Story by Connie McDougall
Photos by Jerry Gay
"My students saw the depth of pain and the depth of character in people who have been through war," says John Thoburn, director of clinical services at SPU. He co-led a team of graduate students to Bosnia, where they trained counselors in the treatment of trauma. Holding photos of people they met in Bosnia are (left to right) Jo Jacobs, John Thoburn, Kathleen Lehman, O'Donnell Day, Jenifer Schultz, Tami Anderson Englehorn and Chris Tobey.
While the battle for Kosovo raged this summer, seven people from Seattle Pacific University prepared to travel to neighboring Bosnia, where the population lives uneasily under an international cease-fire. The SPU team would spend two weeks counseling Bosnian victims of war, and training local mental health workers in the treatment of trauma.
The need is acute. Thousands of Bosnians have suffered from unimaginable violence, yet psychological care is virtually nonexistent.
Developed and co-led by John Thoburn, director of clinical services at SPU, and Tami Anderson Englehorn, assistant director of global involvement for SPU's Office of Campus Ministries, the mission included five doctoral students. While the SPRINT (Seattle Pacific Reachout International) program has sent undergraduates all over the globe on short-term missions, this was the first time a group of graduate students has participated.
The counselors were invited to Bosnia by Medica, a group that assists trauma victims around the world following disasters, natural or man-made. The Seattle Pacific students spent their time at a community mental health center, Medica 3, in Visoko, and visited refugees near the city of Zenica.
One of the most disturbing stories team members brought back concerned their visit to a burned-out mosque in a Muslim village between Visoko and Zenica.
According to their Bosnian host and translator, during the civil war Bosnian Croats rounded up their Muslim neighbors. They killed dozens of men ‹ more than 100 by some accounts ‹ and then herded 65 women and children into the local mosque. After the rampage, which included crucifying the Imam by nailing him to the mosque door, the mob blew up the building, women and children still inside.
The mosque ruins are now a memorial to the dead.
Team members were overcome by the tale of tragedy, but Anderson Englehorn remembers a contrasting sight: orphaned children playing on a fence in front of the mosque. "They were rosy-cheeked, laughing and playing ‹ normal kids having fun."
She chooses to see those kids as a symbol of hope. "There's so much death there, pain, hurt, hostility, but there is a cease-fire now. People are not fighting; they're trying to move on with their lives."
Training and working alongside native counselors was arduous for the Americans and it often meant they first cared for the caretakers. "All of the staff at Medica 3 had themselves been refugees or victims of war," notes Thoburn.
Team member Chris Tobey, an experienced counselor working on his doctoral thesis at SPU, jumped at the chance to go to Bosnia. "I've spent the last four years focusing on my own education. This trip offered me an opportunity to give back to the community, and for me, my community is on a world-wide level."
He acknowledges that at times the task was overwhelming as he began to understand the scope of the violence in Bosnia. "I learned that genocide is alive and well in the world today."
In spite of the difficulties, or perhaps because of them, Tobey calls the experience the "crown jewel" in his Seattle Pacific education.
Precisely the point, says Tim Dearborn, who, as SPU's new dean of the chapel, oversees SPRINT. "It was wonderful that these students could use their studies, their expertise, in one of the most broken parts of the world. As an academic institution, Seattle Pacific must link learning with faith and with service."
Dearborn wants a continuing relationship with Medica and hopes to develop other similar programs. "I would love to see the University involved with up to 10 permanent sites around the globe that allow students to incorporate academic curricula with missions."
"Learning of this kind is deeply significant because students are changed by their experiences," says Anderson Englehorn. "We saw a deep grief in Bosnia. Every house is pock-marked from bullets and shells, but I came away believing in the resilience of the human spirit."
Tobey agrees and was moved by the Bosnian ability to endure.
"In spite of impoverishment and war, the Bosnians are a gracious and generous people. I'll never forget them."