Feature

Giving the "Gift of Tears"

A book and related workshop on trauma healing impact thousands of hurting people around the world.

Since its publication in 2004, the book Healing the Wounds of Trauma has found receptive readers in DRC and several other African countries, as well as the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, the U.S. and U.K. and Latin America. Translation of the book is complete or in progress in 135 languages; Wycliffe personnel have some involvement in 76 of those translations. 

Authors Harriet Hill and Margaret Hill are Scripture-use consultants, while co-authors, Dr. Richard Baggé and Pat Miersma, are a psychiatrist and a counsellor respectively. 

Baggé, a Wycliffe member based in Nairobi, Kenya, manages a multi-agency counselling centre to help missionaries in Africa. 

Miersma joined Wycliffe in 1980, after serving as a nurse during the war in Vietnam. She now specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder, crisis intervention and recovery from trauma. 

So far, more than 80 organizations have used the materials, while trauma healing workshops based on the book have been held in 40 countries to date—sometimes in multiple languages. About 160 people are now qualified to lead or help lead workshops. 

The workshops based on the book vary in focus; some have emphasized helping traumatized children and one targets the victims of earthquakes. A course for oral cultures—like the one recently held in Goma—is being developed to assist language groups where few can read or write. 

Confronting Deep Issues

A common feature of trauma healing workshops worldwide is an exercise that walks participants through three different “villages,” symbolizing grief as a journey. The “props” (pictured in the following images) represent, in order: anger and denial, hopelessness, and new beginnings.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

Originally written and developed from an African context, the book and workshops include numerous true-to-life trauma stories of people living in a fictional nation called Bingola. The book’s 11 lessons help readers grapple with some gritty subjects—like the first section, on why God allows suffering. 

Additionally, the book and workshop help victims confront the pain in their lives—to feel it, and let God heal it—rather than repress or deny it. 

Harriet recalls a trauma healing workshop held in southern Sudan, where one priest coped with his pain by spiritualizing it. 

“He was saying, ‘I saw my son get shot—praise the Lord!’” 

The priest believed he needed to be an example to his flock of triumphant faith, but Harriet takes a different view.

“To care for an emotional wound, people need to get their pain out. That is huge—to let people talk.” 

“We want to help people know that tears are a gift,” adds Harriet, “and they help us get our pain out.” 

A common feature of trauma healing workshops worldwide is an exercise that walks participants through three different “villages,” symbolizing grief as a journey. The “props” (pictured in the following images) represent, in order: anger and denial, hopelessness, and new beginnings.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

Learning to Lament 

As an example, Harriet points to the many laments in Scripture, where writers like David and Job expressed deep feelings to God. 

“We look at laments where you can say both things: ‘God, you’re always with me’ and ‘God, why did you abandon me?’—in the same psalm, and that’s OK. That’s how we feel when we’re going through a rough time; both of those emotions are present and God can handle it.” 

“We get them to write their own laments,” says Margaret, “and that’s very powerful.” 

Harriet says there’s a further step that’s invaluable in the healing process: bringing pain to the Cross.“When you’re in darkness and you realize Christ absorbs that pain as well, it’s just overwhelming what Christ’s death has done. 

“A lot of people experience healing at that time” (see the article, “Pain and Paper”).

Looking Ahead 

A common feature of trauma healing workshops worldwide is an exercise that walks participants through three different “villages,” symbolizing grief as a journey. The “props” (pictured in these images) represent, in order: anger and denial, hopelessness, and new beginnings.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

While the workshops have an impressive track record in Africa and around the world, the Hills and other workshop leaders always look for ways to adapt and amend the course materials to make them more effective. To that end, they developed advanced training for workshop leaders to help them master the materials and methods, and feel confident to lead the course in their communities. 

Furthermore, in many African countries, the need to help traumatized children is urgent. In northern Uganda, for example, the Anglican Church has been reaching out to homeless children who were forced to flee their homes because of violence. 

“They’re called the ‘invisible children,’ ” says Margaret. “They were trying to make themselves invisible so they wouldn’t be abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army.” 

Week-long camps for children age eight to 14 have been held in that country, along with Liberia, Togo and Thailand, using materials that integrate stories, games and crafts around different themes. 

“There’s interest in putting this program material into other languages,” adds Margaret, “and getting more children involved.” In Haiti, stories about earthquake trauma are used to replace war stories; in other areas, the materials have been adapted for use with refugees and those who host them.

As Harriet steps back from the tub, the empty bottles pop to the surface amidst applause and laughter from onlookers. The exercise is a simple, yet effective way to demonstrate that despite the human tendency to repress negative emotions, they eventually surface and must be addressed. Around the world, such principles of mental health are being combined with biblical teaching to help victims of trauma process their pain and move forward in their quest for emotional and spiritual healing.
(Photo: Alan Hood)

Coping Skills

Those who lead trauma healing workshops are taught to care for themselves in the process. Sometimes, workshop leaders can feel overwhelmed by the “secondary trauma” they experience. This comes from listening to heartbreaking stories and witnessing the powerful emotions that are unleashed when participants allow themselves to feel the pain they’ve repressed for so long. 

After leading the first few workshops, Margaret and Harriet sought help from their co-authors, Richard Baggé and Pat Miersma, who advised them to talk about what they were feeling, get adequate exercise and develop other coping skills. 

“But it’s not always easy,” says Margaret. 

“I think I will never be the same,” adds Harriet. “I mean, I’ve heard too much. I will never forget the people that have told their stories. . . . It’s not our full-time job,” she says, referencing her primary role with the American Bible Society, “but we do it because the need is so huge and immediate. 

“It’s just a real privilege to be of any help.” 

                                                                        •••••

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