Forgiveness and New Skills in Liberia

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Jonas Ekstr??mer/WCC
Source: New World Outlook

Robert is a soft-spoken 14-year-old who??learned to use an AK-47 rifle when he was eight years old.?????I was often really afraid,??? he recalled. ???Now I???m learning to be a carpenter, but I first want to go back to school before starting to work.???

Tom was 13 when he was forced to join a rebel group. ???I was forced to fight because I was separated from my parents,??? he said. ???I am haunted by what we did during the war.???

At 17, Momo Famol?? is without a family and without work. He was 10 when soldiers he encountered forced him to the front. He fought so he could eat. ???I???m happy there???s peace now in Liberia.???

These are the voices of former combatants in Liberia???s 14-year civil conflict who live together in a??camp near Monrovia, the capital city. Here they have begun a transition back into their communities.

A majority of Liberian respondents in a 2010 nationwide survey says they are willing to forgive those responsible for the country's 14-year civil conflict.
A majority of Liberians who responded to a 2010 nationwide survey said they believe those responsible for the country’s 14-year civil conflict should be forgiven.

The camp is operated by United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). In partnership with other humanitarian groups, UMCOR provides a place??where people like Robert, Tom, and Momo??can live and find basic necessities, such as fresh drinking water and medical treatment, as well as trauma counseling and reintegration activities.

Thousands of soldiers??demobilized at four such camps throughout Liberia??in the first few years after the program??began in 2004. Once reviled, they are now learning new literacy and work skills.

In the words of??one??camp missionary, ???We must forgive all the excombatants. Jesus requires us to forgive without keeping score. Why do we continue our efforts? Because if only one young man or woman comes to understand the meaning of forgiveness, then it is worth the effort.???

Read the full story??“Forgiveness and New Skills in Liberia.”??Learn about the International Forgiveness Institute’s involvement in Liberia’s nationwide Forgiveness Education Program by reading the Feb. 26 post at Dr. Bob’s Blog.


A Report on Forgiveness Education in Liberia, Africa

Because of the efforts of Josiah Cheapoo who runs Grace Network, and others at The Crossing, the International Forgiveness Institute, and the University of Wisconsin (all in Madison, Wisconsin, USA), a bold forgiveness education initiative has begun in Monrovia, Liberia, Africa.

Rebels in Liberia were known for their gruesome practice of hacking off limbs during the country's 14-year civil conflict.  Photo: Issouf Sanogo, AFP/Getty Images
Rebels in Liberia were known for their gruesome practice of hacking off limbs??during the country’s??14-year civil conflict.

Issouf Anogo, AFP/Getty Images


Liberia has emerged from a horrendous civil war in which over 250,000 people were killed.?? It took the efforts of some very brave women to stand in the chasm between the warlords and the innocent citizens to finally end the war.

Part of the reconstruction effort now is forgiveness education for children so that they can grow up with a sense of the inherent worth of all.?? It is hard to capture, torture, and kill someone whom you see as possessing the exact same precious inherent worth as you.?? Forgiveness education emphasizes this kind of thinking toward all.

To date, Mr. Cheapoo has been able to establish six ???Community Centers??? in which children gather to learn the life-giving principles of forgiveness.?? They learn the inherent worth of others by reading stories of Dr. Seuss and seeing how all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable.

Within these centers, 600 children are beginning to learn the lessons of forgiveness.?? We are also planning a ???pen-pal??? program among four 11th grade classrooms in Monrovia and one 11th grade classroom at Edgewood High School in Madison, Wisconsin.Liberian kids

We want students on each side of the globe to see a different perspec-tive on life so that their views can be challenged, enriched, and begin to include the concept of forgiveness in their everyday lives.

We can???t wait for tomorrow because tomorrow always is filled with hope when forgiveness accompanies us on our life???s journey.

Dr. Bob

Editor’s Note: Read a related story in the Forgiveness News section of this website: “Forgiveness and New Skills in Liberia, Africa.”

Recovery and Forgiveness Follow Crash That Permanently Injures Doctor

Forgiving Headline-OpenArmsKHON2, Honolulu, Hawaii – Dr. Theresa Wang was on her way home on Nov. 19, 2010,??when an SUV heading in the opposite direction crossed the center line and crashed into her car. She suffered 22 fractures from her neck to her heels and was in a coma for more than a week.

Since then,??Dr. Wang??has undergone??three rounds of major surgeries, incurred more than a million dollars in medical expenses, and is no longer able to practice medicine. Nonetheless, she has reached out to forgive the woman driving the SUV, Shakti Stream.

“As a doctor, I’ve seen people very bitter from all that,” Dr. Wang said. “But when you let it sink into yourself it just chews you up and you’re actually hurting yourself, and if I got bitter with her, I’m just letting her hurt me more, and I don’t really want to do that.”

Even though Stream’s insurance covered just a fraction of Dr. Wang’s medical bills, the doctor said she will not be pursuing a lawsuit against Stream.

“She’s just a young teacher,??and my hope is that she will embrace some of my philosophy to help the community, help everybody else out and to really put a lot into those children. That’s what I’m really hoping. To me, that’s more than just paying my bills,”??Dr. Wang said.

Read the full story: “Recovery, forgiveness after crash permanently injures doctor.”

Mother of Murder Victim Offers Forgiveness to Killer

Flower-HeartThe Lakewood Observer, Lakewood, OH – In nearly 14 years since her son’s death, Rachel Muha of Westerville, Ohio, has learned much about walking the path of forgiveness, even in the face of tragedy and adversity.

On May 31, 1999, her son Brian, 18, a freshman at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and his friend Aaron Land, 20, were killed when intruders randomly broke into their off-campus house. The intruders assaulted them and ultimately killed them, leaving their bodies off an abandoned stretch of Route 22 in Washington County, Pa., nearly 20 miles from Steubenville. The killers were caught soon after and convicted.

While many in the community expected the families to rally for the death penalty, Rachel Muha–a devout Catholic– stepped forward in the courtroom during the sentencing of one of the convicted killers in 2000 to speak only of forgiveness, asking him to redeem the rest of the years in his life and that she would pray for his soul.

Muha has since turned ???grief into love??? and has established a foundation in her son???s honor:

Read the full story: “Public Lenten Event on Forgiveness.”

Is Forgiveness Always Appropriate?

Yes-NoA former student applied for a professorship this week. While she was interviewing, a professor, frowning, asked, “Is forgiveness always appropriate?” Following her answer, the professor was still frowning, even though she gave the correct answer.

Shall we address the question here? (All of you who might be asked the question in the future, take note: Just refer the frowning one to this blog post. Blame me for the answer so you do not have to take “the heat.”)

Is forgiveness always appropriate? Let us break down the answer a bit further first. When we pose the question, are we asking about the virtue of forgiveness itself or are we asking about a person? There is an important distinction here.

If our focus is on the virtue itself, we must then ask the question of all virtues (because forgiveness is a moral virtue), and we can do so by focusing on the question’s opposite: Is justice, for example, as one of the virtues, ever inappropriate? In other words, can you imagine a scenario in which you could be arrested for deliberately being just? If not, then justice is always appropriate, under all circumstances. Is patience ever inappropriate? What about kindness? I can hear someone say this, “Well, if someone is beating me over the head with a frying pan, I will not be kind.” My response: You can flee the abuse. You can try taking the frying pan out of the person’s hand. In either case, you can do so with kindness. Thus, even in this example, kindness is appropriate. It is not inappropriate if other virtues (justice, courage, temperance) come alongside kindness to help rescue the person from the head-banging.

My first point is this: Because all virtues are concerned with the moral good of human interaction, and because it is alway appropriate to exercise the moral good, and because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it is always appropriate to exercise forgiveness.

Now to our specific difference between the appropriateness of exercising the virtue as a virtue and a person’s psychology. Is it always appropriate for any given person to exercise forgiveness all the time? The answer here, in contrast to our first answer, is no, it is not always appropriate because: a) the offended person may be so shocked by what happened that he or she is not ready at this particular point in time to offer forgiveness; b) the offended person may need to learn more about what forgiveness is and is not so that forgiveness properly understood is exercised rather than some false form of it; and c) forgiveness is a supererogatory virtue, not demanded by society and therefore not demanded of any one person right now. It is the person’s choice whether to forgive or not on any given occasion.

Yes, if we are talking about the quality of this term, specifically its quality of being a moral virtue.

No, if we are talking about a particular person’s psychology, including the degree of hurt and the person’s familiarity with what forgiveness is, and the circumstances of the injustice, including its severity, its duration, and the time since it occurred.

Dr. Bob

A Heroic Vision for Ireland’s Churches

Pie ChartOn Sunday evening, January 27, Dr. Robert Enright gave two talks in Mullingar, Ireland, one to clergy from a variety of Christian denominations and the other to the townspeople. Rev. Alastair Graham of the Church of Ireland hosted the event and Fr. Thomas Kilroy was the master of ceremonies for the talk with the townspeople.


Dr. Enright addressed a capacity crowd at All Saints Church, discussing what forgiveness is, why forgive, how we forgive, and how we can give forgiveness away to others in home, school, and place of worship. The goal of the meetings was to being a conversation on how forgiveness might form the basis for more unity among the various denominations within Mullingar–primarily Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Christian Fellowship, and Pentecostal. This is a heroic vision because of the historical tensions among Christian groups on the Island of Ireland. Forgiveness might prove to be a central unifying factor.

Mall Shooter Gets 20 years, Forgiveness


The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA??- An 18-year-old Baton Rouge man received a 20-year prison term and forgiveness after pleading guilty??last week??in a January 2012 shooting that wounded two innocent teenage bystanders outside the Mall of Louisiana.

The teen victims and their parents said inside the courtroom that they forgive Johnny Williams and pray that he will someday become a productive member of society.

The shooting occurred when Williams fired a weapon into a crowd during an argument with another teen. Caleb Day, 16, was shot in the right arm and chest and suffered nerve damage to that arm. Trenton Miller, 16, was shot in the left arm, and the bullet went into his hip and out his leg, prosecutors said. Day said that despite??missing 50 days of school and a year of playing baseball because of his injuries, he holds nothing against Williams. Day’s father, David, said he forgives Williams and prays for him. Miller’s father, John, said, “With our whole hearts we forgive him.”

Read the full story:??“Mall shooter gets 20 years, forgiveness”

Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?

Yard SignsThe New York Times??-??The Jan. 6 issue of The Times Magazine features an intriguing story from Tallahassee, FL, about parents Kate and Andy Grosmaire whose deeply held religious faith led them to forgive the man who murdered their 19-year-old daughter in March 2010. The killer was no stranger to the Grosmaires; he was their daughter???s boyfriend, Conor McBride, who shot Ann Margaret Grosmaire in the head after the two had been arguing for hours.

This story, however, goes beyond a heinous crime, a repentant lawbreaker and a typical punishment. While first degree murder in Florida usually carries a mandatory life sentence or, potentially, the death penalty, the Grosmaires sought to have Conor’s sentence reduced through a a concept called “restorative justice” which considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned ??? the victims, the offender and the community ??? on making amends. Partly as a result of that process, Conor was sentenced to 20 years in prison plus 10 years of probation instead of receiving??a life sentence or the death penalty.

Read the full story and consider for yourself the challenging questions presented by??“Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?”

I recently read that we should forgive those who not only wounded us but also wronged us at the same time. In my understanding, “wronging someone” suggests that we offer forgiveness to those who not just hurt us but treated us “unjustly”. However, I was wondering about cases where someone hurts the other person by mistake or without any ill intention. For example, think about car accidents. In most cases, a driver wouldn’t intentionally try to get involved in an accident, but it happens and the damage/ injury can be quite serious. Do we forgive or have the right to forgive those who we think that made mistakes but wounded us badly? Thank you very much!

If we are wounded by someone’s mistake, this can still be viewed as an injustice. Let us take your car accident example. Yes, the driver who hits another may have the best of intentions, but he/she might have paid much better attention, given the grave consequences of a lapse in concentration. There are injustices of commission and omission. An injustice of commission occurs when the other intends wrong. An injustice of omission occurs when the person does not intend wrong but at the same time fails in some way, fails to act as he or she should. Not paying attention on the road is an injustice of omission and can be forgiven.

I’m 16 years old and lately I’ve been feeling guilty because when I was about 8 or 9 years old I lied on my teacher that she choked me. She was really mean and she ran up into my face and yelled at me but she didn’t choke me. I don’t know why I said she choked me. Now I want to ask for forgiveness and I’m trying to find out what her address is so I can send a letter. What should I do?

It is courageous of you to want to ask forgiveness from your teacher. When we seek forgiveness, please remember the “3 R’s” of remorse, repentance, and recompense. Remorse is the inner sorrow for what you did. Repentance is knowing you did wrong and wanting to make it right. Recompense is what you do now in a behavioral sense to make it as right as you can. When you write the letter, please keep the 3R’s in mind. They may help you craft a focused and sincere letter. By the way, the letter itself is probably the recompense in this case.

Regarding finding the teacher, is she still working? If so, send your letter to her at the school. Is she retired? If so, send the letter sealed in an envelope addressed to the principal. Ask the principal (in a separate letter addressed to him or her) to forward your letter to the teacher. Please be sure the letter to the teacher is in its own sealed envelope for the sake of privacy. You can always follow up with the principal to be sure your letter was forwarded to the teacher.

Finally, the teacher’s strong reaction may have been an injustice to you. If you think that is the case, then please work on forgiving her for the strong reaction. Feeling like you were going to be choked may be sufficient grounds for your forgiving her.

Thank you for having the courage to do all of this.