We explored the impact of Bible-based trauma healing in our Summer 2018 issue of Words for Life. Here we hear about the impact trauma healing course is having in the turmoil of the Middle East.

My name is Ra­jiya. It means ’hope’. I live in the Mid­dle East, and I am a Chris­t­ian, a Chaldean Chris­t­ian. My peo­ple have been liv­ing in this re­gion for many, many gen­er­a­tions, and we are known to some as As­syr­ian Chris­tians. Our Church holds to a long, ven­er­a­ble tra­di­tion.

In the course of the last two years I lost hope. The mil­i­tant Is­lamic group known as Da’esh (also known as Islamic State or ISIS) has been wreak­ing havoc across our land. They have been kid­nap­ping my peo­ple, dri­ving us from our vil­lages and killing us. Many of my peo­ple have fled to Turkey and then by boat to Eu­rope, risk­ing their lives and their liveli­hoods to es­cape the terror.

My body was intact, but internally I was torn apart

I stayed in my home coun­try, and ended up in a ma­jor city, along with thou­sands of oth­ers who had been up­rooted from their homes. My body was still in­tact, but in­ter­nally I was torn apart. My spirit wept, but I could not find the tears. It was then that I made con­tact with the As­syr­ian Aid So­ci­ety, and they put me in touch with a lady called Mi­rah who was run­ning a trauma heal­ing group. The pur­pose of this group was to help me and peo­ple like me, to re­store our hope, and also to help us help oth­ers, to re­store their hope. There were 44 of us in the group, about half women and half men, about half lo­cal Chaldean Chris­tians and about half for­eign­ers. I was sur­prised to see the for­eign­ers there, but they too had suf­fered trauma from liv­ing in my coun­try while try­ing to help my people.

There were many other sur­prises. First, Mi­rah and the other lead­ers used the Bible as their main text­book. We Chaldeans have al­ways been Chris­tians, but we gen­er­ally don’t read the Bible. Mi­rah took the Bible se­ri­ously. Now, af­ter this heal­ing group, I do too. A sec­ond sur­prise is that Mi­rah and the oth­ers did not give lec­tures. We were all di­vided into small groups and we had to talk to one an­other. I found this very dif­fi­cult at first, es­pe­cially given the fact that there were men in the same group, men who were my el­ders. We were all ex­pected to con­tribute to the dis­cus­sion, so I could not sim­ply sit there as would nor­mally be ex­pected of a younger woman. It was eas­ier when we women were put to­gether in one group – but I’ll come to that later.

If God loves us why do we suffer?

The heal­ing group com­bined psy­chol­ogy with Scrip­ture. On the first day we looked at the ques­tion, ‘If God loves us why do we suf­fer?’ We were each given a copy of the Bible in Ara­bic, and Mi­rah helped us find cer­tain sto­ries in the Bible to help us an­swer this ques­tion. For ex­am­ple, we looked at Jesus and how he had com­pas­sion on the crowds of peo­ple. We then looked at how the ‘wounds of our hearts’ can be healed. Again we looked at Jesus and also at some of the Psalms. My heart had been wounded, and as we looked at these pas­sages from the Bible and dis­cussed them with one an­other, I be­gan to feel more comfortable.

In an­other of the ses­sions we took our pains to the cross of Jesus. We re­flected and prayed. We each thought about the pains and prob­lems we were car­ry­ing and we wrote some of them down on pieces of pa­per. I do not know what the oth­ers wrote, and they do not know what I wrote be­cause when we were ready we tore up the pieces of pa­per, the pieces of pa­per on which we’d writ­ten down our prob­lems and pains, put them in a box, and that was the last we saw of them. This was a mov­ing and sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence for me, and I told Mi­rah that.

Middle Eastern women queue at a checkpoint (Photo by Michael Loadenthal)

The other ac­tiv­ity that stands out to me is when we Ara­bic-speak­ing women were in a group to­gether. There were about 10 of us. The Ara­bic-speak­ing men formed an­other group, and then the Eng­lish-speak­ing women and the Eng­lish-speak­ing men. I do not know what the other groups talked about, but what we talked about was rape and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Yes, some of us had suf­fered both. Our con­ver­sa­tion was quite an­i­mated, and I en­gaged fully in the dis­cus­sion. Mi­rah had given us some verses from the Bible, mainly from the Psalms. As a re­sult of our dis­cus­sion we wrote a good long list of things that we, as Chaldean women, wanted to share with the men in our lives.

At the end of the week Mi­rah gave each of us a cer­tifi­cate so that we could hold heal­ing groups our­selves and train oth­ers to do so to. She has asked each of us to lead two groups in the next eight months. As I in­ter­acted with other peo­ple in the city, up­rooted like me and dumped here, I could see in them the pain and the scars that I had had be­fore the heal­ing group. I am gath­er­ing a group of women to­gether, in­clud­ing some Mus­lims, and we will have a heal­ing group, talk­ing to­gether and shar­ing the Bible to­gether, and I pray that they will find heal­ing too.

Bringing healing to others

My hus­band also re­ceived a cer­tifi­cate and we led a Scrip­ture-based heal­ing group to­gether. It was for Yazidis who had fled from Da’esh. These Yazidis fol­low their own an­cient re­li­gion but I was amazed to see how will­ing they were to read the Bible and ac­cept what it said as valu­able for their own lives and rel­e­vant to their own ex­pe­ri­ences. As for my­self, I ex­pe­ri­enced a kind of in­ner com­fort as I saw other peo­ple re­cov­er­ing from their trauma be­cause of me and be­cause of the help I of­fered them.

About eight months af­ter the orig­i­nal heal­ing group where I had re­ceived both train­ing and heal­ing, some of us who had at­tended that group came back to­gether again in the same ho­tel. Dur­ing this sec­ond event we each had the opportunity to share the joys and suc­cesses we had ex­pe­ri­enced while lead­ing heal­ing groups for oth­ers. Not every­one had led heal­ing groups like my hus­band and I had, but some had led sev­eral groups. One As­syr­ian Catholic who led a group with fel­low Catholics told us, ‘In the be­gin­ning the train­ing was not ac­cepted be­cause the par­tic­i­pants thought it was man­aged by evan­ge­lists, but once they had be­gun the course they re­al­ised that it brought them closer to the Bible.’

Forgiveness

The trauma heal­ing course is made up of a num­ber of lessons. Each day, we talked about one of the lessons, and any­one who had led that les­son in their own trauma heal­ing group shared what went well and what did not. I think all of us found Les­son 9, which is on for­give­ness, to be the most help­ful. Many of us had seen how the les­son helped peo­ple un­der­stand that for­give­ness means God’s for­give­ness to us and our for­give­ness to oth­ers, and that for­giv­ing an abuser frees the abused per­son from anger and bit­ter­ness.

One per­son in our group said, ‘I reached the con­vic­tion through this les­son that re­venge on the abuser does not bring a so­lu­tion. On the con­trary, it will com­pli­cate the prob­lem. Real for­give­ness is the best so­lu­tion to all prob­lems. For me, my per­sonal view to­ward those who harmed us was changed, as now I can for­give the abuse they have done and I even ask the Lord to guide them to the right path. At the same time I keep my right to sue them ac­cord­ing to the law.’

People seem changed 

I was glad to no­tice how many of the peo­ple in our group seemed changed since the first meet­ing. At that time many seemed sus­pi­cious of each other. We would not all join in the singing. It was ob­vi­ous that the for­eign­ers lead­ing the group did not know much about our tra­di­tions for pray­ing and singing. This time we were glad to help them more and every­one was will­ing to join in their for­eign singing, as well as have more peo­ple vol­un­teer to sing in our beau­ti­ful, tra­di­tional styles.

An­other valu­able part of this train­ing was when we had the op­por­tu­nity to teach a large group of fel­low Ara­bic-speak­ers a les­son from the ma­te­r­ial. About 34 peo­ple - pas­tors, dea­cons, a priest, and oth­ers from churches in the area - came to learn from us. My friend and I had a won­der­ful time prepar­ing this ses­sion to­gether. I can’t re­mem­ber an­other time since Daesh had come that she and I laughed so much. We both felt en­cour­aged and de­lighted to lead this huge group through these ma­te­ri­als which we now knew so well. I am grate­ful to know how to help so many peo­ple.

On the fi­nal day of our train­ing, we made plans to lead more heal­ing groups. Now, with thou­sands of peo­ple hav­ing to move again while troops push Daesh out,I know that I have some­thing to of­fer them that can help with their deep­est heart pains.

I re­alise I am once again be­com­ing Ra­jiya, my hope is returning.

Note: Ra­jiya is a com­pos­ite of a num­ber of women who at­tended the trauma heal­ing workshop.