadness, joy” (St. Francis of Assisi).

“As part of World Mission’s call to address violence around the world, we invite individuals and congregations to consider engaging more deeply in God’s work of reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own. Reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel message” (http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/call-mission/reconciliation/).

Dear Friends,

Peace be with you! Let me first and foremost thank you for your continuing support and prayer.

Eszter Dani, Director of the Mission Department of the Reformed Church in Hungary (left) and Eamon Anderson social worker and researcher from Missoula/Montana at the Child Trauma conference in Berekfürdö/Hungary Feb 14-16, 2014

It is Lent, and fasting means turning to God, to give up on our self-made idols, our black-and-white misconceptions, and free ourselves. It means learning about where we are unreconciled with Him within our communities and with our neighbors near and far. So please join us in prayer for peace, reconciliation and healing. And encouraged by this prayer, join us to act as peacemakers.

Our prayers are needed in so many places: from Syria and Afghanistan to South Sudan and Ukraine.  In my part of the world, churches in Ukraine and across Europe are praying with us for peace. (See a Statement of the Ukrainian Council of Churches on the decision of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine.)

We need to reflect on where our lives are still unreconciled and where we continue to live in outdated Cold War patterns. You know from the news that following regime change in Ukraine, a change that expressed hopes to develop closer relationships with Western Europe but also strengthened Ukrainian ultra-nationalism, Russia has deployed troops into the Crimea. And tensions have also been rising since in Eastern Ukraine, a region traditionally close to Russia.  Moscow’s actions are totally unacceptable, pressure by military force is not a means to create or sustain peace, and the EU and the U.S. have warned Russia, using diplomatic channels for negotiations as well as sanctions.

Please pray for de-escalation and rethink our own prejudices and participation in cultures of violence and injustice. Pray for the wisdom of our political leaders to seek peace, and not to cut communications, as if this could be a useful means of sanction.

  • •    How much do we know about Kiev as the identity-building place for both Russians and Ukrainians?  It contains the founding state and the related founding narratives of Russians, Byelorussians and Ukrainians.
    •    How much do we know about the history of this conflict over the last 150 years, a history that includes religious conflict?  The Crimean War (1853-56)…the struggle between the Great Powers of the day, Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire against Tsarist Russia... some 800,000 died, almost half from disease—at least as many fatalities as in the American Civil War.  (See "The 160-Year Christian History Behind What's Happening in Ukraine.")
  • •    How much do we know about the historic trauma inflicted by Stalin in his effort to forcefully relocate minorities during the Soviet era and about the devastating impact of World War II on both Ukrainians and Russians?  (See Wikipedia: "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.") I want my own country of Germany, the violent wager of war 70 years ago, to now become a peacemaker.
  • •    How much do we know about the failed economic transition when those who once had power and prestige at the time of breakup of the U.S.S.R. become oligarchs and turned the newly created countries that badly needed democracy into autocracies? And, how much did our Western system take advantage of cheap oil and gas available due to lack of democracy, but also due to monopolistic economic developments?
  • •    And, how much do we know about the economic decline of these post-Soviet states?  We may read the PC(USA)'s mission co-worker Eric Hinderliter’s newsletter about his research program together with students from former Soviet states. 

Elisabeth Searles with Burkhard at the Child Trauma Symposium in Tulcea/Romania Feb 21-23

Some 10 years ago LCC (Lithuanian Christian College) invited students from former Soviet states to study in Klaipeda. Writes Eric, "Today just over half the LCC student body comes from these countries; students from Ukraine are about 15 percent of all LCC students.  And LCC’s Russian student contingent is nearly as large."

Young students are proud of the rich heritage of their home countries, but at the same time they learn how not to repeat the mistakes of their fathers and grandfathers looking for divisions where reconciliation is needed.

Facing the current crisis and taking advantage of both Ukrainians and Russians studying at the same university (LCC), they developed a forum to discuss the economic situation in Ukraine.

"While there was confusion and suspicion about the origins of the conflict in Ukraine," Eric wrote, "an equal amount of openness to learning about the realities of history and the ambiguous nature of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in complex economic, political and historical relations was evident.  Peace, we believe, requires both goodwill and understanding of the ‘other’ party."  

Doug and Elisabeth Searles with Burkhard at the Child Trauma Symposium in Tulcea/Romania Feb 21-23

 "Russia's socio-economic model limits its capacity to act as a pole of attraction for Ukraine. As a result, Russia relies on its national myths to devise narratives and projects intended to bind Ukraine in a 'common future' with Russia and other post-Soviet states" (Chatham House briefing paper). 

Historic trauma moves like a "ghost" through history.  We know of the genocide in Armenia, in Rwanda, in Cambodia and we know it from Sinti and Roma, Jews, and, yes, from the story of American Indians.  And, there are many more.  Any war (like World War II in Russia and Ukraine and many other territories) adds to the number of traumatized people. Today we know historic trauma spans generations.  Research has been done, but we need practical tools.

We see only the surface of the results of trauma. A Canadian visitor in Ukraine once said to me, “I don't understand why people here are so mean to each other; and it seems as if their negative image of the future becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Together with the Reformed Church in Hungary and with NOROC in Tulcea, Romania, the PC(USA) prepared and sponsored two conferences on Children with Trauma.  The first took place on Feb 14-16, 2014, in Berekfürdö, Hungary, and a week later the second was in Tulcea. (See the final report of Carolyn Otterness for Hungary and Liz Searles for Romania.)

Our keynote speaker was Eamon Anderson, a social worker and trauma specialist from the University of Montana. Eamon works as a researcher and social worker with American Indians and attends First Presbyterian Church in Missoula, Montana. She also has lived four years in a Roma village in Romania. She is thus able to compare both situations. We met Eamon a year ago when Ellen Smith invited her as the keynote speaker to a similar conference in Smolensk, Russia. (see Ellen's and my mission letters of spring 2013.)

Let me share a few of my impressions:

Eamon addresses the root causes and the symptoms of trauma. She focuses on simple tools and training for those who are not psychologists, but for those who work with or encounter traumatized kids.

Eamon looks for elements that constitute resiliency. Where we traditionally look at deficits (What is wrong with that child!!) we need rather to look at strengths (What are the kid's own resources that are helping him or her to survive?) In cultures like post-communist Romania, this approach would be a major paradigm shift. So the audience was excited about this opening, an opening that creates energy for change.

And, Eamon continues:  Our role and biggest action as grounded people is to actively listen and thus allow others to talk about their trauma, and in response we should be able to say, "I'm sorry about what happened to you" and "It is not your fault."

Eamon speaks about her experience and work with American Indians, but anyone here can relate as if she is speaking about traumatized Roma children.  

I am reminded of another prayer request. Please join Presbyterian Women again in their “Prayer and Thanksgiving for the Roma 2013” by downloading their prayer material and learning about their situation.  And please in particular pray for traumatized children.

Finally, let me thank you again for the opportunity to serve in Central and Eastern Europe and with the Roma people. Your support, encouragement and prayers mean a great deal. I hope you will continue to encourage and support me and my ministry in the years ahead.

Blessings and peace to you,
Burkhard

The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 312
Read more about Burkhard Paetzold's ministry
Write to Burkhard Paetzold
Individuals:  Give online to E200392 for Burkhard Paetzold's sending and support
Congregations: Give to D506900 for Burkhard Paetzold's sending and support

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  • Burkhard, Thank you for your inspiring words. We keep the Prayer and Thanksgiving printouts on our reading table to assist in keeping the Roma close to our hearts. Peace and love, Judy and Bernie by Judy and Bernie McKee on 04/10/2014 at 6:07 p.m.

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