Eight years have passed since Starlight Ministries, an organization that offers Christ-centered grief support for families who have experienced the death of a child, began offering programming at Ridgewood Christian Reformed Church in Jenison, Mich.
Starlight recently held its first "night out" for bereaved couples, with nearly 100 people turning out to share their stories of loss and to hear Dave Branon, author of the book Beyond the Valley: Finding Hope in Life's Losses. Branon shared the faith struggles he and his wife faced after their teenage daughter was killed in a car crash and spoke about how God brought them through those challenges.
Starlight had previously held two daylong retreats specifically to help women come to terms with the loss of a child. Gwen Kapcia, the organization's executive director, says the idea of an event for couples came out of those earlier retreats.
"The women had begun to say, 'I wish there was something for my husband, but he probably wouldn't go to an all-day retreat,'" Kapcia said.
Branon discussed how men and women grieve differently during his presentation. He also talked about the high divorce rate among couples who have lost a child. In those challenging times, it's critical for couples to think back to the vows they made when they married, said Bill Bowman, who attended the event with his wife, Karen.
"He said that you cannot let the death of your child allow you to become separated as husband and wife," Bowman said. "You still have to maintain those vows."
Starlight was founded by Ridgewood CRC members Jolynn and Greg Van Wienen in 2009 after the death of their 10-year-old son a couple of years earlier. The ministry holds programming every other week at Ridgewood, with separate programs for kids and adults. It also works closely with churches, funeral homes, schools, and medical offices, providing packets of grief and loss resources for the families they serve. Jolynn Van Wienen marveled at how the program has grown over the years.
"To see God’s hand working in Starlight has been a miracle every year," she said.
Starlight has a long-range vision of having its own building that would house its programming and staff.