If true religion is looking after widows and orphans in their distress, surely the truest religion is looking after orphans of war who have been traumatized and victimized as child soldiers and sexual prey. In her book The Color of Grace: How One Woman's Brokenness Brought Healing and Hope to Child Survivors of War, Bethany Haley Williams tells the story of her involvement among war orphans in Africa.
Dr. Williams, a psychologist and counselor, founded Exile International, bringing together her love of missions, her counseling skills, and her personal experiences overcoming trauma and grief. Without being exploitative, yet without airbrushing their experiences, Williams introduces the children she has worked with and the horrors they have experienced. Oftentimes, these children have no place to go after they escape or are rescued from the militias. Girls who have been raped are shunned, sometimes by their own families. Boys who have killed are often not welcomed back to their own villages. The stigma they carry can be devastating. Williams uses art therapy to encourage the children to communicate their pain and their stories.
I couldn't help but share Williams's awe at the children's resilience, hope, and joy, in light of their past and their poverty. In her admiration for them, she takes some indirect jabs at Western Christians. "The eyes of my heart began to see the spiritual wealth of my new friends in Africa and the spiritual poverty that so characterized the place I called home." "As horrific as they were, they carried their burdens with a courage our culture can't imagine. Our culture, which some consider easier or more inviting that this one, lacks the inner strength I witnessed here." Their strength empowered Williams as she overcame trauma from her own life, which sprung from a failed marriage and associated issues.
I was moved by the powerful stories Williams tells of these children, and inspired by the way her programs lead to healing and hope for them. I will admit that I got a bit bogged down in the first 1/4 of the book, as she told her own story. I kept thinking, "When do I get to hear about the African kids and not this lady's issues?" (Not very gracious of me, I know.) That style, and the journal entries interspersed among the chapters, will appeal more to the female readers.
The bottom line is a deep sense of humility in the face of these kids' strength. No matter what trauma or struggle I may go through, I know that God's strength and hope, which is enough for these kids who have been brutalized, is more than enough for me, too. I applaud Dr. Williams for using her experience to bring that strength and hope to them.
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!