Tears on the Inside

By Virginia “Jenny” Woods:  Robert Mwanza lives in sub-Saharan Africa.  He is too young to have ever heard of HIV/AIDS, but he knows the deadly plague more intimately than most of us.  Robert’s father died just before Christmas.  His mother died last week.  In his community Robert’s tragic situation is not unusual.  There are more than15 million children, under the age of 15, who have lost their parents to AIDS.  There have always been orphans, but never on the massive scale we are faced with today.

An African proverb says, “The tears of the orphan run inside.”  Maybe the reason why the tears are on the inside, in the deepest part of the being is because the orphan finds no caring person who can be trusted with his tears.  Gone are the arms that embraced, the breasts that nourished and the branch that gave life.  Their fate is sealed and cannot be reversed.  Too often hope vanishes, and when hope is gone so are dreams, aspirations and acceptable social behavior.

This tragic waste of young lives compels us, as Christians to share the Gospel in word and deed. The Church, true followers of Jesus, is the one institution on earth that can make an immediate and lasting difference in the lives of orphans and damaged children.  There are many secular and humanitarian projects that provide food and shelter, along with therapy and counseling.   While we are thankful for every effort and affirm the good that is done, we know Jesus is the only one who can dry those deepest tears. How do we bring wounded boys and girls to receive the healing Jesus offers?  First, we must be available.  Amy Carmichael warned us that “children tie the feet”.  The biggest breakthroughs don’t come in scheduled counseling sessions, but in unexpected moments in the middle of everyday (and night!) life.  When those moments come they must be put to use.  The admonition to “be prepared in season, out of season….” (2 Timothy 4:2) is especially critical.  A person who is too busy or too tired may not get a second chance.  This is one reason why workers should be careful not to commit to too much.  An orphanage for 50 children may provide food and shelter, which is good, but the larger the commitment the more difficult it is to have the level of bonding necessary to reach the hidden hurts.

When dealing with a painful past we could be tempted to encourage the child to forget when the healthy approach is to strengthen the cords to birth family and culture.  If you have pictures, frame them.  If you have stories repeat them.  If you have no information at all about birth parents, learn about the culture of the family, even if it is only the neighborhood culture.  Then ask for wisdom to see God and His precepts in that family and culture.  Even in the most negative circumstances there is a cord of redemption to be found.  Put your conversation about a child’s background and roots to the Philippians 4:8 test; “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” talk about these things.  Emphasize the positive while you commend the negative to the grace of God.

Carol’s parents were alcoholics and abandoned her when she was a toddler.  When she was seven she was adopted.  Her adoptive parents and their extended family welcomed Carol into her new family so completely there was no apparent difference between her and her older brother who had been born into the family.  Then, during her adolescence a deep sadness seemed to settle over Carol.  She lost interest in school work and sports, preferring to lie on her bed with earphones and her CD player.  Sensing Carol was struggling with her birth heritage; her parents tracked down her birthparents and took Carol on a short trip to spend a day with them.  Emotions were high as the trip was anticipated, but the actual visit was anticlimactic.  They brought pictures and stories home and Carol seemed relieved to realize she could freely talk about her birth family with her adoptive family.  The walls were broken down and Carol was free to be happy in her adoptive family without betraying her ancestry.

Healing is a process, like growing, it takes time.  One rule of thumb is it takes five years of nurturing for every one year of abuse or trauma.  Howard is an extreme case.  He lost both parents before he reached age two and then was in a series of foster and group homes until he was eight when he was placed in the Christian foster home that would claim him as their own.  He was frequently in trouble.  It seemed no one in his Christian home or community could reach him, but they refused to give up.  He left home, fathered two children and worked at a succession of minimum wage jobs.  Nevertheless his foster parents never stopped praying for him and continually went as far as they could in accepting him.  Then one morning when Howard was almost forty years old he wrote his foster parents a letter saying he had given his life to Jesus.  He knew what it meant because it had been planted in him years ago.  It had taken a long time, but the tears were finally being dried.

Howard’s story encourages us to never give up.  Those of us who work with children tend to release our relationships when children become adults.  Especially in the case of orphans, the critical breakthrough may not happen until years into adulthood.  Whether our work is in foster care, an orphanage or a Sunday school whenever possible we should not stop.  Long term relationships are rare and precious even if they only consist of periodic visits, phone calls or letters.

If we had time and space we could relate hundreds of stories, every one of them as different as the children whose experiences they relate.  We would cry, laugh and sigh, but at the end we would certainly redouble our passion and our faith, committing ourselves to do whatever it takes to dry the innermost tears of boys and girls who suffer the deepest losses.

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