At the start of 2020, Kay Stoker did not expect to be delivering Bereavement training to 17 countries.

As Covid-19 continues to spread across Latin America, more and more communities are dealing with the sudden loss of loved ones.

In Cusco, Peru, Latin Link’s Kay Stoker heads up Nueva Esperanza (New Hope), an organisation working with people who have been suddenly bereaved. It’s co-lead by Wehrner, a local pastor and psychologist. Since 2016, they have been offering therapy sessions for children and adults, bereavement training for churches and schools, and weekends away for groups of bereaved families.

A large part of Nueva Esperanza’s work is equipping others to come alongside a family member or friend who is grieving, and raising awareness about what bereavement is and how it affects people. “In Peru, so much about this topic is covered up or hidden,” says Kay. “A lot of people don’t know how to help somebody who is grieving because it’s not talked about.”

A NEED LAID BARE

Peru has been hit particularly badly by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a long, strict lockdown, it has one of the highest death rates per capita in the world, and in September cases were still rising every day.

There are tens of thousands of families suddenly grieving.

“We started getting so many phone calls from people who had lost family members,” says Kay. “Then churches called too, asking what we could do to help them support their members. 

“In Cusco and the Andes, there is a definite shame culture. We saw that people were hiding the fact that a family member had died from Covid-19, afraid of how their neighbours would react, or of being refused entry to shops. They had nobody to talk to or comfort them.

“We urgently needed to find a way to equip more people to support those being bereaved. But we had been in a strict lockdown in Cusco for months – training people in person would be impossible.

“Like so many others, we turned to video conferencing. Wehrner and I developed an online course that we could run each evening for a week, and used social media to advertise it.

“We had no idea how many people would sign up.”

LATIN AMERICA DIALLED IN

Kay and Wehrner realised that the course might have a wider reach than the Cusco area since people could dial in from home. What they didn’t expect was 200 participants each evening, joining in from 17 countries across Latin America, and even a Hispanic participant from the USA.

People took part from Brazil, understanding most of the content despite the language difference, and a Brazilian mission agency – excited about the course – has now translated all the resources into Portuguese.

The 200 participants were a diverse mix of doctors, nurses, teachers, psychologists, charity leaders and church leaders – all desperate for help supporting people through this time of mass bereavement.

WHAT DID THEY LEARN?

Kay says: “For two and a half hours each evening, Wehrner and I covered important topics like the different reactions to grief that people can have; practical tips and ideas on how best to accompany children, teens or adults through grief; what the Bible says about grief and sorrow and hope and mercy.

“Wehrner actually had mild Covid-19 at the time but he still did a brilliant job!”

People who took the course said: “It was excellent that they taught about the grief of adults and children separately, so you could understand the difference and how to support these two groups.”

“There was so much richness we could apply from what they taught; other psychologists were delighted to listen… To know that death is part of life and to know there are people who went through this process and went forwards with God - that brings hope.”

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

“The response to this course has been beautiful,” says Kay. Beyond all her expectations, that one week has kick-started something across Latin America that is still gathering momentum.

Some churches had arranged for a team of church members to go on the course, and now they are putting it into action in their churches and towns. Other pastors are using the course videos to train up more people in their congregations.

“Switching to an online model, for now, has opened other opportunities,” Kay adds. “We’re planning to run small therapy groups online for bereaved people in different countries.” And there’s more. “The child sponsorship charity Compassion has asked us to repeat the whole course for all their workers, link churches and psychologists in Lima,” Kay reports. “They’re not the only ones – children’s homes want this training too, and one Peruvian district wants us to train all their school staff if possible! It’s hard to think that so many children are grieving due to Covid-19, but heartening to see how keen these professionals are to support them through it.”

Nueva Esperanza have a lot of work ahead as the Covid crisis continues. But Kay and Wehrner can see that God is doing something significant here. “The way God has used this online course to reach so many grieving communities is really humbling,” says Kay. “We’re here to help restore hope where it feels lost. And now more and more others are getting equipped to do that too.”


This article was first featured in Autumn Latinfile 2020. Read the full edition here.