Ten-year-old Tung holds a sign to wish World Vision supporters around the world a very happy Christmas. photo by Le Thiem Xuan, World Vision
As this year draws to a close, the loss of lives and innocence at the Sydney Lindt Café weighs heavily on us all. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness and despair despite the traditional good cheer of the Christmas season.
It is human to focus on what has gone wrong or might go wrong; we are programed to fear disaster and want to keep our own nests safe. But it is possible to find within our own communities, as well as throughout the world, evidence of human beings overcoming adversity with strength, humour and grace. I know that throughout 2014, I have been privileged to meet on many occasions individuals and communities that are living proof of the extraordinary resilience that we are capable of as human beings, especially in the worst of times and circumstances.
In April I visited Rwanda as this nation was preparing to mark with a National Day of Mourning, the 20th anniversary of the genocide which brutally took the lives of 800,000 of its citizens. Instead of hurt and bitterness, I found hope and forgiveness. Rwandans have made the extraordinary decision to forgive each other and themselves.
Take Gaspard, who lost his parents and 10 siblings in the genocide when he was only 19 years old. Now 39, Gaspard quietly told me that he had chosen to forgive his Hutu school friend who had savagely killed some of his siblings. He remembers the pain of this enormous loss, but as he speaks there is no trace of bitterness. Gaspard who now has two children of his own, has taken to heart, like most Rwandans, Desmond Tutu’s admonition: “There is no future without forgiveness.”
In October it was 30 years since Ethiopians experienced a famine of ‘biblical proportions’ yet to visit the country today and see the extraordinarily green lush valleys that are in part the result of the work of World Vision and others who have helped Ethiopians find better ways of managing their land, is again to be reminded of humanity’s extraordinary resourcefulness and resilience.
Just this month I was humbled to return to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, to some of the areas worst affected by the Boxing Day tsunami which swept away the lives of 227,000 people ten years ago. At first it was hard to reconcile the life and laughter, children and cricket that I found in Sri Lankan towns like Galle or the bustling Asian metropolis of Banda Aceh, with the places of death and destruction I witnessed a decade ago. But as I spoke with people and heard their stories, I realised that the overwhelming generosity of Australians and indeed the world, this global outpouring of support, has made a significant difference, providing individuals and communities with the tools and opportunity to rebuild their lives, heal and move on.
These days we can, if we choose, be instantly aware of the latest developments in nations around the world yet this knowledge does not always foster hope. It is worth making the effort to look beyond the worst of the headlines for the resilience to be found in places such as Rwanda, Ethiopia and amongst tsunami survivors, as our hope and inspiration for this festive season and the new year ahead.