My blog this week is in response to the recent release by the North Korean government of imprisoned University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier. Otto, who arrived home on June 13, passed away Monday afternoon. This is an open letter to Cindy and Fred Warmbier, Otto’s parents.


Dear Cindy and Fred,

My heart cries out over the unspeakable pain inflicted on you by the death of your precious son, Otto. By all accounts he was a smart, articulate, handsome young man. He valued family and friendship and was an inspiration to those around him. Yes, he was a “remarkable person.” I can’t help but think that having spent a great deal of time over the last five years on the grounds of the University of Virginia with our children, that perhaps we saw Otto in the line for Bodo’s Bagels or maybe stood by him in the student section at a football game. His dazzling smile would have brightened anyone’s day.

I admire your courage in saying that at this time you choose to focus on the blessing of 22 years of memories made with Otto, and not on the milestones that will be missed. I did not have the wisdom of those words in my heart years ago when three of my children were killed in a car accident. And while the circumstances are not the same, the fact remains, there can be no greater tragedy in life than the death of a beloved child. As one who has been on the journey through grief that you now embark on, I want you to know that you are not alone. People all over the world bear the pain of your grief and are praying for you. And the sighing of your heart is not hidden from the Lord. (Ps. 38:9) Unattended milestones will come and go, and silent tears will mark the passing of time, but I pray you will find comfort in a God who is sovereign over all Creation and whose arms are reaching out to lift you up and carry you through this profoundly sad time. Even in the face of the greatest tragedy, “we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.” (Rom. 8:28)

I know the days ahead will not be easy, so I hope you will be kind to yourselves in your grief. There is no set timeframe or foolproof prescription for reaching the grace of acceptance and healing. But, I can promise you that faith and trust in the Lord will be your freedom song. When we feel weak, Ephesians 6:10 tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” God weeps with you over your loss of Otto and walks alongside your every step as you venture forward.

I hold you close in thought and prayer. May the love and peace of Christ sustain you always.

Donna Berger

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