Forgiveness isn’t just a nice concept to Joy Desjarlais. It’s become a way of life.
On a cold winter night 13 years ago, Desjarlais’ nephew was transported outside of Saskatoon, Sask., and abandoned there by two former police officers.
There had been talk among the Aboriginal community of other “starlight tours,” but it had never hit so close to home for Desjarlais until that fateful night her nephew’s life was put in jeopardy.
“My nephew [when found] was on the verge of dying,” Desjarlais said. “He was actually beginning to remove his clothing because hypothermia was setting in, and he was getting warm. It was by a miracle that he survived.”
Desjarlais, born on Montreal Lake Reserve in Northern Saskatchewan, and now a resident of Moose Jaw, has no hesitations about confirming that her brother was left to die simply because he is Aboriginal.
“That same week the bodies of two other Aboriginal men were left and actually found dead in that same area,” Desjarlais said. “So, absolutely it was because he was Aboriginal.”
As the events of the night started to come to light, Desjarlais began to investigate what happened to her nephew and the two other Aboriginal men who lost their lives.
“The more I investigated it the more angry I got,” she said.
As the anger and bitterness grew, Desjarlais knew that she needed to forgive the two officers responsible.
“If I didn’t forgive I would be consumed with anger towards them, and towards the justice system as a whole,” Desjarlais said.
In hopes of finding freedom she turned to God for strength. God had transformed other areas of her life since accepting him 16 years ago, and she knew this would be no different.
Even with God’s help, though, forgiving the two officers wasn’t easy for Desjarlais. Yet, the constant reminders of how much God had forgiven her kept her moving forward.
“It took years for me to be able to forgive, but it was a decision to walk in total freedom,” she explained. “And now when I hear their names, or think about them it doesn’t make me go into that anger place anymore.”
Desjarlais shared her journey of forgiveness February 12 at Briercrest’s Aboriginal Awareness Week. She hopes her story will help others to find their own freedom.
“If you don’t forgive you live with a lot of anger and bitterness,” she stated. “But if you do forgive you can let go, walk away from it all and be free to live the life God wants you to live.”
The Moose Jaw resident explained that the importance of forgiveness is not only how it impacts an individual’s life, but also the ripple effect it has on others.
“I want to focus on helping people to release that anger, and see that their anger is consuming them,” Desjarlais said. “It’s really devastating to a person personally, but it also affects other people’s lives.”
Desjarlais said what happened to her nephew is also the story of so many others. She is grateful for the opportunity she now has to speak into the lives of people because of what happened to her and her family.
“Anyone who has unforgiveness they are living with right now, they need to have a way to release it once and for all,” she said.
Through prayer and God’s guidance Desjarlais helps others break free by teaching them to learn to trust in the Lord’s goodness.
“There needs to be a daily reminder that as long as you are living for the Lord He is in control, and whatever happens He knows what He is doing and [we] can’t question Him,” said Desjarlais.
“I don’t go anywhere, I don’t even step out of this house until I have prayed and asked God to go ahead of me.”
The seminar speaker reminded her audience that forgiveness is not just for the large areas of life, but the anger and hatred need to be released in all areas of a person’s life.
“I think it’s a daily walk in forgiveness,” she said. “For example, you go to the grocery store and someone gives you a mean look. You want to walk away, be angry and resentful, but you need to go ‘wait a minute they could be having a bad day.’”
The joy of walking alongside people in their healing, and watching as lives are transformed is one of Desjarlais greatest passions.
“For every person the journey of forgiveness is different,” Desjarlais explained. “The most important thing is letting the person know he or she is not alone. No matter how long it takes. It’s about being there for them.”
The Moose Jaw resident is patient in walking alongside others in their forgiveness process.
“I meet with them, I pray with them and I talk to them,” Desjarlais explained. “I don’t just walk away and say, ‘Okay, hope you have a good life.’ I’m standing with them, being there when the phone rings, or when it’s the middle of the night until I see the chains being broken off of them.”
Although being a part of such life-changing experiences is exciting for Desjarlais, she knows it’s important to remain humble and not take any glory for the transformations she sees.
“I have to make sure I go as God’s mouthpiece and not ‘Oh, I’m the healer of everything,’” she laughed. “It’s continual prayer and continually walking with God to see true forgiveness. If I did it in my own strength or pride I’d get knocked down pretty quick.”