On the morning of Septemeber 11, 2001, when I saw the towers in the flames, I felt an unusual pang of longing, a longing to be in America. My country was shattered, and I felt I should be there, with my people, sharing their grief, mourning with them. (And yes, of course Saipan is part of the United States, but nonetheless, I felt so far away).
I felt that same longing again this week, here in America, only this time, my heart was breaking for the islands that have been our home for over a decade. My islands were broken and hurting, and I feel I should be there, with my people sharing in their grief and shouldering a portion of their pain.
The first blow came with the news of the murder on Wednesday of student missionary Kirsten Wolcott on the island of Yap. I never knew Kirsten, never even met her. But because she was a student missionary, just as I once was; because she served on the islands I've come to love; because she set out on a morning run on the last day of her life, just as I did a hundred times with student missionary teachers in Saipan, I felt an automatic kinship with her, as well her colleagues at the Yap SDA School devasated by loss. She, and they, are my tribe, my people. And my heart hurts.
The second shock came hard upon the first, and this one closer still to home--a mass shooting that resulted in five deaths and a half dozen injuries in Saipan on Friday. Nothing like this has ever happened in Saipan, and the island, already beleagured by so much trouble, is reeling. The Facebook updates of friends recorded shock and confusion in real time, as schools were put on lockdown while police looked for the shooter. They found him eventually, dead by his own hand, at the edge of Banzai Cliff. When I first heard the news, my thoughts immediately went to our teachers at the Saipan SDA School. I knew based on the location of the shootings and the descriptions of the victims that they were physically fine, but I was concerned about their emotional well-being as well. These courageous young women have been through so much--wading through their first year of teaching (which in itself is quite ordeal), enduring multiple break-ins of their home, and now the murder of one of their colleagues on another island--and then this. I felt for them, these teachers who would have been my friends and co-workers if we had remained in Saipan. And I felt for my island and for people of the Marianas that have become extended family to me over the years. These--the teachers of Saipan SDA, and the people of the CNMI--are my people. They are my tribe and I feel I should be with them.
But I cannot be there, and so I mourn our paradise broken from afar.
Kirsten Wolcott. Our prayers our with her family, friends, co-workers, and students.
Last Command Post on the northern end of Saipan, where the gunman shot the second group of victims. Our prayers are with the families of those who lost loved ones in this tragedy, and with the victims who survived for healing for their wounds and a speedy recovery.