The following is a reflection written by Joe Ahlers, one of this year's North House Volunteers. He shared this as a part of the North House community's Pentecost Reflections, which took place May 20th.
When I walk into the Marjorie Kovler Center, I’m immediately surrounded by individuals who truly know what it means to grieve for the old but wait hopefully for the new. The clients of the Kovler Center have experienced and survived the worst sort of cruelty that humankind can inflict on one another; physical and psychological torture. Even after almost a year of having been exposed to a darker world that I didn’t even really know existed, the shock and hopelessness I feel when I hear or read a client’s torture experience has not worn off. But there are certain individuals’ stories that really spoke to me when I thought about waiting in anticipation of the ascension.
One such experience belongs to a survivor that I’ll call “Sean”. I first met him when he walked into the Kovler Center a few days after I first started there. Like many of the Kovler Center’s clients, Sean comes from Sub-Saharan Africa; more specifically from the former British colony of Nigeria. When Sean first came walked in, I will admit that I was more than just a little intimated by him. To put it mildly, Sean is a “big man”, tall and built in such a way that I wouldn’t doubt him if he introduced himself as the 3rd string middle linebacker of the Chicago Bears. But when I started talking to Sean about his experience in his homeland, what really caught me by surprise about him was not his physique, but rather how soon into our conversation he started to break down and cry. Sean explained to me that this was the first time that he had talked about the horrific events in his homeland and he simply could not contain the flood of emotions that he was experiencing. He went on to say that he was a middle class laborer in his native city in Northern Nigeria, with a new wife and a 1 year old daughter. He said the trouble started when an Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, started to become active in and around the area in which he lived. Sean told me that he was a practicing Christian in a part of the country where very few did. He told me that one night five armed men came to house and started to threaten his family if they would not convert to Islam. To further scare him, they threw his baby daughter in a tub of water and would not let him rescue her. Sean said he’s never been terrified or helpless in his life. The armed men let him go to his daughter after 30 terrifying seconds, where he found her shaken up but alright. The men then left but warned that they would return. Sean immediately took his wife and daughter and fled to Chicago to live with his mother in law, where he learned about the Kovler Center a few weeks later.
Sean left his entire life, culture, customs, and anyone he’s ever known behind, and was severely traumatized by his experience. But with the help of his family, the Kovler Center, and his own resilience and hopefulness, Sean was able to start to feel whole again. A few months after I first met him, he told us that his wife was pregnant. A few weeks ago, his wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy with a huge mop of thick black curly hair that looks like he’ll be just as big as his father one day.
This is just one example to me of grieving the old and waiting hopefully for the new. Although I can never imagine what it feels like to leave behind everything and start over in a new world like our clients do, I’d like to think like that serving for two years has been a small taste of their experience. I think we all feel some sort of grief for the friends, family, and lives we left behind when we entered this weird and wonderful experience called Amate House. I for one still miss times where the world seemed so much simpler and pure. Although I still find myself fairly anxious when I think about the impending storm of what staff likes to call “life after Amate”, I know that I will have the countless stories of strength and resilience of people like Sean and the support of eight other housemates to help guide me through whatever comes next.