My life changed forever after my forty-first birthday, January 1983. It was early morning. I was nestled in a chaise lounge sipping coffee, book in hand, when the telephone rang. The call was from my dear friend, Dominican Sister Margie Tuite...
Sharon Rezac Andersen's role was about to change from UND student, wife and mom to emissary, her view of humanity forever altered.
Sister Tuite, after wishing Rezac Andersen a happy birthday, said she'd been asked to lead a fact-finding mission in Nicaragua. The national director of Church Women United asked her to go along.
Rezac Andersen was "shocked" by the request. Nicaragua was at war. They would be traveling in the war zone. Their mission was to advocate a nonmilitary negotiated settlement.
But Rezac Andersen accepted the invitation, her lifelong "search for truth" propelling the decision.
"I knew the trip would be dangerous," she explained. "However, it seemed important to me that I go on the fact-finding mission.
"Concerns of a secret, covert war in Nicaragua had escalated among faculty and students in the mass-media communications classes I was enrolled in at the University of North Dakota.
"The majority of staff and students believed that the 'undeclared war' escalating in Nicaragua - funded by the United States - was killing innocent victims, undermining the newly established Sandinista government and depleting the U.S. economy. There was fear it could become another Vietnam..."
'Boring as hell'
Three decades after what proved to be a pivotal experience, Rezac Andersen has authored a book, "The Burden of Knowing - A journey, a friendship and the power of truth in Nicaragua."
Rezac Andersen had taken copious notes during the travels, "two notebooks are filled with conversations." She had the advantage of being able to write in the intervals between Spanish-to-English translations when they stopped at villages and farms.
The author takes readers into the Nicaraguan civil war zone, where she witnessed the grief over youth killed by contras. But she also saw a population buoyed by the positive programs under the Sandinista regime.
The book, she explained, is a tribute to Sister Tuite, who, at six feet tall, 190 pounds, had a "fun sense of humor. But she didn't like fluff...
"It was all about what we can do to make the world a better place," she said of her "friend, mentor and advisor."
Sunday, Sept. 23 she will share her insights on the experience at 4:30 p.m. at the Y Steak House's Sunday Classic Series (reservations required).
Monday, Oct. 1 she will return to Grand Forks, where the former director of the UND International Centre will introduce her work in the room that bears her name.
The book, she said, underwent a bit of metamorphosis before going to print.
In May, 2011, "I thought the book was done," she said of the work that's been percolating for nearly 30 years.
Then she put it to the test before three authors.
"The research is excellent," one of them told her. "But it's boring as hell."
The others agreed.
"Put it in conversation form," they counseled. "When you talk about it, it's interesting."
She headed home from Arizona last summer and went to work on the manuscript that was originally "sequential and detailed, with very little conversation."
The work that emerged brings the experience to life through dialogue.
"I can't believe it's the same book," one of her reviewers told her. "I've never cried so much...I loved it."
Find a voice, and write
A friend in Arizona recommended Rezac Andersen contact book publisher Wheatmark, based in Tucson.
After two chapters were reviewed, Rezac Andersen received a phone call.
The book was a go.
An editorial board made suggestions on clarifications, which the author embraced.
"The big issue," Rezac Andersen said of the book, "is what is truth? From my Nicaraguan experience, I know you cannot depend on one source," she said of the media.
After arriving back in North Dakota in 1983, the experience ignited "taking to the road for peace with justice," Rezac Andersen sharing her Nicaraguan experience with fellow residents in the Peace Garden State.
The book's finale is a poignant update letter to Sister Margie on societal issues that have evolved since her death.
When Rezac Andersen returns to Arizona this fall, the book will be featured in a group of 137 book club members.
Thursday, she was invited by the University of Arizona to lead an adult discussion group on the book next spring.
"Everyone has a story," she said. "I will challenge others to find a voice and write.
"We owe it to future generations, to leave this legacy."
The book is available at Beagle Books, Amazon, B. Dalton and the Library of Congress.
Buy tissues; it's a powerful, evocative read.