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Transforming Nations and Hearts

George de Vuyst, is a missionary with Resonate Global Mission.  He has been serving in Ukraine since 1998. George trains pastors and facilitates healing and reconciliation through “Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations” (HHTN) workshops and trainings for facilitators.  In June 2021 he traveled to Michigan and planned to return overseas in June 2022. Russia’s war against Ukraine changed that. We pray for the war to end and for opportunities to serve and minister to Ukrainians now and in the future. 

The following is a transcript of Season 7 Episode 6 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  We are grateful to Resonate Global Mission for sponsoring this episode.  

Chris: Hello friends and welcome back to another episode of Do Justice. Today we're excited to be joined by George de Vusyt. George serves as a missionary with Resonate Global Mission, been serving in Ukraine since 1998. There, George continued to train pastors and facilitate healing and reconciliation through Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations workshops, and trainings and facilitations. Together with their partners in Ukraine, they are training church leaders in Ukraine's post-Soviet, post-Christian, and post-atheist society to develop healthy churches with a biblical understanding of Christianity, so that God's kingdom can transform all spheres of life and society. George, welcome, thank you for joining us today. Thank you. It's great to be with you. So George, our theme of conversation this season has been around reconciliation and you've worked in reconciliation-based projects including the Healing Hearts, Transforming Nations throughout your career as a missionary. Can you tell us more about what this program is and the impact you've seen it have?

George: Healing Hearts Transforming Nations, was born out of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. It was developed by a Christian worker, a psychiatrist from Wales, who was invited down to work with church leaders in the immediate aftermath of the genocide when there were still bodies lying in the streets. Through the discussions with the pastors and the role that the church played in that, he developed this program also based on some of the experiences of the relations between the English and the Welsh. And God just blessed it and people found healing and were able to reconcile. These amazing things were happening as Hutu and Tutsi were coming together, going through this process, and God was showing up in amazing ways. One testimony: two guys that I've met, Anastas and Ilya. Ilya killed all of Anastas’s family during the genocide. When he got out of prison, he went through one of these workshops and found healing and truly repented of what he had done at that time. So he went to find survivors of the families that he had killed to ask their forgiveness. He found Anastas and repented and they ended up becoming best friends. Anastas was the best man in Ilya’s wedding. They live together. They ride their bikes from town to town and village to village sharing their story of healing and reconciliation. Anastas had also, before they met, gone through this Healing Hearts program in a different place, and so he was also ready to forgive. And so it was just amazing when they found each other, God had prepared both of their hearts so that they could receive each other in a fantastically new way. And we've seen stories like this happen all over, where God just does these real miracles of healing and reconciliation. 

Chris: Can you tell us a little bit more about a time where you have experienced reconciliation? Maybe you found yourself right in the middle of it. What does that look like in the work that you're doing?

George: Yeah, so we moved from a rural area in western Ukraine – where we were working with Hungarians, Ukrainians, ethnic Russians, Roma people – to the capital city of Kyiv, which is a city of about 4 million people, in 2013. When we moved to Kyiv, there was a revolution against a pro-Russian government shortly after we got there. It's called the Revolution of Dignity. And it overthrew the president. Then in March of 2014 is when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. A lot of people think this just happened in February of 2022, but it's been ongoing since March of 2014. And that's when we began to look for ways of how can we come alongside church leaders that have been completely overwhelmed. But not just church leaders: members, communities that are being overwhelmed. There were millions of internally displaced people, a large number of orphans, and churches were filling in the lacks that the government couldn't provide. But pastors were burning out and there was just a lot of conflict on all sides and a lot of distress. And so we are looking at ways of how to come alongside people and bring healing and reconciliation.

God led me to the founder of this Healing Hearts ministry quite by providence. I was invited to go to a conference in Antalya, Turkey on member care because we're trying to help these pastors with their stress and with the psychological and social issues that they were struggling with. She was giving half of a presentation, half of a breakout session to share about our ministry. And I saw that there was a breakout session on inter-ethnic reconciliation. I went to see what they had to say and that started me on this incredible journey. 

Part of that journey is before we train anyone to do this ministry, you have to go through it yourself. And so I had to face my own pain that I was carrying and the broken relationships and the wounds that I had received in life. That was quite remarkable. One of the things I tell people: most of us, especially white Westerners, when we come into an unfamiliar setting, we come as evaluators. We want to see, is this right? Is this true? Is this biblical? Is this sound theology? And I was confronted very early on with a choice. Am I going to sit back and evaluate? Or am I going to engage and participate? And it was because – by God's grace – I chose to participate, that I found healing in my own life. From childhood wounds, from wounds that I've received by coworkers. Also, at one point there was somebody from churches that I had worked with that mistreated me in Eastern Europe and they went through this and this church leader knew what they did. When she came up to me to ask forgiveness for what her church did to me, it was incredibly emotional and it was a powerful moment of healing. 

One of the basic principles we work with is that it's really hard to forgive the people that have hurt you when you're still carrying all the pain that they've caused you. Before wounded people can be healed and reconciled, we need to deal with that pain. And so we do a process of identifying our own personal wounds, but more importantly the wounds of our ethnic group, of our people. Whatever that may be. And bringing those to Jesus. Isaiah 53 says that Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross, but he also took our pain. He bore our sorrows. What we see is that process of helping people bring their pain to Jesus at the cross. Pain is interesting. It's not something we need to repent of. It's not something we've done wrong. It's something that happens because we live in a sinful world. When we bring that pain to Jesus, because he paid for it on the cross, we see people freed from that burden. That's what gives us the power to forgive the people that caused our pain. Or, if we're the perpetrators, to repent to the people who we've wounded. 

That process, I have seen work over and over again all over the world. This workshop has been done all over Africa. Then from Africa, it spread to Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Nepal. Then it went a little bit in the Middle East, it's been done in Afghanistan. And then we brought it to Europe, in 2015. To Ukraine because of the conflict there. 

I remember, I'd been doing training for church leaders and I went to share with these church leaders in the east, right along the front lines of where the conflict was going on, about this new experience I had in this healing and reconciliation ministry and to invite them to come and learn about it. And when I said the word reconciliation, there's one lady there who just began to cry. She knew as soon as she heard the word that this is what she needed. She's twice divorced. She was estranged from her mother, from her daughter, from her sister. All the relationships in her life were crumbling. And so she signed up immediately: “I need this.” When she came – this was in 2016 when we did our first workshop and training of facilitators – she was walking with a heavy limp. She thought she had cancer and she thought she was going to die. She went through this and when she took all of her pain, all of this wounding that she had experienced through life, and brought it to Jesus at the cross, she says it was like an enormous weight was lifted from her. And her limp was gone, and it's never come back. After the workshop, she said that she had become a Christian in 1992. But here she found what she'd been looking for all her life. And she went back and shared and was reconciled with her daughter and then her mother. She and her sister are now both facilitators in this ministry, right along the front lines. They've done amazing work of bringing people from both sides together. We've done a whole series of workshops there. It's amazing how God shows up in these things, and people's lives are changed.

Chris: George, what does this look like or what has this looked like in the North American context? I want to, maybe, sprinkle in a little bit of what I've heard and conversations I've had around reconciliation. North American folks, in general, when we start talking about reconciliation, when we start talking about healing, pain, forgiveness, these sorts of things, sometimes it feels so big. I mean I'm comparing the scale that you're talking about, the context in Rwanda the current context in Ukraine, but what do you say to folks who might say, “It's too big, there's too much.”? How do those folks start? How can we start if we're feeling that way into this process? 

George: So I think a keyword here is hope. Do we have any hope? Dr. Rhiannon Lloyd was flying into Rwanda 12 weeks after the end of the genocide. She was praying because she had no idea what she was going to do and she was absolutely terrified. She didn't know why she had agreed to do this. And she says that when she was praying she asked at one point, “God do you have any hope for the situation? Because God, if you don't have any hope, I'm going home.” And she was reminded of Romans 13:15 where God says he is the God of Hope. That's his name. That's who he is. The question that I've asked, as I've shared about these things that I've experienced in this ministry around the world is: Isn't it the same God here in North America? The same God that did these amazing acts of healing and reconciliation in Rwanda, in Congo, in Uganda, in Kenya, in South Sudan, in Ivory Coast, in Liberia, in Ukraine, and now other parts of Europe as well are starting to pick this up. Isn't that the same God that we have here in the US and Canada? Couldn't he do the same thing here if we let him? Every place the situation is different. And one of the things that we realize is that everyone's wounds are unique, but we're all wounded. And God's desire to heal and to reconcile is the same everywhere. And North America is a difficult place, partly because our wounds are so deep and we don't like to talk about it. 

What I've seen over the last 2 years of doing this work here in North America, is that the group that is the most difficult to engage are white men. Now people coming from First Nations, or Aboriginal groups, African-Americans, African immigrants, Latinx or Hispanic groups, Koreans, we've had Pacific Islanders go through, all these, they are eager to engage. I think part of it's because the conflict is such a reality of their lives every day. As white people, especially white men, we have the luxury of not having to engage. It doesn't really change as much. It doesn't cost as much for us. And so that's the hardest group to pull in. And that's a real challenge. Now, part of the challenge also is the format is a three-day retreat. So we are asking people to really invest in reconciliation. We're looking at ways of repackaging to see how we can bring this into local churches more. But the most effective format that we found is a three-day retreat, where people are removed from their normal day-to-day settings, and put in a place where they are able to spend time thinking about their own pain, but also hearing the pain of others.

Chris: Everything that you’ve just said is ringing right now in my mind and in my heart. When you say, “Starting with hope,” immediately in my mind I'm like, “Well, of course, yeah.” That’s such a God thing, right? Yeah, it's hope, of course, it's hope, right? And sometimes the simplest answers are the most profound. It rings true. But in the context of that hope, you're launching off of that, what has been the most surprising aspect of the work that you've done? Where have you been blown away? 

George: Honestly, I am blown away almost every time I do this by things that happen. Let me share just a couple of stories. We run every other year what's called the International School of Reconciliation in Rwanda. The next one is coming up this coming March of 2024, if people are interested in having a life-changing experience in Rwanda. It used to be a full 3 weeks and we've cut it back a little bit. It's just over 2 weeks now. We bring people through the process, we train them how to lead it, and then we bring them to a real-life setting and they lead one of these events. So that happened to me in 2015, when I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no idea what I was getting into. Then I went through this and was really broken by it and had to face so much of my own pain that I was carrying from things like my parent's divorce when I was 14, from things that happened at work, and stuff like that – working through that. 

Then also, we look at that individual aspect, but then we go into a communal aspect. Then looking at how have we, as white Americans, harmed the other groups that were present there? But also as missionaries. As white men. As, men in general. Every ethnic group presents their losses. But you use John 10:10, the thief came to kill, steal, and destroy and the thief has come to every people. And so working in groups that are ethnically based, they list the things that they have been robbed of. Often this begins with material things, but it leads into things of the heart – things like hope, which is something the thief wants to rob us of. As each group presents that, it's really powerful to see that change, to hear those stories. It helps us to be more compassionate, but also to have a much deeper understanding of what others have gone through, and then to see what was our role in that. You learn to do this process and how to bring people out of those things to find healing at the cross, and then move towards forgiveness and repentance and reconciliation. 

So we experience that, we learn how to lead it, and then we go out. So I went out with the group. There was a missionary from the RCA, and myself, and a group of pastors from South Sudan. We were the English-speaking group. We went to a village where there were perpetrators and victims of the genocide who had not yet been reconciled. As we were going through and we got to this section of knowing God as a loving Father and dealing with childhood wounds, there was a lady sitting in the back-right and she just started to wail. She completely lost control. We didn't know what was going on because we were working through translation. One of the local team members had to take her out and they worked with her for a while and she was able to rejoin us and she was able to participate in bringing her pain to Jesus at the cross. When she had done that, she asked if she could share her story. She shared how she was 3 years old when the genocide happened. Their mom had taken her out of the house and hid her in a bush and went back in to get her baby sister. When she was coming out with the baby sister, the Hutus caught her and she explained very graphically how they killed her mother and baby sister in a horrific way. She was left an orphan. She grew up carrying all this pain. Got involved in alcohol, drugs, sex, all the ways that people try to deal with their pain. And she found healing. She gave the pain to Jesus at the cross. And then she terrified us, she asked if all the Hutu perpetrators, all the Hutu men that did the killing, that were there if they would stand up. We're like, “Oh no, what is she going to do?” And she went to each one of them and hugged them, and forgave them. We were just shaking our heads, we had no idea what happened. I mean, we were completely incompetent. We did not know what we were doing. We were trying to follow this program and God just showed up in this incredibly powerful way and healed this lady's life, changed her, and changed her relationships, and gave her this incredibly beautiful power to forgive these people that had killed her family. It was overwhelming. 

So we went back to Ukraine and I thought, “Well, God, you know, same God here.” So, will God do the same thing? And he did. The very first workshop we did, 20 kilometers from the front lines at a small Baptist church, and there was one guy who was this ardent Ukrainian nationalist and he came in refusing to talk in Russian, whereas most people in the area speak Russian and not Ukrainian. Just very belligerent and very hurt by what was going on. By the time we worked through the process and got to the end, he was speaking Russian with the Russian speakers, celebrating his Ukrainian identity but also celebrating the beauty of their Russian identity. It was an amazing transformation that took place. 

It's not always on the ethnic level. There are a lot of other ways we've seen healing take place. There's a young lady who came to one of the workshops we did in Ukraine. She came from a rehab center and she shared her story with us. She was raped by her father from the age of 6 till she ran away at 16. She ran away with an older man who left her addicted and pregnant. She had a child and went to rehab. It was picked up by a church group that started helping her. They brought her to this workshop. We do this really powerful thing, when we get to the idea of repentance, it's called identificational confession. Because often people that have been wounded will never hear a confession from the actual person that harmed them, that hurt them.  But sometimes, by standing in as a member of that group, we can help facilitate the healing of people that have been hurt by our group by asking forgiveness in the name of our group. And so there are a few of us there who were fathers. And we knelt down and asked for forgiveness. She just started to weep. She wept and she wept. When she was able to regain her composure she said something broke inside of her and for the first time ever she could really forgive her father for what he did. And her father was already dead. We didn't know that. He'd already passed away. But it was such a healing moment for her. She ended up becoming a schoolteacher. She's married. She has other children and her entire life changed. God completely turned her around because a few fathers were willing to count themselves with the transgressors. And say, “We're fathers. And we're sorry for what a father did to you. That's not what fathers were supposed to do.” 

We see these things happen again and again and again. And so, we're left wondering, if God can do this in Africa, if God can do this in Europe, what might God be wanting to do here in North America? I believe it's the same God and that he has the same hope. We're told in Corinthians that we're given a ministry of reconciliation. We understand that reconciliation isn't about stopping the killing. It's so much bigger than that. Reconciliation is really getting back to what God originally intended for all people from the very beginning. Where we can live with unity and diversity. Where our different people groups are able to live side by side, honoring and respecting each other. Honoring our differences, and learning from each other, and being a mutual blessing. I believe God intended the diversity that we see in the world, from the time he created. It wouldn’t have happened naturally. He intended it to be a blessing. If we look at God's world, what do we see around us? There's not one kind of bird. There's not one flower. There's this incredible diversity of God's creation. So why would that be any different when it comes to people? Right? It's the intent, I believe, that God had was that this be a blessing, where we learn from each other, but also that it be a reflection of the multi-faceted nature of God's glory. I don't know what you would even call it to think that only my group reflects God's glory and you have to be just like me to reflect God's glory. We often use the image of a diamond. Saying, “What's the difference between a diamond and a pane of glass? Why is a diamond valuable and glass isn't so valuable?” One of the things that always comes up is: because of the way it refracts light. Every face of the diamond refracts light in a unique way, and it gives it beauty. Somehow, in the same way, I think we could say that every people group, every ethnicity, reflects God's Glory in its own unique way. And it's when that comes together, that we begin to see more and more of the glory of God that we would never see on our own. We would never see if we never encountered people who were different. So reconciliation isn't about stopping a conflict. It's about getting back to God's original intention for his creation, and that harmony between, and that unity, and diversity that God intended from the very beginning.

Chris: Hey, George. This has been a blur between holy ground and hopeful ground, and I want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for spending the time with us. 

George: Happy to do it.

Chris: Yeah, this was this was great.

George: Thank you for having me.


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