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Rivers of Unwept Tears – How Forgotten Voices Embraces Grief

Can I have a snack? Can you help me go potty? Can we go outside and play? Can you zip my coat?  Kids always need something from their parents – even when they are older. To this day, I occasionally call home because I just need to talk to my mom.

Moms and dads play functional roles in the lives of their children. Yet at the core of each healthy parent/child connection lies a spiritual relationship that goes beyond meeting basic needs. When a child loses their parent – or is on the verge of doing so – that loss leaves a void that no financial investment can fill. At Forgotten Voices, we equip local African churches to come alongside families caring for orphaned and vulnerable children so that they can work together to restore a child’s sense of well being, particularly in the face of loss.

PriestlyPriestly’s search for peace

Priestly is a fifth grader in Zimbabwe. When he was four, his dad suffered a gunshot wound, and died. The tragedy of his father’s unexpected death sent shockwaves through Priestly’s family. His mother remarried, but left Priestly behind to live with his deceased father’s parents. His grandparents provide a loving, Christian home for Priestly, but they struggle to make ends meet on the single income of his grandfather. Complicating matters, Priestly’s grandmother needs expensive blood pressure medication and his great aunt (who also lives with them) suffers from a blindness and dementia, requiring 24/7 supervision for her safety at home.

In spite of these challenging dynamics, Priestly has excelled. Recently, his school elected him a prefect, recognizing his accomplishments of leadership, academic performance and overall behavior. Everywhere he goes Priestly seeks harmony and peace. While adorable and inspiring in one way, it’s clear that Priestly is searching for ways to find peace for the deep wounds inflicted by the death of his father.

For lots of complicated reasons, his grandparents and others around him have never helped him grieve his loss. Despite their efforts to protect his young heart by limiting any mention of his father, a river of unwept tears remains buried within him. Just recently, Forgotten Voices’ team has stepped in to help Priestly’s church address some of his family’s unique counseling needs. Although sad for the burden Priestly bears, we rejoice at our opportunity to serve him more fully!

Equipping partners with Hope for Grieving Children

When a local church becomes aware of a situation like Priestly’s, their compassion-fueled response often includes initial investments to meet obvious physical needs – paying school fees, providing farming inputs, etc. However, as church volunteers build a relationship with each child, they may also recognize emotional and spiritual challenges below the surface.

Through an organization called Hope for Grieving Children, Forgotten Voices trains church leaders and volunteers to improve their interactions with children who have experienced loss. The training focuses on creating safe environments for kids to grieve. Trainees also explore the value of grieving – even among adults. They learn how to hear each others’ stories and lean in to love more deeply, even when withdrawing from and shunning pain may be a natural instinct. By providing evidence-based grief counseling – also referred to as psychosocial support – our church partners help address deep-rooted issues around grief in order to help children and their families thrive.

Recently, as I listened to one of my kids pour through a litany of stories involving a wide range of topics, I sat in awe of my daughter’s joy as she talked to her mom. My wife chimed in here and there with questions, but her simple willingness to listen patiently made the moment precious for our daughter.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned through our work is this: To be heard is to be valued. We will never completely fill the void left by a deceased or absent parent, but we can equip churches and families to love children like Priestly by listening and embracing the fullness of their young lives and experiences – especially when they have been impacted by loss.

Love on!

-Ryan Keith, @ryanmkeith

Posted in Ryan's Desk
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