Remembering the Children
There will come a moment in your life if it hasn’t already when the world stops and the gravity of mortality will hit you like a ton of bricks. This may be sparked by a story on the news. Your doctor might give you medical advice to change your lifestyle. You may have lost someone near and dear to your heart. The reality of working in the humanitarian sector is that we are faced with this harsh reality far too often. We find ourselves shifting through the stages of grief and loss like a well-rehearsed dance on a weekly, if not daily basis.
Denial and Isolation:
No, this can’t be true. The sobering statistic hit our ears at the same time, 108 sponsored children and three staff members have passed away. Of those who passed away, 50 were from countries in Africa, 20 from countries in Asia, and 38 from the Latin America and Caribbean region. As an organization, we gather together every Wednesday for Chapel to worship, pray, and hear a message of encouragement of stories from the field.
This Wednesday however, was slightly out of the ordinary and was met with a more somber message. Each year Food for the Hungry (FH) has a memorial service to honor and mourn the loss of sponsored children and FH staff members that have lost their lives. Again, the number 108 children sank deep into the pit of my stomach, and for a moment I was in disbelief. Denial struck me until the images of the smiling faces started to scroll across the screen accompanied by each child’s age and reason of death. At that moment it became real. The candles that were lit made more sense, and the music battled to be louder than the sound of crying that filled the room.
Diego from the Dominican Republic, age 9, reported a death from a fever. Firmat from Burundi, age 6, reported a death from bowel obstruction. Sinaet from Cambodia, age 8, reported a death from drowning. Alfredo from Guatemala, age 10, reported a death from Malaria. This is where you might find the stage of anger settling in. How could this be? How is it that children are dying from a fever and stomach aches?
Preventable illnesses caused an astounding number of reported deaths. Easy access is not the reality for many FH countries. Health care is a human right that should be granted to everyone. Throughout the grieving process, it’s healthy to experience anger and be uncomfortable sitting through the inner dialogue that surfaces. It’s those emotions that manifest into the driving force behind action. Anger builds fire to cultivate change and inspires justice for all.
If Only- Bargaining:
Then we shift into bargaining and the phrase ” if only” … If only, we could get more people on the ground to help… they had the proper medical facilities to catch the illness in time… if only I could do more. Secretly, we may make a deal with God in an attempt to postpone the inevitable and the accompanying pain. Guilt often accompanies bargaining. We start to believe there was something we could have done differently to have helped save our loved ones and the most vulnerable. The truth is that God has a divine plan for each of us. No amount of bargaining will change that. We must continue to find hope in God’s promises, and the truth He shares. Much like he did with his disciples in Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they are comforted.”
After the morning memorial service at our headquarters, each of us walked away with a photo of one of the children that have passed away. The cards included what they enjoyed doing during their lifetime and what they aspired to be when they grew up. The depression had found it’s way to our hearts. Yet again we are reminded in Psalms 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”. And in Revelations 21:4 ” He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. In a state of depression, it can be very difficult to find hope. Returning back to our desks was no easy task. However, every aspect of our work at FH is important and significant and that glimmer of hope sustains us.
You may only pass through acceptance momentarily before you find yourself revisiting one of the other four stages. The process of grieving looks and feels different for each individual and acceptance does not necessarily mean that you are okay with the outcome. It means that you are radically accepting the circumstances of reality. At FH we are called to respond to human suffering and serve the most vulnerable. It is with great humility that we are a part of international transformation and healing.
Let us pray that He gives us strength, courage, and wisdom. W need to push back the darkness of those places and address the diseases and issues that are truly preventable. May more of His Kingdom come and he will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Help the families who have lost their beloved ones draw close to you. We are advocates for the vulnerable and marginalized. It’s a high call when Jesus says to us, “let’s go to the hard places.”