Transcript of my interview on ELWA's "Wings of Hope" 94.5 FM
with Pastor Perry Saydee and Rev. Dr. Lyn Westman of Mercy Ships
Announcer: God is our help and hope in time of trouble. When we are confused, the way of God is there for us. Join Pastor Perry Saydee and his team of counselors every Wednesday at 7:30 and allow God to heal those wounds.
Pastor Perry Saydee (PS): Thank you very much for being there. This is the program "Wings of Hope." Tonight we have some personalities in the studio. We're going to have a wonderful time tonight. We have a number of topics to be discussed. Let me just give you our phone numbers first, because our phone lines should be busy tonight. Lonestar 06 902 360 and Comium 05 764 242. I hope you are set and ready for Wings of Hope. Wings of Hope is a radio counseling program. It's a phone-in program where you can make your views known by calling us on those numbers I gave you. And so we have in studio Elma Shaw. She's a writer and she's a media practitioner. We also have our Wings of Hope consultant, that's Rev. Dr. Lyn Westman, in the studio. You're all welcome to Wings of Hope.
Elma Shaw (ES): Thank you.
Dr. Lyn Westman (LW): Thank you. A pleasure to be here as always, Perry.
PS: We also have a guest in the studio. I'll let her introduce herself. Could you please say your name and who you are.
Gemma Speck: My name is Gemma Speck. I'm a community health nurse, and I'm working with Mercy Ships. I'm from England.
PS: Okay, thank you so much. Tonight we will be talking about reconciliation. We've gone through a war situation in this country. We know that a lot of people were hurt. A lot of people were affected. Children were mishandled and misused, especially for the sake of fighting. We know that a lot of women were abused. A lot of things happened in this country because of the civil war. This lady, Ms. Elma Shaw, has written a book. She is a Liberian, and she will better introduce herself. We will be talking about her book and we will be talking about reconciliation as it has to do with uniting our people in this country. Could you please introduce yourself, Elma?
ES: Sure. My name name is Elma Shaw, and I moved back to Liberia in 1999 and spent the last few years here writing and also doing some humanitarian work. I worked with street children and former child soldiers as well as with girls who had been out of school for many years because of the war.
PS: You said you just returned to Liberia. Where have you been all this while?
ES: I went away for a vacation in June and I just came back, but I've been living here for many years.
PS: You wrote a book called Redemption Road. Why this name, Redemption Road?
ES: Well, a lot of people don't know this, but the road behind the Mansion is called Redemption Road. Back in 1980 it was just a path with no name. It was the path that the 17 soldiers took from the barracks to the Mansion to assassinate President Tolbert. They later named the road Redemption Road. They fixed it up and called it Redemption Road. It wasn't until 16 years after the coup that I found out it was called Redemption Road. By then we were right in the middle of the civil war and the first words from my lips when I heard that were "Redemption from what!?" because nothing good or positive had happened because of what took place on that back road. It was also the same place where the 13 government officials were executed right after the 1980 coup. So that title holds a lot of significance. It doesn't only refer to the spot where these things took place -- where our course of history changed so drastically -- but also, the characters in the novel are all seeking a redemption of some sort. We have characters from all walks of life, representing all the different people in Liberia and each of them is struggling with something and they're all searching for their own redemption.
PS: Okay, how did you come to write this novel?
ES: When the war started in 1989 I was in America going to school. By 1990 people started to leave the country because of all the fighting. They were coming to the States and telling us all these horrible stories of what was going on at home. And when I finally came home myself six years later to see and to document some of these stories that were still continuing I knew that I had to put them them together in some form so that we would have them for history. The stories that I heard from people made it into the novel, but it also includes things I heard even before the civil war. Things that I heard growing up, things that I saw myself, my own observations. So it's a very Liberian book. It's all about us. It's to help people understand where we were and how we came to the point of something as violent as our civil war, and it also deals with the issues that we're facing now, in post-war Liberia.
Dr. Lyn Westman: Thank you Elma. As I was reading your book, and as I told you, it's a wonderful book -- it's very deep, very moving, and you say that it's a novel but as I read it, it seemed so real that it was hard for me to believe it was just a novel. As you talked about, there were some stories there of some people you came to know or maybe even some of the work you were doing. I suspect that some of those stories resemble maybe some particular lives of people. I don't want to ask you who particularly, but they did seem very very real so can you share just a little bit more about that for us?
ES: Our situation is really complicated so I made sure that the characters in the novel are all three-dimensional characters that really will tell people who we are. The stories and the characters are not necessarily the story of one person, but it's all lots of stories mixed up -- attitudes and thoughts and everything -- several of them given to one character so that we can see the essence of who we are as Liberians. The stories that I ended up portraying in the book were the stories that I heard most often. Everyone wanted to tell what had happened to them, and what had gone on. And the ones that kept repeating from different people, from different places -- the incidents that kept repeating -- those were the ones that made it into the book.
LW: One thing that was so significant for me was as we teach about counseling, and how to help people through trauma, we're always teaching them that it's more than just facts. It's also about the things that they think, the perceptions they have, the interpretations, and the feelings, and then how they act that out. And you did such a marvelous job identifying the internal conflicts, their feelings and their thoughts. It was just so well done, and there was such a depth to it. What I saw with the inner conflcts was that in the same person you might see them frustrated because of the prejudice around them and yet at the same time there is prejudice within them.
LW: And as you just said, life here is complicated. Of course we always teach that people are complicated. It fits right in with that, so just to see that. For many of us, we may think we have no prejudice but the way you did this story you show that all of us should be looking deeper inside to see where maybe we still have some areas that we need to be healed, or where our perspectives and interpretations need to change.
ES: Definitely, yes.
Pastor Perry: Let me ask Ms. Shaw this question. The main themes of this novel are atonement and reconciliation. As the TRC is underway, how do you think this book -- Redemption Road -- can help this process?
ES: Well, I have plans to get the book out to the masses. Not everyone will be able to read and so we have plans to do a Liberian English audio version that will be played around the country because I want everyone to be a part of the dialogue. The book is written so that we will all be encouraged to begin to talk about the things we still have holding inside us -- the resentments and everything. And so I hope that right in the wake of the TRC and all its findings that will soon come out that people will also begin to talk about the things they're feeling and begin to heal within themselves. I hope that the communities will be talking with each other and healing as well. Not everyone can appear before the TRC and so the book, I hope, will let people talk wherever they are, wherever they find themselves.
PS: Okay, this is Wings of Hope. This is ELWA Radio. You can call us on Lonestar 06 902 360 and you can make your contribution to this show. You can ask Ms. Shaw anything you want to ask her about the book, about reconciliation, about problems you're going through. We have Dr. Lyn here. She's our veteran counselor. You can send your questions to her, whatever they are, and she's going to answer them by the help of God. Remember she's a reverend and she's going to use her biblical experiences and knowledge to help you get through what you're going through. And so let me come back to Ms. Shaw. We have a lot of children who are wayward around here. Should I say they are bandoned and don't have homes. They are all in the street. You've written a novel about reconciliation. How can you bring in these children to fit in this novel?
ES: Well the novel does include a set of children, very briefly, but still. When I first moved back to Liberia I worked with former child soldiers and at the time they were really really children. They were small. They had just come out of the fighting. There are a few characters in the book who are based on those children, a little more grown up, and it shows that they're still struggling. They're still on the streets, some of them. The war is over, but they're still struggling because they have nothing to do. There're no jobs for them. They missed school because of the fighting. I know that there are several organizations that work with children in all kinds of ways -- children who used to fight, children who were associated with fighting forces. There are lots of scholarships for girls especially. I hope that all that work will continue...
PS: Let me cut you off a little bit. You talked about scholarships for girls. Who offers these scholarships for girls?
ES: Well we know that the Liberia Education Trust has money to send girls to school and they have given grants to many NGOs to help keep girls in school. I also have a program which I started back in 1999. We started by putting ten girls in school -- Senior High School -- and the program later grew with the help of the US Ambassadors' Girls' Scholarship Program. We went up to about 50 girls. The most important thing, besides the scholarships, was the mentoring. We had mentoring activities for them where we taught them life skills, we talked about health, we took them around to the universities, all the different nursing schools, so they could see the possibilities for themselves. We did job training, lots of different things.
PS: Okay, let me just switch this over to Dr. Lyn. Dr. Lyn, you read the book, and you explained that what you've been teaching here in Liberia, in the counseling seminars, are things that Elma has stressed. As reconciliation is going on right now in this country, you read her book and you've been talking with a lot of people -- child soldiers and those that were involved with the war in this country. What are the prospects of reconciliation in this country? Are you sure that we're going to have peace and reconcile and that everybody will forget about the past and reunite?
LW: That's a very broad and difficult question. I can't say that I'm sure of anything. There's only one person who knows what is possible. And we know all things are possible with God. What exactly will happen, a lot of that depends on our choices. And part of what we teach is that everyone has a choice: if they live in the past or if they move ahead; if they forgive or if they remain resentful and bitter. What we see though is that forgiveness works at whatever level and for whatever things that happened. When people can forgive, it brings not only a freedom to the people that they were holding the unforgiveness against, but it brings a personal freedom. And so as we look at scripture, even, it says that we have to forgive in order for God to forgive us. And that can be a very hard journey, and when you read the book you'll see the struggles that people had. That's why I think it was so well-written because forgiveness is not an easy task. When I look at my own life and sometimes very minor things, I think when any of us look at our own lives, we can have some minor incident and it's difficult to forgive. How much more when you have some of the situations that have been here in Liberia? And yet, with God all things are possible. All of us can forgive, and all of us are called to. One thing that people often don't remember or don't think about is that they may be able to forgive others, but one of the hardest things is learning to forgive themselves. And that still is unforgiveness, but they don't realize that and so they get held in bondage because of wishing that they had been different or trying to believe a different past than what they really have. So part of that journey, as she wrote in her book as well, is coming to terms with what they did and who they are, but then always, who they can be. That's the miracle of redemption. We're not locked into who we were. We all have the possibility for a great future. And just as you said, bringing those girls to see the universities, to see potential... It's unlimited with God, what people can do and how they can change.
PS: This is Wings of Hope. You can call us on 06 902 360 on our Lonestar phones, and Comium 05 764 242, and make your contribution to this show. I have a book before me, a novel that was written by Elma Shaw. She's right here in the studio and she's talking about this book, Redemption Road. Right after the war, what next? We need peace. Do we have it? I don't know. You call us and tell us. There's a call. Let's take this call..........Hello Caller?
PS: Yes. This is Wings of Hope.
Caller: (unintelligible) ........
PS: Okay, Ms. Shaw?
ES: Please clarify the question for me. What did he say?
Caller: The cost?
ES: Redemption Road will be available around town starting on Friday. It's $16.95 for a paperback copy.
PS: The book is $16 US dollars, but it's like she is trying to give it away for free because if you see the book you will want to even buy it for $50.
ES: Oh! (laughs)
PS: I have the book in my hands right now and I hope I will find the money to purchase one. You will like it. Look for it and try to get one.
Caller: Okay I will try to get one.
LW: Yes, I'd like to ask you Elma: When you were writing this book -- you know usually when you write a book you identify some with the characters, maybe feel a little closer to others. Maybe if you could tell us the relationship -- not exact relationships, but your relationship with the different people in the book. Which ones you struggled with a little more, or which ones you felt you were closest to...just anything you want to tell us about your characters.
ES: Well I am surrounded by characters in my own life. I had to put some of them in there. And so each character probably represents 4 or 5 people who are crucial to the story. I needed to put in people who represented all the different people we have to deal with...
PS: Could we please take a call, there's a caller on the line. Let's take this call. Hello caller.
Caller: Good evening to you all.
PS: Good evening.
Caller: I want to thank Sister Shaw for what she has done for this country by producing her book which will serve also as a history to our country. I just ask that God will continue to inspire her to do more for this country with her writing, and every other thing that she aspires to do, may God bring it to pass. Listening to the explanation of the book I just feel that I should have one now. I hope you will have some around ELWA so we can pick it up from there. Thank you very much for the program.
ES: Thank you very much.
PS: Thank you so much. We'll talk that over with Elma later, see if we can have some books right here for people to come and buy. Here's another call. Oh, wait. Please don't beep us! We're just taking calls, please. Elma, you were saying something when I interrupted.
ES: Yes, we were talking about the characters in the book and how I identify with some of them. So, to continue, the characters are all representing 4 or 5 different people, and I wanted them to show all the different kinds of people we have to deal with. There's the naive Liberian who's been in America and just comes home after the war and thinks she knows everything, and thinks she knows what she would have done if she was here for the war. We also have characters who are still living in the past, in the old days before even the coup, and then there're people like the main character, Bendu, who wants to change. She was a part of the past, the elite, but she sees that the future for Liberia -- a good future -- is one in which we are together as Liberians. A future in which we love each other and treat each other as equals. Those are some examples. I really liked Commander Cobra, the warlord. I love his parts because - and a lot of people tell me this too - he was not all bad. He had high aspirations for his people and things sort of went awry as he was struggling all his life for the peace and the justice that the masses do not have. I really enjoyed writing his bits.
Dr. Lyn Westman: Can I say something about Commander Cobra? As I read that book, he was one that really did bring out the pain and the torment of the past. He was struggling with good and evil within himself. And the dialogues between Bendu and Commander Cobra were amazing -- to just see how real they were together and how they were able to confront each other's idealisms and also their weaknesses -- and to come to some place of trying to find the strengths that each of them could offer. It was great to show that sometimes we just see the warlord type for the violence or for the anger. We don't see the torment that is within them and sometimes they don't even know really what torment they have. You did a great job with that as well.
Elma Shaw: Thank you.
Pastor Perry Saydee: We're almost out of time. Elma what do you have to say to your audience now, as we close this program?
Elma Shaw: I want people to know that the book will be available starting Friday, but that eventually we'll have it available in more affordable forms for Liberian readers. $16.95 is the average price for a paperback but we're in a different sort of situation and so we're looking at publishing the book in a format that is more affordable to the general public. And for those who won't be able to read the book at all, we're doing a Liberian English audio version so that everyone far and wide will be able to hear the story of Redemption Road. I just hope that people will join the dialogue. That the book will help open up their hearts, and that people will start talking with each other about some of the issues raised in the book, and that together as a nation we'll use it as a catalyst for change - as something to help heal our nation.
Pastor Perry Saydee: Okay, thank you very much Ms. Elma Shaw, and Dr. Lyn Westman of Mercy Ships, our consultant. And thank you all very much for calling and participating on this show. The time is 8:00 and it's time to go. The next program is "Seeds of Holiness."