Trauma Healing Is the Path to Forgiveness in Nigeria


A circle of hands at a Trauma Healing Workshop in Nigeria


By Janet Crago

Is it truly possible to forgive someone who has hurt you so grievously that you can hardly function? Some of the IDPs (Internally Displaced People) in Nigeria have been hurt in ways that most of us can only imagine. To understand the healing process let me begin with a definition of trauma and move through some of the important steps necessary to accomplish this goal.

Trauma is defined as any kind of significant loss that is caused by a natural event such as an earthquake, fire, or flood, where multiple deaths are involved and destruction of property usually occurs. Trauma will be something you’ve experienced, that you’ve seen, that you’ve heard, or something you’ve done that wounds the heart deeply. It usually involves threat to life or bodily integrity or a close personal encounter with violence and death. Examples are war or natural disasters.

Not surprisingly, some common reactions to trauma are extreme anger, wanting revenge, paralysis (the inability to make decisions or participate in normal life experiences), extreme grief, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, feeling useless, hopeless, and/or depressed. These feelings often result in the inability to function normally, such as the inability to grasp events or the inability to function normally in social situations.

As the IDPs have been sharing their stories, listeners often find that it is very difficult to listen. Just listening causes images to come to your own mind that are truly awful, and the stories are hard to hear without strong emotion. Our colleague, Jim Mitchell, confessed that tears rolled down his face more than once, and he prayed constantly. The presence of God was there. But, the IDPs need a chance to tell their stories. Just telling their stories helps to start the healing process.

Can one truly heal from these kinds of traumas?

The steps to recovery:

1. Recognizing that life is very important. Pointing out that God has spared them and that with life there is hope. They are encouraged to fix their eyes on Jesus and decide to start life again. Examples are given about how to start life again. Ideas have been offered by trauma team members like purchasing very small goods like Maggi (bouillon) cubes or matches and selling them to others. When you have sold them, you have a little money to purchase more goods and sell again. (You can buy small quantities of product all over Nigeria. There are small businesses like this wherever you go. You don’t need a license.)

2. Recognizing that someone still loves them. During the Trauma Healing Workshops, the leaders use the Open Chair Exercise, where each person faces an empty chair and imagines a real person sitting in this chair who still expresses love for them. They explain some of the actions of this person that demonstrate love.

3. Developing trust. They take a trust walk where another person leads them and they follow with their hand on the shoulder of the person leading. They must keep their eyes closed during this walk. Then they have a discussion about trust and how trust is built. They discuss the damages of mistrust.

4. Repentance. Near the end of a workshop, they hear that God loves us so we need to learn how to move toward forgiveness, because that is what Jesus did for us. Many come to the workshop with hate in their hearts, and are thinking of plans to go back and kill the perpetrators. As a result, many of the participants talk about who they must forgive and how they will express that forgiveness.

As you can imagine, there are many tears during these workshops. Powerful emotions are experienced and lived through. Many people leave these workshops with more peace of mind than they’ve had in a very long time. The leaders help them set up meetings where they come together and support each other through the continued healing process.

Praise the Lord that they have had this opportunity, and that EYN now has some very competent leaders who can provide these workshops.

— Janet and Tom Crago are two of the three current Church of the Brethren volunteers with the Nigeria Crisis Response, a joint effort of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries.

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