Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I grew up in a small prairie town.  I was surrounded by familiarity, Mennonites, and tradition.  Each year of school began with most of the same people I finished with the year before.  The same faces and names, with most of the those faces and names having a similar story to my own.

So imagine the buzz in my grade three class when a new student was to join us who was from a place very far away.  His name was Peter, and his family had just settled into town from South Africa!  Imagine!  My curiosity was brewing, and my mind wandering, at just the thought of meeting someone from someplace so exotic.   Soon we met.  In walked a small in stature, beautiful (to my mind now) boy who spoke with the most amazing South African accent.  He seemed to be from another world, and was full of stories of a life that seemed like a dream.  Although I was intrigued by him then, I can't say I was all that fond of him.  He seemed to steal the show.  He was very bright.  He gave me a run for my money, and he even tripped me on my way to the chalkboard one morning which resulted in a nasty bump on my head.

Soon, the whole town knew of the Hargraves family.  They had arrived with three girls and Peter in tow, and were settling down in the middle of the prairies to begin again.  Their arrival brought questions and queries.  Their accent made their words sound like poetry, and their family always looked  and seemed as though they knew what adventure really was.

Their family stayed.  When they settled in that prairie town they made it their own.  As the years went on, the girls and Peter began to lose their accents and became, what appeared to be, regular prairie kids.  They played sports, made music, and were part of the fabric of the community.  Peter truly became my friend.  He still is.

Today we gathered in a church in that same prairie town to say goodbye to Peter's dad, David.  The afternoon was full of stories of his courage, his brave pioneering spirit, and his unwavering convictions.   I always knew Mr. Hargraves as Pete's dad.  Today I saw him as something else all together.  Maybe it's because I'm a parent now, and my girls aren't that different in age as his four children when he and his faithful companion Judy left their beloved South Africa to begin again.  They had to leave.  It was not longer safe, and his couldn't raise his children in a country where apartheid existed.   There have been times, over the years, when I wondered what it must have been like for them.  Today I tasted just a morsel of it.  I saw that young family in their train car leaving their home and was filled with incredible awe at the journey this family took.

I like to think a life is well-lived if there is something another person can take from it to make themself better. I took many things with me today.  I heard of how David adored his beloved wife Judy, and never let a chance go in conversation to remind his company of how amazing a woman she was.  When I see the strong, capable, creative, compassionate women his daughters have become, it is so clear that he held women in high regard and expected the very best.  When I see the way Pete operates in partnership with his wife and parents his own three daughters, I see that same thread running through another generation.

There were stories of his faith, his adventures, and his passions.  But what struck me most today was the way he could not tolerate injustice.  He simply couldn't bear it.  When he knew something was wrong, he spoke up and out, even when it cost him his home, and meant leaving his family and the only life he'd known.

I felt like I feasted today;  on stories, words, music, and memories of a life well-lived.  I get to continually feast on my friendship with Pete that was made possible for me, way back in grade three, by a brave man who started over with his family in a little prairie town.

There is so much goodness in lives filled with story.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bring Back Our Girls

Nearly three weeks ago, 300 school girls were abducted at gun point from a boarding school dorm in Nigeria.  Amazingly, it has taken the media weeks to make this a lead story and for the world to get interested enough to make something happen. 

The Nigerian community knows what this kind of abduction can cost them.  They know that if you take a group of  educated girls, the size of a village, and force them to disappear, the consequences go on forever.  This crime isn't just about those 250 girls still missing.  It's about the chain of events down the line, and the culture of fear it will breed.  It's about sending a message to young Nigerian women that getting an education is a "crime" worthy of abduction at gun-point, being sold into marriage, and possibly never being returned to your family and home again.  

We still live in a world where there are people who think educating women is dangerous enough to warrant this kind of punishment.   

Today we gathered with the Winnipeg Nigerian community to stand with them and show our support and commitment to bringing "our" girls home.  They really are our girls, aren't they?  Unless we believe that, it won't matter enough for us to do something.

There was so much color and vibrancy at the Legislature this afternoon.  We gathered and sang and were rallied on the steps...

... then began a walk around the grounds to mark the start of the call for action.

There was a sea of red.  You almost felt as though you were crashing a family gathering of a family that wasn't yours - only this family invited you in and gave you a seat at the table.

Our girls were recruited to carry some letter signs and stand together with a host of other kids to spell out #Bring Back Our Girls.

The rally began with two prayers - one from the Nigerian Christian community and one from the Nigerian Muslin community.  Two men stood side by side and prayed to God and Allah for the country they love and the safe return of the girls.  They want the same things.  

Side by side is a powerful place to be.

There were impassioned words from leaders of the Winnipeg Nigerian community.  Most powerful were the words spoken by the women.  Women who know first-hand what education means to a young woman in Nigeria.  And when the passion took over, the resounding cry from those who were gathered echoed through the crowd.

There were the most beautiful sights and colors.  
Profound images that demonstrated strength and resilience.

 The colors, the drumming, the music, the words drifting over the crowd calling everyone to care about our girls coming home...
...that's what I want my three girls to remember and take with them.

My three girls who have the right to be educated with no fear.
My three girls who truly can choose to become as smart and informed as they want to be.
My three girls who know that the sky is the limit to see through their passions and dreams.

They are not "their" girls.
They are our girls.

Bring them back.