Truly, “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” and not only can it provide healing for your own personal sorrows, but it can bring great benefits to those you interact with. Joy can be a powerful force to help turn situations around. It may not be a 100% antidote to a person’s depression or a child’s sadness, but it can be the jump start that they need.

I spend a lot of time with children who have cancer. To stay positive despite the death and suffering I often see, I try to spend enjoyable moments playing games with the children in our care. It benefits both me and them. Such is the power of having fun with others; it helps us feel alive, and for the children with cancer, it truly can alleviate some of the pain they are suffering.

Recently, I met a family from Antakya (biblical Antioch). The mother and her three young boys had moved to our city as they had lost everything in the earthquake that left over a million and a half people homeless. The earthquake was the disaster that broke the back of this family.

The family originally lived in Syria, where they were displaced multiple times. Due to the ongoing civil war and relentless bombings, they were forced to relocate to Türkiye, where they were renting an apartment. Slowly, over the years, their lives started to improve. The father had a steady job. They were happy in their little apartment in Antakya. They did not have a lot, but they had each other.

All they had built up over the years in Türkiye came crumbling to the ground when a killer earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude tore apart the region on the morning of February 6th, 2023. Everything they owned was demolished in the 80-second quake that seemed to last an eternity. They were trapped under the rubble of their five-story apartment building, where they spent the next two days freezing, thirsty, and hungry, while waiting for an aid team to come to their rescue. Worse than their pain were the moans and screams of hundreds of people in their own and neighboring buildings who were either bleeding to death or whose limbs were crushed under the heavy cement structure of the building.

Overall, this family was fortunate. The father had to be hospitalized, but the mother and three children came out with only minor injuries. The father was later released from the hospital, but sadly the cumulative stress of war and disasters had a negative effect on him. He did not have the resolve to start all over again and ended up abandoning his wife and children.

The mother and her three children rented a hovel in a filthy, crowded slum of our city. Their living quarters consisted of a small entrance room, one bedroom, and a kitchen and bathroom that had water leaking from the flat above. The dimly lit house was moldy, with bare cement floors. The kids sat on a thin mat in the entrance room. The oldest boy, age five, had not spoken a word in the four months since the earthquake.

We gave donated food supplies to the mother and pledged to raise funds for her to rent a new and better place. A visiting aid worker from Albania was working with us. He had some balloons and began making balloon swords for the children. In a matter of minutes, we were in another world, lovingly dueling with each other and the children with our colorful balloon swords. Even the older boy entered in, and we noticed a slight smile would briefly adorn his face.

That night I couldn’t sleep, thinking about those three boys. I felt we could help the older boy speak again if we could spend more time with him. Perhaps a little fun time “acting out” would provide an appropriate coping mechanism that would benefit him.

The next day, we visited this family again, with a plan to spend quality time with the children. After bringing some gifts for the kids, we again engaged in a hearty game of sword-fighting with our scimitars made from colorful balloons. When the oldest boy would hit us with his sword, we would fall over dramatically, or howl as if he hurt us. Within minutes he was laughing again, and in a mere twenty minutes he was chattering away with his brother in this magical world of imagination and fun. The mother was elated; this was the first time her son had spoken in four months!

After a few more games and a round of delicious local coffee, it was time to go. We all left overjoyed to see this five-year-old boy brought back to life by the healing effects of fun and joy therapy!