Whether our prayer magnet is on your fridge, you sponsor a child (or 4), or you've served with us on a mission trip, explaining family restoration to the littlest members of your family can be a challenge. The vast majority of our children haven't had to go without meals, shelter, or their parents. But they have seen Disney movies. Many of the themes incorporated into children's films can help our children grasp the complicated concepts of family restoration.
We hope you can use these films to help make connections for your kids to the ministry your family holds dear to your hearts!
If your child is older, they may have asked you, "Why are so many children living on the streets of Kampala, Uganda?" And rightfully so — 20,000 street kids is a big number! You may have talked to them about poverty or the Ugandan culture surrounding step-parents, but another big factor is shame or the fear of punishment. We have helped reunify many families whose children ran away out of fear of consequences for something bad they had done. The list often includes skipping school, theft, and multiple run-ins with the local police. We also find that there is normally another young friend encouraging them to run away, saying the streets would be better than whatever punishment their parents might give.
But every time we've found their parents, all they wanted was for their child to come home.
In Disney's The Lion King we see Scar convince Simba that Mufasa's death is Simba's fault. Scar tells Simba to "run away and never return," which is exactly what Simba does. He believes he is guilty beyond forgiveness and runs away until he is dehydrated in the desert. Luckily, that's where Timon and Pumba find him, but the kids we move to our Transitional Home have often not been so lucky.
When a child is living in our Transitional Homes, the guilt and shame that they feared is one of the many areas of rehabilitation that we focus on. Through day-to-day life with their House Parents, they grow to understand that parents can give consequences as well as forgiveness. "If my House Parent can love me even though I've been a thief, maybe my dad can too." This is what Kevin came to believe. In fact, on Kevin's Reunion Day, he walked right up to his dad and said, "Forgive me." Without hesitation, his dad took Kevin into his arms and hugged him.
The first time I realized Tangled was a family restoration story, I bawled my eyes out. Before we get too deep into this topic, I have to warn you that the connection to family restoration is the ending. SPOILER ALERT!
Sometimes, however, the answer is no, but not because of negligence. In fact, the first family restoration Benjamin House had the privilege of seeing through was a story of a mother who believed her former-husband had taken their son, Innocent, to the city to get an education. Unfortunately, though, this was not true. Her son had been handed off to her former-husband's brother who paid for school fees for 1 term and then physically neglected Innocent. When we finally took Innocent into our Transitional Home to reunite his with his family, he had been living on the streets for 6 years. His mother was devastated when she discovered the truth and overjoyed when she was able to hold her son again!
The way Innocent's mother held him on Reunion Day flooded my memory as I watched the closing scenes of Disney's Tangled. Rapunzel's parents had searched for her nearly all of her life and all they could do when they were finally reunited was hold each other!
Finally, let's talk about the culture around step-parents in Uganda. Can it really be that bad? Growing up in the States, the closest I got to hearing about evil step-parents was the movies. Unfortunately, in Uganda, that's really not the case. Time and time again we hear stories of neglect and abuse beginning when one parent gets remarried. One such story is Hakim's.
When Hakim was young, his parents separated. After his mother got remarried, she and his step-father wouldn't let Hakim and his siblings visit. So their father took Hakim's siblings in and Hakim went to live with his Grandmother. After some time, Hakim's father and siblings visited. His father decided to take Hakim with him this time and leave his brother and sister with their Grandmother (essentially switching their living situations). She had no choice but to give Hakim to his father.
Hakim was 10 when he went to live with his father and new step-mother. Immediately, his step-mother began mistreating him and eventually she influenced Hakim's father to abuse him, as well. When their abuse became more serious, Hakim fled to the streets of Kampala.
Step-parents in Uganda are often attempting to do their best for any biological children they've already had or are planning to have with their new spouse. In order to give their children an advantage they neglect their spouse's children, just like in Disney's Cinderella. Cinderella's step-mother, Lady Tremaine views Cinderella as a threat to her daughters' chances to marry the Prince. Everything she does to Cinderella is in an effort to provide a better life for her biological daughters, Drizella and Anastasia.
In the film, this treatment results in Cinderella running to her bedroom, crying. In Uganda, it results in thousands of children running to the streets to avoid neglect and attempting to provide for themselves on their own. So far, in every restoration we've attempted with a story like this, there has always been another family member who desired to care for the child. The children do not return to homes of former abuse.
Family restoration doesn't always end like a fairy tale. "Happily ever after" looks more like healing old wounds and surrendering our family-life to Christ every day, but it is amazing how many children's movies are centered around themes of reunification!
One final movie suggestion we have is Disney's Queen of Katwe. While it doesn't necessarily carry easy metaphors for family restoration, older children will enjoy getting to see a movie set in Uganda. They'll even hear some words spoken in Luganda! Watching a movie that takes place in Uganda may help them visualize some of the challenges our restored families and sponsored families face on a daily basis.
What movies have you seen that feature family restoration? What has helped you explain these complicated concepts to your children? Let us know in the comments!
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Benjamin House staff, short-term missionaries, and our founders