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When Families Break Up
With almost one in every two marriages in Canada currently ending in divorce, churches are finding a role to fill in helping the kids.

"I drove by the church office and saw the sandwich board advertising the DivorceCare program," says Dineen Bisonnette. "I thought, Wow! A church involved in divorce and separation? It's too good to be true!"

Bisonnette found healing in the adult DivorceCare program at Promontory Mennonite Brethren (MB) Church, Chilliwack, British Columbia, but her heart was for her kids and for the children of other divorcing couples. Promontory became her home church and she now runs a DivorceCare for Kids (DC4K) program there.

Two other Fraser Valley Mennonite Brethren (MB) churches also offer the program. Some churches, like Willingdon in Burnaby, provide similar ministries, such as My Place for children who are grieving.

A much-needed ministry

Divorce is a devastating event for children. They are literally young and inexperienced. They have very few resources to help them cope with a crushing tragedy, the loss of a parent in the home. Their daily lives include fears and upsets, and often, no one to talk to. Experts recognize that divorce wreaks long-term harm on children—scars that may not heal for years.

Almost all children of divorce carry a horrible, usually unspoken, guilt …

The tragedy for children of divorce is that the two people they depend on most, their mom and dad, are seldom able to respond adequately. The parents are themselves probably at a personal low, unable to be there for their kids, and at risk of deepening the damage.

When children first come to DC4K, they feel powerless, and often are powerless. They've had no control over their family situation. DC4K addresses that issue. Ken Reeve of Northview Church, Abbotsford, says, "It opens communication. It's an awesome program."

Almost all children of divorce carry a horrible, usually unspoken, guilt based on the irrational sense it's their fault that their parents broke up. "Kids feel isolated and carry that guilt with them," says Reeve. "They're feeling anxious, they're feeling angry, and they can't express it."

"The major factor in helping these children is the big S word—Safety," says Bisonnette. "Children need to talk, but if they talk to Mom, they know they'll upset her. If they talk to Dad, he gets upset. Each child needs to have a voice in a safe place."

God at work

The program provides opportunities through crafts, art, snack time, and talking to allow those feelings a voice. The children support each other, admit they feel that way too, and give hope and healing. More than once, Reeve says, at the end of the evening a facilitator will joyously declare that God was at work.

Dick Hiebert of Central Heights Church, Abbotsford, agrees. "I see God changing people's lives every week. Every week!"

Bisonnette says, "I see kids transition away from being angry or sad or in denial—horrible places! I see growth. God's healing hand is there with the kids."

Although unchurched children also find benefit and healing, DC4K is explicitly Christian. Children hear they are part of the church family. They are taught that their Father in heaven cares for them.

In strategic terms, keeping the program in step with the adult stream is a vital factor in the healing process. It creates communication opportunities between parents and children. If the parents' session is about anger, the children's session is about anger. Parents are given tools to open up the topic with their kids and the results can be dramatic.

These children of divorce are assured that their lives are not ruined forever. A good life is still possible, even though one parent has left, even though they miss their father or mother. It's a healing message.

Called to care

Many of those who run DC4K groups speak of a sense of calling. And most of the facilitators and directors betray a joy, a jubilance, when they talk about the work. Sometimes it's intense, but most evenings, says Susan Voth of Central Heights Church, Abbotsford, "the two hour class just flies by."

Leaders are trained … Every session is highly organized …

Almost one in every two marriages in Canada currently ends in divorce.

Leaders are trained, and each one works with helpers. Every session is highly organized, but the team also knows to follow God's leading, when for example, a child starts to open up for the first time.

Each evening's program involves "alphabet stretches" tied to Scripture, and tools to deal with emotional upsets. Children are taught the meaning of terms they may hear at home, like "custody." They are taught the difference between needs and wants. They watch a video. They talk. It's a safe place.

Many churches offer a variety of programs to help adults at their most vulnerable points in life, but kids need ministry too and this reality is gaining recognition in church settings. One can hear Jesus' words, "Let the little children to come to me."

Barrie McMaster is the Mennonite Brethren Herald's British Columbia regional correspondent.

Originally published in the Mennonite Brethren Herald, May 2007.




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