Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peace on Earth -- at the Mall

I went to the mall with my daughter on Sunday before Christmas.  We like to eat cheap Chinese food in the Food Court, buy a pastry and green tea at the Barnes & Noble Cafe, and sit and read books together.  On this particular Sunday the bathrooms at Barnes & Noble were shut down for maintenance so I walked down the mall to the anchor store, Nordstrom’s.  Then I walked back to Barnes & Noble on the second floor of the mall and passed by a kiosk I had not seen before --a kiosk named “Holy Lands Crafts” selling Christmas decorations and Christian items made from olive wood from Bethlehem.    
The kiosk hit a soft place in my heart.  I traveled to the Holy Land  twice in my life -- once in 1980 and again in 1991.  The first time I went with a Christian group from my stepmother’s church.  The second time I went with Mid - East Citizen Diplomacy, the group that later became The Compassionate Listening Project ( from whom I learned Compassionate Listening).
I am aware of the sensitivity of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.  Ten times as many Palestinians have lost their lives from Israeli violence as have Israelis from Palestinian violence, but every Israeli has a friend or family member who has been killed by a bomb or some other act of violence by a Palestinian.  Israelis often view their own violent acts as justifiable and reasonable military responses to Palestinian violence.  Just so, Palestinians see themselves losing their land house by house and block by block.  Some Palestinians feel that they have their backs to the wall and have no choice but to engage in violence because Israel never changes.  Many others don’t engage in any violence at all, but still end up suffering from Israeli military actions.  Sometimes Israel suspends settlement building on Palestinian lands; sometimes they slow it down, but they have never stopped building new settlements.  Israeli settlers drill wells deep into the ground and cause older, pre-existing Palestinian wells to run dry.  And during the time all the of the West Bank and Gaza were occupied, Israel banned Palestinians from drilling wells while Israeli settlers were free to drill wells.  During my 1991 trip with Mid - East Citizen Diplomacy, we visited a Palestinian village where the wells had run dry. The homes I visited did not have indoor plumbing, and the villagers' crops withered in the fields while at a nearby settlement that we also visited, there were irrigated green lawns, a swimming pool, and houses you’d find in very nice American suburbs.  You really can’t expect the Palestinians to be happy about this situation or even to take it and do nothing.  At the same time for Jews there is deep pain and fear stemming from having Hitler try to exterminate them 70 years ago and having so few other countries be willing to give them refuge.  The desire to have a home country of their own runs deep among Israelis, and Palestine is the land their ancestors came from.
You can go round and round in this fight: who did what to who first, and who is more at fault, and who is more justified for  engaging in violence.  And you never settle anything.  Probably someone better informed that I am will be able to pick apart my facts and correct my details. I can’t settle the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, but I know that people on all sides are suffering, and I can reach out with compassion.
I didn’t know anything about this man standing at the Holy Lands Crafts kiosk.  He was relatively light skinned, and I thought he might be Jewish.  I asked him first where he was from.  He was from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  Then I asked if he was Christian.  He said he was Muslim.  I visited Bethlehem on a vacation with my parents just after Christmas 1980, and I visited a nearby Christian village, Beit Zahor, with the peace group, Mid-East Citizen Diplomacy in 1991.  Since then, the Israelis have built a 30 foot wall around Bethlehem to restrict movement of terrorists in and out of Israel.  But this wall has also heavily restricted the number of tourists visiting Bethlehem and has badly damaged the economy of of the town -- which is why this man from Bethlehem was managing a kiosk in an American mall instead of managing  store in Bethlehem.
“You are Palestinian?” I asked the man.
This issue is so tricky and difficult, I have to know the sympathies of the person I am speaking to so I won’t offend him by saying the wrong thing.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ve been there twice,” I said.  “I know what is going on.  Palestinians are losing their land house by house, field by field.  Most Americans don’t know.”
I added, “There are Israelis who want peace, but not enough to change things.”
“I know,” the man said, “I have Israeli friends.”
I went on to say, “I know about Islam.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus is one of the five most blessed women in Islam.  Muslims think of Jesus as a great prophet.  I know about the Haj.  Everyone wears the same clothing -- a simple white cloth -- because all are equal in the eyes of God, and Muslims pray five times a day.  The pastor of my Catholic parish despairs because he can’t get us Catholics to pray once a day.  We are all one people, one God, we just have different traditions that help up connect to God.”
The man nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, yes...” he said, “You understand.  Thank you so much.”
I paused to examine his wares.  My budget is limited so I asked the price of a small bag of wooden Christmas tree ornaments.
“How much is this?”
“Ten dollars,” the man said, “But it is a gift to you because you are so kind.”
“I don’t want a gift,” I said.  “I want to support the Palestinians living in Bethlehem.  I know what your situation is.”
“No,” the man said, “It is a gift for you because you are so kind and caring.”
“No,” I insisted, “I must pay for it.  I can’t take a gift from people in need.”
I circled the little kiosk so I could see all the wares for sale and found that all I wanted was a simple olive wood cross that could be held in the palm of your hand and more Christmas decorations.
“How much is this cross?” I asked.
“Five dollars,” the man said, “but free for you.”
I ignored the offer of a free cross.  “I’ll take three bags of the Christmas tree decorations and the cross.  That will be 35 dollars,” I said.
“It’s all free for you because your kind words have made me feel so happy,” the man said.
“I can’t take $35 worth of goods for free from people in need,” I said.  
Then I added, “If everyone in the world was like you and me, we’d have peace.  I’ll take one bag of Christmas decorations for free.  I  work with survivors of abuse, and I’ll give them away as Christmas gifts to my survivors.  The rest I will pay for.  that will be 25 dollars.”
He reluctantly accepted my money, still insisting he’d like to give me everything as a gift because I was so kind.
Accepting gifts and asking for money is hard for me.  I guess that saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive" really got drilled into my head when I was young, but now I am reaching the point where I have to ask for money in order for Compassionate Gathering to grow.  I have way more work than I can possibly handle alone.  I need to find more volunteers to help me, and as soon as possible, a paid Administrative Director.  And I need to pay myself a salary for a change, as I have two kids to support and bills to pay.  I have never written a fundraising letter before. Compassionate Gathering received not-for-profit status with the IRS this summer so donations to us are now tax deductible. And if you send me money,  I promise to use it to give support to survivors -- just as I am giving away the bag of olive wood ornaments the Palestinian man gave to me. 
Below you will find my first fund raising letter so you will know how exactly we at Compassionate Gathering will use money you donate to us.  Thank you for reading this blog and Peace Be With You, Salaam Alekyam, Shalom Aleicheim, Meer e Droozhba, and Dona Nobis Pacem.  All of us.  No exceptions.

You can now donate using PayPal:

Or send your donations to:

Compassionate Gathering 
PMB #348
2000 N.E. 42nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97213-1305

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones

Compassionate Gathering
End Abuse, Heal the Wounds

Mailing Address:
PMB Box 348
Suite 2000
Portland, OR 97213
Virginia Jones, child sex abuse and date rape survivor
Vice President
Elizabeth Goeke, clergy abuse survivor and clinical counselor
Secretary/ Treasurer
Mary Lou Betzing, Third Order of St. Francis, St. Care Fraternity

Virginia Jones
President, Board of Directors
Compassionate Gathering 
December 10, 2010
Dear Friends;
Elizabeth Goeke and I, with help from others, founded Compassionate Gathering in early 2007.  We incorporated with the state of Oregon in 2009.  This August we received non-profit status from the IRS.  Now we are asking you to support us so we can continue our work bringing healing to individuals and communities wounded by abuse.
Although Compassionate Gathering formed to work on the clergy abuse issue, others came to us, attracted to our message of compassion.  Over the last 4 years we provided temporary or ongoing emotional support for survivors of various forms of trauma or their supporters, including more than 20 clergy abuse victims, 13 child sex abuse victims, 4 domestic violence victims, 2 physical abuse victims, and 2 who suffered other forms of emotional trauma.  
What is the need?  
Experts say that one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused as a child – and that is just child sex abuse.  Many excellent non-profits work on these issues, but twice the current number of non-profits could engage in this work and not everyone in need would find support.  Moreover, much support for survivors of abuse involves diagnosing and supporting people in the midst of crisis, but after years of therapy, long after the ink has dried on criminal convictions or settlements from civil lawsuits, many adult survivors continue to struggle with employment, relationships, addiction and other issues.  And many more do not have enough documentation of abuse to pursue either criminal or civil litigation.  What do they do?  Compassionate Gathering places no limits or constraints on who we help.  We support anyone who comes to us.  
Our unique about approach to healing the wounds of abuse involves the whole community.  We teach communication and relationship skills so members of the community can support survivors, so survivors can heal wounded relationships, and so parents can learn to be better parents.  We mentor survivors privately through phone chats, e-mails, and face-to face-meetings.  We offer group support and Compassionate Gatherings for listening, during which survivors and their families experience support from a small community of people.  We also empower survivors too filled with shame and guilt to come forward to express their needs and concerns through anonymous Internet based surveys.  We also encourage community involvement in apology by distributing an article on  the subject by Dr. Aaron Lazare and by making and distributing Sackcloth Penance Patches to express penance and prayers for clergy abuse survivors.  In addition, summer 2010, marked the third time we walked across Oregon through rural and urban areas to promote awareness of abuse, support survivors coming forward, and heal by having fun.  This last summer the Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds received press coverage in every community we passed through.  Interest and participation in the Walk is especially valuable in rural Oregon, because there are fewer support services and because awareness about abuse and the need to support survivors is less developed than in urban areas.  Volunteers and staff from local domestic violence advocates, child abuse advocates, Child Protective Services, and Victims’ Assistants walked with us through every community during summer 2010, except Portland, where the agencies and non-profits are large.  
Our unique approach to ending and healing the wounds of abuse works.  I’ll share just one of our stories.
During the Walk Across Oregon in 2009, when we passed through one particular rural town, staff and volunteers  from the local domestic violence agency and their children walked with us.   The local newspaper covered our Walk, including an itinerary in their article.  The grandmother of an abuse victim joined us at our meeting site listed in the newspaper.  She was very upset because she had reported the abuse of her grandchild many times, but the child had not been removed from the abusive situation nor had the abuser been punished.  Each time the grandmother reported the abuse and nothing happened, she grew angrier.  Eventually officials told her that she was the problem.  Next the mother of the child cut off visitation for the grandmother.   Mediation concerning the grandmother’s right to visit her grandson had previously been scheduled for the day after the Walk Across Oregon.  The grandmother felt unprepared and was worried about what would happen.  Nothing had gone right for her in her efforts to protect her grandchild.  During the Walk Across Oregon that day we took time to visit a park while all the children accompanying us played together.  I sat with the grandmother and went through a list of things the she could say to express her anger and pain and concerns for her grandchild more effectively and diplomatically.  The normal human reaction to the failure to protect a child from an abuse is anger, but most people recoil from being shouted at or accused.  This was the trap the grandmother had fallen into.   After the Walk Across Oregon ended that day, the grandmother went home to practice what she was going to say with during the mediation.  A few days later she called me.  
Everything had gone her way, and the mediator said, “I am going to recommend that you resume visitation with this child.”
“Thank you, “ the grandmother said to me over the phone, “You helped me so much.”
We did not end abuse of this child, but we helped the grandmother gain skills to better advocate for her grandchild.  During that Walk, we also walked with the grandmother to the offices of local domestic violence services and with their help, connected her to the leader of a support group, so she was no longer alone in her struggle to support her grandchild.
Becoming a part of the process for people struggling to end abuse or heal the wounds of abuse is very rewarding work.  We want to build on what we have already achieved and help more people.  We dream of accomplishing the following goals:
  •   We want to increase our agency and non-profit contacts and involve more community members, survivors, and businesses in the Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds.  
  •   We want to develop a guidebook for the Walk Across Oregon listing local agencies, non-profits, and businesses taking part in the Walk Across Oregon, including resources of support for survivors, information on reporting abuse and supporting survivors through difficult times, as well as information on local historical and natural sites of interest.
  •   We want to develop more classes to help survivors and their supporters, such as the grandmother we met during the 2009 Walk Across Oregon, develop the interpersonal relationship skills they need to face abusers in difficult legal and interpersonal interactions and stand up for their rights effectively.
  •   We want to reach out with the Sackcloth Penance Patch to more churches and parishioners to bring up the issue of abuse inside the Church and encourage parishioners to support survivors of all forms of abuse, including clergy abuse, to come forward.
  • We want to hold more events nurturing spiritual healing for survivors.   Last year Elizabeth Goeke, the Vice President of Compassionate Gathering, led an Advent Rosary Retreat.  This December, Elizabeth led an Advent Labyrinth Walk.  I wrote about the Labyrinth Walk in my blog: The Garden of Roses: Stories of Abuse and Healing.  Almost three hundred people read the blog, revealing a huge unmet need for survivors to support other survivors on the path to spiritual healing.   We want to meet this need.  Elizabeth is particularly interested in incorporating a retreat into a Walk Across Oregon through the Painted Hills or the Blue Basin of the John Day Fossil Beds.  
  •   We also plan to offer one or two special events each year so the community can participate in listening to survivors.  On June 18, 2011, we have a special guest, a survivor of clergy abuse who has remained within the Catholic Church but struggles to remain Catholic will share the story of her spiritual journey through abuse and her efforts to recover.
  • Lastly, we hope to find some interns to help us develop these projects, especially the Walk Across Oregon.
But we need your help to achieve our dreams.  Our wish list includes:
  •   Money to pay for modest salaies for an Executive Director and an Administrative Director.
  •   Money to hire a grant writer to help us obtain more financial support.
  •   Money for two new computers, two new cell phones and 4G internet and phone services.
  •   Money for a commercial website as opposed to our current stopgap website. 
  •   Money so we can post our last survey of survivor wants and needs on an interactive website.
  •   We also need more volunteers to have fun with us on the Walk Across Oregon.  
Whatever you give, however you help, we are very grateful.  And the good news is that your donations to Compassionate Gathering are now tax deductible!
Sincerely yours,
Virginia Jones
President, Board of Directors, Compassionate Gathering
  •   Yes, I am interested in supporting Compassionate Gathering with my gift of ______________
  • I cannot contribute at this time, but I do want to be notified of future news..........

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