Worship Blog

#TimeisNow: Faith-full Women Transforming Lives, Linna Gunawan, preaching

Beyond Trauma: The Solidarity of Vulnerability with Traumatized International Women
Linna Gunawan

Ruth 1: 6 – 22

Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”  But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
    there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
    and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them,

“Call me no longer Naomi,
    call me Mara,
    for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
I went away full,
    but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi
    when the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
    and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Sermon by Linna Gunawan

Last week my friend, the only American student in my department seminar class, asked us, four Asian students, “Why are you guys so quiet in class? I am talking a lot.” I made a joke, “That’s why we need you in class.” But my Korean friend said, “Because we are Asian. I knew what I want to say in my mind, but I can’t say it correctly because of the language.” He was right! When English is a second language, we have limited chance of showing our thought, mind, and feeling.
So, now, I make a challenge for you all to listen and feel how complicated it is to understand if the language is not your first language. I will read pieces of Indonesian poem:

Ya, Allah, malang benar
nasib hamba-Mu ini.

Aku pun melancarkan protes,
Kutegakkan kepala,
Gusti Allah,
Sudah kulakukan semua ajaran baik
Tetapi kenapa tetap saja kena celaka?
Kau berjanji melindungi
Kaum tertindas, kaum yang lemah –
Aku ini lemah,
Sangat lemah.

Tak kutahu kenapa mulanya
Aku jadi sangat marah;
Aku teriak sangat keras
Dalam hati.
Ya, Gusti Allah
Kenapa begini jadinya?
Ampun, ya Allah.

Ampun ya Allah, Ampun,
Aku hanya membela diri
Tak ada niatku membunuh
Bantu aku ya Allah.

What do you feel? Weird? Does it sound good or bad? Strange?
What do you think about the meaning?
How do you understand the poem?
Now, I will translate them in English.

O, God, how miserable
the fate of Your servant.

I protested,
I held my head up,
O, God
I’ve done all the good teachings
But why do I still hurt?
You promise to protect
The oppressed, the weakness –
I am weak,
Very weak.

I do not know why at first
I became furious;
I shouted very loudly
In my heart.
O, God
Why is this so?
Forgive me, O God.

Forgive me, God, please forgive me
I was just defending myself
I have had no intention of killing
Help me, God.

Intentionally I read the poem in my language, and then I translated it into English. But English cannot precisely get the profound meaning of the poem. Language cannot capture the feeling and voice of people who are victims of violation and oppression. The poem is an imaginary voice written by an Indonesian author, Denny JA, based on the story of Aminah, an Indonesian woman who worked in Saudi Arabia. Aminah is a representation of women laborers from Indonesia who have been sentenced to death because they defended themselves when their masters oppressed and raped them. She also represents more than 5,000 Indonesian women workers who were victims of violence. Denny tried to voice what they couldn’t express because of the language in which they cannot be understood and the strange law that they have to obey. What they can do only is cry, silently, and keep the truth deep in their heart.

If we are paying attention to the poem that I’ve just read, we’ll hear the ringing of what Naomi says about herself, about her fate, and God.

“Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty, has dealt bitterly with me.
I went away full,
but the LORD has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi
when the LORD has dealt harshly with me,
and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Ora Desner says Naomi was voicing her trauma to God because she’s experienced “an event which defies natural expectation of life.” She loses a husband and two beloved sons. She dreamed of the better life because Bethlehem, her hometown, wouldn’t give hope for meeting her family’s needs. Yet she met an unexpected tragic event.

I think what Naomi feels about her shock is also felt by all international women workers. They dreamed they would get a better life, and they’d be able to support their families, who waits for money from them. Like Aminah, they imagined they could support their children and parents and build a beautiful house for the family. They never expected they would face a hard life, hard work, surrounded by the beast. They never dreamed that they would be sexually harassed, raped, beaten every day, and subjected to other torture.

Naomi’s trauma, Desner says, creates ambivalence between love and hate towards God, herself and her two daughters-in-law.

When Naomi said:

“Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find the security, each of you in the house of your husband. No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.”

She showed the mixed feelings of her love: she wanted her daughters-in-law to have a good life; and on the contrary, she is angry. Her fate is worse than theirs. She hated them and hated God who was inflicting bad luck on her. “Naomi is not able to be in touch with her sadness and extreme pain and the pain of her daughters-in-law,” Desner says.

Naomi voiced her trauma with an expression of anger and frustration to God.

How about the International women workers who experience trauma? Can they express and voice it?

They choose to embrace what Judith Herman says about a new language of trauma: unspeakable. They are silent. They close their mouths tightly. They force their hearts to be silent and take suffering as their unchangeable fate. They don’t have the choice to get money unless they accept whatever their boss has done to them.

One of my international student friends pointed out to me that we needed money to pay all our expenses here, but we don’t have a choice of jobs like American students do. We have to do whatever jobs are given to us and not complain to our bosses because we need money.

The international women have no choice to voice their pain, anger, suffering except silence. Unspeakable.

So, where is God for them? Where is God for people who have trauma? Where is God for Naomi? What is the good news from our reading today? What is the good news for the international women when we remember them in our service? What is the good news for us?

I remember Lady Gaga’s song, entitled, “Till It Happens to You.” She reminds me that we can never understand and feel what somebody who is traumatized is feeling until we experience it ourselves. In other words, we cannot touch them unless we are ready to “wear their shoes.”

Fulata Lusungu Moyo, a migrant worker in Europe and a survivor of sexual violation who now works for the World Council of Churches, believes that in the case of a language barrier, we can listen to each other’s pain in silence. Remember as human beings, we also have experienced traumatic events, we are also vulnerable like people who are traumatized; so that we can share our vulnerability with them.

Ruth says to Naomi:

“Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.”

When she clings to Naomi, this is what Moyo means about sharing vulnerability—Ruth enters and touches Naomi’s vulnerability with her vulnerability as a woman. In the South African women’s perspective, Masenya claims Ruth walks beyond Naomi’s trauma. In the Northern Sotho culture, the woman in Ruth’s position would have done exactly what she did; a widow still is married to “her husband’s family.” Ruth has a chance to break the rule when Naomi pushed her to go back to her father’s house. However, Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi. She decides to walk beside Naomi to pass through anger, sadness, emptiness. Ruth takes her fate to become the international woman worker in Naomi’s hometown, to become the foreigner in a place where she has never lived before. She is going further than Naomi when she helps Naomi to find a better life back in her hometown. Ruth is doing solidarity of vulnerability with Naomi.

Karoline Lewis declares what Ruth did to Naomi gives us glimpse into the heart of God, shows and expresses a kind of God’s love, i.e., hesed. Naomi received hesed through Ruth. It is the good news for us.

I believe each of us has, at some point, received hesed. It is the good news for us.

We are called to share our hesed with people who are vulnerable. In the lens of trauma, Shelly Rambo calls us to be a witness from the middle for the traumatized victims. To be a witness, Rambo says, we must enter into the elision traumatized victims at the hearth of suffering. To be a witness for them, this is our good news. It is the good news for the international women who suffer because of injustice and violence.

Go further with them. Show our willingness to walk with them. Tell your international women friends that they are not alone in their pain, struggles, and suffering. Please talk slowly and patiently with them.

As an educational institution, PSR can go beyond trauma through the willingness to teach many international students from any country in the world. Trust me, even educating a single international student is nurturing that student’s country and the whole world.

I want to tell my experience as an alumnus of PSR. I graduated from the Doctor of Ministry program in 2008. I came back for my sabbatical leave in 2012 and again did my Certificate of Advanced Professional Studies in 2016. Why am I always coming back to PSR? Because the PSR has transformed my mind, my heart, my purpose of life through the classes that I took, through activities, through my relationships here. I have transformed my sensibility to social justice issues. I have changed of my understanding of equality.

When I was back in my country, Indonesia, almost every week I have teach and preach for the 4,000 members of my congregation. I have educated hundreds of seminarians who were ready to be the leader of churches in Indonesia. I have trained many leaders, priest-elders, Sunday School teachers of churches in my country. I believe what I have been sharing with them comes from what PSR did for me. My members, students, and leaders will share with others throughout Indonesia. This is just a glimpse of what PSR has done to educate Indonesia. The more international students the PSR accepts, the more we share the good news around the world.

So, friends, when we remember and celebrate International Women’s Day as well as the moments of Lent, we are called to be the witness of God for people, especially the international women, who are traumatized because they dream of a better life, yet they get an unexpected life that they have never wanted.

Remember them. Remember their silence. Remember our calling to enter the solidarity of vulnerability. Walk beside them, through the shadow of their pain. Walk beyond their trauma, through their anger and silence. Amen.


May you be blessed with a wise and compassionate guide
Who can accompany you through the fear and grief
Until your heart has wept its way to your true self.

As your tears fall over that wounded place,
May they wash away your hurt and free your heart.
May your forgiveness still the hunger of the wound

So that for the first time you can walk away from that place,
Reunited with your banished heart, now healed and freed,
And feel the clear, free air bless your new face – John O’ Donohue