“I don’t see how we can heal or move toward reconciliation if we aren’t prepared to forgive. It is needed to be whole again.”
New Zealander Grace Mackenzie was in Christchurch the day of the horrific shooting of 56 innocent people worshipping at their mosque.
As a way of processing the tragedy, Mackenzie wrote an article on her personal blog that she called, Common ground with a killer.
The story walks us through her grief as she struggles to understand the tragic situation so close to her home. Mackenzie’s blog has connected and helped numerous people who have been affected by mass shootings.
Context producer, Katrina de Schiffert connected with Grace Mackenzie three weeks after the shootings.
KD: What compelled you to write your article?
GM: I was actually in Christ church at a funeral of all things when the shootings happened. I guess it was a bit surreal because I was with a group that had come up for the funeral from Dunedin, which is four hours out of Christchurch, we had planned on going right into the city centre, with the events taken place, obviously that didn’t happen once we got the news. On the van ride back down to where we were staying, it was this really strange trip. Where there would have been about 11 of us and everyone is on their phones and just adding to the mix of knowledge as news became available. And, I’ve done a lot of travelling and I’ve been exposed to some pretty horrible stuff in my time, I’ve visited the Khmer rouge in Cambodia or I’ve been to Auschwitz, but, I guess this was a lot closer to home. I used to live in the Middle East as well so I’d say I’ve got quite an affinity with the Muslim community. My husband and I, we’d booked a weekend away by the beach and it happened to be that weekend. On the Saturday just as I was journaling, processing through the shooting and the emotions that were stirred up in me; I guess there was a sense of, I was a bit scared to write about it for other people to read. But I had had some conversations with some university students that I track with over the week who, when I had shared some of the things that I had been struggling with just around forgiveness and anger and recognizing things that I had in common with a guy who had shot people. I thought, actually I think there are some other people who are in the same position as me but don’t necessarily know how to put it into words or make sense of it and I wonder if writing about it could be a helpful way of contributing.
So I guess that was a bit of the journey. I was nervous because so many people were writing about it and putting comments on Facebook, I thought “Oh, I don’t really know if I need to add anything to the mix.” But, I had had a conversation with my husband earlier that week and I think that during that time God was just kind of nudging me – do it, write it.
KD: What kind of response have you received from your article?
GM: Honestly, I’ve been pretty surprised because it has been so long since I wrote anything to put in a public space. I’ve had a number of people message me, some who are friends, others who I don’t even know but are friends of friends who shared it with others on Facebook. A lot of people thanking me for writing it, or talking about how challenging it’s been. I was pretty stoked that it wasn’t just Christians who were responding, there were old school teachers who aren’t Christians who found things that were thought provoking, quit a mix actually.
KD: You mention forgiveness in your writing, why do you think is forgiveness necessary in tragic circumstances like this?
GM: I don’t see how we can heal or move toward reconciliation if we aren’t prepared to forgive. It’s just, I know what it is like to hold onto resentment in my own family circumstances and can just see how destructive they can be. I’ve also seen the power and the healing of choosing it in my own relationships. So on a broader scale I think socially, yeah, it’s needed to be whole again.
KD: The shooting was close to home for you, as you said, how has the town been doing since?
GM: Christchurch is reeling. It’s been devastating. Because in New Zealand it’s two degrees of separation, if people don’t know those directly who were injured or killed, they know someone who does know them directly, it’s just kind of the way it is. I don’t live in Christchurch itself, but I know from friends living there that in one sense people are just baffled and struggling to make sense of it but there has also been such a massive demonstration of love and support and solidarity. I think that has surprised a lot of people because Kiwis aren’t particularly demonstrative, most of the time we are pretty chill. So for people to be so active, in the university where I am, we wore hijabs like the Muslims girls house, all the girls learned how to wear hijabs for a day. There have been all these donations, and outside the mosques are covered in flowers and all sorts – I kind of mention that in the writing. So there has been a huge outpouring of support and I think that has acted as a bomb for the Muslims community and just those who are hurting because of it, even if they are not directly affected. So yeah, it’s a mixed bag I’d say, in terms of the response.
KD: Are you hopeful that healing will come and people will feel safe again?
GM: I am. I think it would be naive to speak to total healing any time soon, but I do think that there have been some really powerful examples, one of the men whose wife was shot, there was a service last week, last Friday kind of two weeks on.
And he spoke really beautifully about choosing to forgive and it sounded like the crowd that was there really responded to that, so I think that there is a really cool example for people directly, kind of in the thick of things. I don’t know how many New Zealanders will really consider this deeply, I hope they do. But I do think on the whole though, there is a desire to move towards being more proactive about showing kindness to different kinds of immigrants or members of the Muslims community just from the average Kiwi who may not have done much before this.
Watch our full episode on the Christchurch shooting, http://www.contextwithlornadueck.com/2019/03/20/global-terrorism-and-our-neighbours/