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Building bridges with your Enemy

This is an image I photographed at a refugee c...

Refugee from Camp in Thailand

Sitting in a coffee shop this morning, we were working through a relationship issue between Ethnic groups from the country of Burma. Here’s what we heard.

“Since 1948, the Military Junta has been ravaging our villages, killing our teachers, kidnapping our family members, and terrorizing us. Soldiers took my grandmother far up into the hills and she had to walk back. (the rest was left to our imaginations) They took my teacher,  tied his hands and feet, and used his body as a swing for the soldiers until he died in front of his little girl and pregnant wife.

They tore the face and scalp off of one villager. They burned our family home down. When you heard the dogs barking, whatever time of day or night, you knew to be afraid because the soldiers were coming. Every year about this time it was time to gather crops before the military got to them.

We had to run and hide in the jungle, and they kept us on the run, so nobody could go to school.

My mother never had a chance to go to school at all. Her life remained very simple, just fields and nature.

When she came here, the world became so big for her, but she isn’t used to it. It’s difficult for her to take it all in. Making progress in reading and writing and speaking English is slow for her.  It’s all just so much.

Can we speak to that Ethnic group people here? That is, not our Ethnic group? Well, it depends. Can we trust them? Not if they will return to our country. We don’t know why they are here, or how they got here.

If they are here to stay, we have nothing against them.”

“But you don’t talk to them,” I say. “Is it because of your mother? This would be understandable.”

“We don’t have any problems”, he states, “I just haven’t seen them in a while, and I am shy to go visit them.”

I know from others that this is not true. There has been a great rift,and long time of not speaking, many hurt feelings. A sea change in attitude since his family came to town as refugees. (We have quite personal knowledge having sponsored both extended families)

Is he in denial, I wonder?

How can we, sheltered Americans, foreign to this life of terror by day and night, possibly help bridge this gap?

Can we only cross the bridges we ourselves are responsible for building?

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