Background of a Canadian Novelist
Canadian Bonnie Toews was born in Timmins, the same Northern Ontario town as Shania Twain
, and grew up in Kirkland Lake, a gold mining town, where the winters seemed to last forever. Once, including the wind chill, the temperature dropped to -60 degrees below Fahrenheit, while the dry heat of summer was also known to rise as high as 100+ degrees Fahrenheit
I’m glad I grew up in Northern Ontario. It was a true melting pot of nationalities and cultures, embracing the privilege of being Canadian. We thrived on helping each other. We were judged on who we were, not on who our parents were. Protocol was relaxed. We even called the parents of our friends by their first names, not by Mr. or Mrs. Doolittle, or ma’am and sir, unless we didn’t know their name. Catholics were welcome in Protestant churches; Anglicans attended Roman Catholic mass on Christmas Eve. We visited the local synagogues and respected Jewish dietary practices with the same acceptance as we honored Catholics’ preference for fish on Fridays. We learned and enjoyed folk dancing common to our mix of heritages. When a new kid came to town, the teacher introduced him or her in class and we immediately accepted the person as one of us. He or she did not have to prove anything to us to become acceptable.
In Christian Fiction, I represent the doubting Thomases who come to God through tough experiences, harsh criticism, even cynicism, to eventual surrender to faith. I’ve questioned God and the Bible since I was ten years old. Luckily I had two ministers who welcomed my challenges and allowed my debate. I came to love the Old Testament and Jewish teachings. I am a Christian with a Jewish soul and my personal faith has grown out of seeing and experiencing actual miracles. Sometimes life gets in the way and we forget these, but God brings those memories back to renew His embrace.
In 1994, as a journalist, I covered the greatest humanitarian relief effort of the time. Greater efforts have been achieved since, but then, in Rwanda, up to one million had just been slaughtered within 100 days with greater efficiency than the Nazis mastered during the Holocaust.
The West finally felt guilty about ignoring this modern Holocaust. Because the gruesome slaughter occurred in Central Africa, it was largely ignored by the rest of the world. Only the Canadian UN force commander, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, brought attention it by disobeying UN orders, along with his Canadian and African contingency of UN peacekeepers who joined him in refusing to abandon the victims in the midst of the genocide. That act of decency exposed the world’s hour of shame.
In my interview notes, I rediscovered one of my first introductions to what happened. After Canadian air traffic controllers discovered an orphanage where the Hutus had hacked off the feet and hands of Tutsi children so they could not grow up to retaliate against them, they asked me, “How can we teach peace to children like these, who have every reason to grow up to hate those who crippled them?” I did not physically go into the refugee camps set up in Goma, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), which bordered the north part of Rwanda on Lake Kivu. But I ended up listening to the horrors many of our Canadian peacekeepers witnessed. Sometimes I hugged them as they cried and wept with them for their pain. I saw the elegance, innocence and resilience of spirit in the Rwandan people. Their remarkable dignity and forbearance is what engaged Dallaire and those who refused to leave the victims to their fate.
I also saw incredible leadership in the rebel leader, Paul Kagame, who drove the extremist Hutus out of Rwanda with minimal fighters and, in fact, saved the UN mission from total defeat and decimation. His rebel forces recaptured the Kigali International Airport so that UN reinforcements and humanitarian relief could be flown into the country. Today he has achieved the unthinkable. He has stitched together the country between those who inflicted death and the survivors and relatives of those who were murdered by issuing a proclamation that puts them side by side farming the land. In the aftermath, he has guided the Rwandans to independence and self-sufficiency; though he leads with a firm hand more in the guise of a benevolent dictator than as a true democratic leader.
Plight of Children in War
Because of my experience in Rwanda, what happens to the children in war circumstances will always play a part in my intrigue and suspense novels. Children are the powerless victims of an adult world gone mad. There is no justification for the slaughter and maiming of children. They are not responsible for the deeds of their parents or governments. On my return flight to Canada, I decided fiction was the best way to show readers how to triumph over betrayal, to let them see the true power of forgiveness and our struggle to achieve it, for as long as victims and perpetrators seek retribution against each other, the world can never live in true peace.