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Deep Listening Across the Gender Line

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Michele Breene is an executive coach for leaders in ministries, non-profits, foundations, and Fortune 500 companies in the US, UK and around the world. She also writes curriculum and facilitates for DAI’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership and non-formal leadership training. Michele holds an MA in Curriculum Studies (London, UK).

Tim Breene served on the World Relief Board from 2010 to 2015 before assuming the role of CEO in 2016. Tim’s business career has spanned nearly 40 years with organizations like McKinsey and Accenture where he was the Chief Strategy and Corporate Development Officer. Tim was also the Founder and Chief Executive of Accenture Interactive. Tim is the co-author of Jumping the S-Curve, published by Harvard Publishing.

In the wake of the #MeToo campaign and revelations of rampant sexual harassment in our society, Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) recently convened an invitational gathering outside of Seattle co-sponsored by the Imago Dei Fund, comprised of 33 key leaders from women’s and men’s movements across the country. My husband, Tim, and I were delighted to be invited to experience this unique and profound process which aims to foster a deep listening and empathy across the gender line to heal and dismantle the collective gender conditioning which lies at the root of all the #MeToo stories. We had no idea what to expect! This subject matter must be one of the most challenging issues of our day and yet with wisdom and sensitivity, our facilitators, Cynthia Brix and Will Keepin, along with their international team – Zanele Khumalo, Lauri Gaum, John Tsungme Guy and Julien Devereux – led us into a safe and beautiful space of sharing and healing. The facilitation team had all completed the professional training program developed by GERI, which conducts intensive trainings for facilitators of their process in several countries including South Africa, India, Kenya, Australia, and the United States.

Those attending were a remarkably diverse group in terms of life experience, age, geography and engagement with this issue, yet we shared a common humanity – a sense that we are all made in the image of God – and a determination to address the different ways gender conditioning manifests itself in our lives and in our work: in a harmful imbalance of power that limits the rich complexity of our humanity, putting people in rigid boxes which create needless suffering.

We all recognize that gender inequity is deeply embedded in the patriarchal assumptions handed down through generations. It may be obvious or hidden but it is always pernicious and, as we learnt, it is remarkably pervasive. And as we look around the world and listen to #MeToo stories that are just the tip of an ugly iceberg, we see gender wounds only getting worse if we do nothing – especially in the light of growing opportunities to exploit and distort sexuality through the internet.

Tim and I were both surprised at the extent to which both men and women carry wounding, from mother to son, father to daughter, etc. Not just through physical and/or emotional abuse, but in the unwitting stereotyping passed on in ways that create enormous pressures on young adults seeking their identity in the world and trying to build their self-esteem. The damage we do to one another as adults often has its roots in our childhood years. We sat as a circle of women and listened attentively to one another as story after story of abuse and more subtle yet still painful experiences of male presumption were shared. The men too sat together and shared their “gender pain” which included a range of experiences from childhood to adult which included abuse and losing parts of themselves in the “man box” of patriarchal conditioning. Women are the primary victims and have suffered in profound and lasting ways, but men too have suffered within the snare of patriarchal norms imposed by their cultures. We shared through silent witnessing, the pain and heartbreak of individuals’ stories and were moved by the opportunity to listen without judgment, to offer deep and genuine compassion, unconditional love and respect for one another. Tim and I were struck by the immense value arising from the sharing by both genders of how we have each been affected.

Personally, my heart is still resonating with joy and a growing sense of hope that gender equity might actually become a reality during our daughters’ lives. We laughed, we cried and we bonded around our individual experiences of deep wounding and personal shame, sharing the beginnings of our journey towards reconciliation between our genders. To my mind, the strength of reconciliation that took place could not have happened without the skillful guidance of our leaders, down into the deepest pits of our pain, holding attentively each others’ grief and distress, through to sincere affirmation and shared appreciation for one another. We recognized that we cannot fix anyone’s pain but we witnessed how we can each be a part of one another’s healing.

As I experienced this way of healing the underlying roots of harmful gender conditioning, I was reminded of how hard it is to bring deep and lasting change when people have been hurt by one another. I’ve led workshops with Kenyans, Ugandans, Rwandans and South African brothers and sisters, designed to reconcile racial and ethnic differences and tensions. We have spent considerable time in South Africa and almost 25 years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its associated ‘Ubuntu’ ideology, there has been some progress. However, most leaders there would agree there is still a long way to go to Read More

To East Africa and Beyond! Young Leaders Inspired by Rwanda

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Goats, dusty roads, and dancing — these were all experiences shared by eight young women in Rwanda this February. Led by African Road Executive Director Kelly Bean, and sponsored by the Imago Dei Fund these young leaders traveled to Rwanda to learn about the country’s difficult yet hopeful legacy and meet with African Road Changemakers.

Learning Trip participant Meazy Silva says:

“The trip to Rwanda has been an eye opener for me. It has taught me about confidence, kindness and love towards one another, and what it means to work together to change the world, and make it a better place.”

Read highlights from the girls in their blog:

Visit with All Souls Women and Togetherness Cooperative
by Guest Author | Mar 1, 2018 | African Road projects, Learning Trips

By Natalie Karakey, Learning Trip Member

Today, we drove 40 minutes to the All Souls Church in Gasogi, Rwanda where we spent two hours worshipping and enjoying their music, dances, and skits. The church itself was dug out of the red earth mountainside. They had orange decorations wrapped around the support beams. After the service, we listened to empowered women describe their “VICOBA” system, which stands for Village Community Banking. The program entails a group of women, coming together to save money and giving loans to those who need it to start small businesses. These include: a self-sufficient bakery, jewelry making, and a goat, pig and chicken farm… Read More

For more highlights from the trip, most recent at the top:

Final Reflections

After such a meaningful, impactful and profound trip, taking time to process and debrief is paramount. Using the following “Don’t Just” charges by Roy T Bennett, we spent some time talking about each of them. We then individually highlighted the one “don’t just” that we most related to and then explained why. We humbly share our meditations below… Read More

Church Memorial and A Reconciliation Movement

Friday morning we took our van to the Nyamata Church Memorial. This was the place where thousands of Tutsis sought refuge on April 7, 1994, after the genocide began. Days later, they were attacked by Hutus who threw tear gas and grenades inside the church in an effort to drive the people out. The deaths began, and over 10,000 people were massacred… Read More

Komera = Be Strong

Wednesday morning we drove up approximately 100 km from Kigali to a small town. There, we arrived at Komera, a non-profit that aims to provide a select number of girls with both financial support, throughout their studies, and emotional support, in their household. As we shuffled out of the bus we were greeted with huge smiles and extended arms… Read More

Rwandan Genocide

Today we visited a foundation started by Philbert Kalisa in 1996 in response to the need for healing for his fellow citizens and country after the tragic genocide of 1994. We were greeted by Philbert, and he gave a 45 minutes history of the genocide while we enjoyed African Tea. We learned about his personal story, the work of his foundation, and its impact on Rwanda. He then accompanied us to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Museum where we were taken through heart-wrenching yet enlightening exhibits that told the horrific stories of both the survivors and those lost. Over one million people were brutally tortured and killed in just 100 days… Read More

We’ve arrived!

We’ve arrived in Rwanda! After a long 18 hour journey and very little sleep all around, we are safely in our “Heaven” hotel. After a lovely meal, we are in our hotel rooms excited to sleep in our mosquito protected beds… Read More

Rwanda Facts

Kigali (Kinyarwanda: [ciɡɑlí]) is the capital and largest city of Rwanda. It is near the nation’s geographic centre. The city has… Read More

The Organizations

We are traveling with the guidance of a wonderful non-profit, African Road. In addition to the Togetherness Cooperative, we will also… Read More

Preparing for Rwanda

Thanks to the generosity of the Imago Dei Foundation, eight teenagers are traveling to Kigali, Rwanda. We are so excited… Read More

Leaders of the Togetherness Cooperative

#SilenceIsNotSpiritual offers a Lenten Lament by Lisa Sharon Harper – Restoring Ezer

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Current events have a way of shedding fresh light on familiar Bible narratives that some of us have been hearing since we were children.

The desperate plight of millions of refugees in today’s world should surely give us pause before callously and peremptorily dismissing Naomi as a whiner and complainer over her losses and suffering in the Old Testament book of Ruth. Read More

#WeHealTogether Invitational Gender Reconciliation Summit in Seattle

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In the wake of the #MeToo campaign and revelations of rampant sexual harassment in our society, Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) convened a unique invitational gathering last weekend—comprised of 33 key leaders from the women’s and men’s movements from across the country. We gathered for 4 days in a beautiful, private setting north of Seattle, Washington. Read More

Please Join Us – #WeHealTogetherNewEngland April 30th – May 2nd

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Introduction and Update – Letter From Lisa

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Dear Partners,
First, thank you all for the very warm welcome. From the moment I started with the Imago Dei Fund (and even a little before) I have received wonderful greetings and congratulations. I really appreciate these – it feels like I am receiving a big hug from the entire IDF community! Read More

“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes.”
John 3:8a