Thank God for Women — Heroes in the Fight for Justice

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Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.
 

A few years ago, a dear friend gave me a book titled, Women Are Heroes. It is filled with beautiful portraits and stories of women around the world whose very existence is heroic. I flip through it often and I am constantly inspired by the resilience, strength and grace that women posses.

You don’t have to look very far to find disturbing statistics about women across the globe. Women, on average, still make less than men. We are more prone to being victimized by sexual violence. We have less access to education. The list goes on. But somehow, despite all of the data, there are women who continue to defy the odds—fighting for justice in their communities, raising families with inadequate resources, building businesses out of nothing, and striving for educational opportunities to not only better themselves but the people around them as well.

My line of work has afforded me the privilege of traveling all around the world and wherever I go, I am always in awe of the women I meet.

I have visited with women in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Women who have lived through atrocities of war and sexual violence against their bodies. But in spite of all they have experienced, they continue to work towards the healing of themselves, their own, and the healing of other women in their communities. These women speak of forgiveness, hope and peacebuilding in their communities.

I have listened to women in Kenya share how they started a savings group so that they could pay for their kids’ uniforms and school fees. They were soon able to start their own businesses, and then began to pay the school fees for other children in the community who were in need.

I have sat with women from both Israel and Palestine as they shared their painful stories of loss, what forgiveness looks like and how they can begin to lead their communities to understand the narrative of the “other.”

I am surrounded by countless women—many whom I am honored to call friends—here in the United States who have committed their lives to advocate for those who suffer under the oppression of racial, gender, and economic injustice.

When women are not allowed to fully express their God-given potential, it is affront to our Creator and a disservice to all of humanity.

Throughout history, countless women have ignored the limitations that society has placed on them and fought, against all odds, for the opportunity to flourish. Women like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai, Yuri Kochiyama, Berta Cáceres, Katherine G. Johnson, Septima Clark, the millions of refugee women around the world—the list goes on. These women have blazed trails, smashed ceilings, fought countless battles so that the next generation could dream bigger, soar higher and achieve things they never thought to be possible.

The fight for women's rights means equal rights for all. Women work for the betterment of families, communities and nations. There is a deep understanding that we are all connected to each other and we all rise and fall together.

So today—and every day—I thank God for women. The dreamers, troublemakers, peacemakers, bridge builders, trailblazers, ceiling crushers, and image bearers of the Creator. The women who see injustice in our world and refuse to stay silent. Those who work to infuse radical love and hope into our world.

Women are heroes and I stand on the shoulders of the ones who have gone before me, and I link arms with the present day warriors. Together, we continue the fight for justice for all people.


Chi Chi Okwu is a Senior Church Advisor for World Vision USA—working with churches and parachurch organizations to build strategic partnerships focusing on community development and relief work globally. She is passionate about issues relating to faith and justice specifically in the areas of race, gender and reconciliation, and enjoys speaking and writing on those topics. Chi Chi currently resides in Chicago and enjoys traveling, cooking, watching sports and spending quality time with friends and family.

Thank God for Women — The Village Nearby

 

Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.

The Village Nearby is an chapter from The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope—compiled by Hope Through Healing Hands’ Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide.

 

Deborah Dortzbach currently serves as World Relief’s Senior Health Advisor. Her extensive background in international public health has equipped her to oversee maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, child development, adolescent health, and anti-trafficking programs for over twenty-five years.

In 2015, Zondervan published The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope, featuring personal stories from women around the world—including Deborah’s. Her story covers her work in the late 1970s, and journeys through a time when she was held hostage while pregnant. She applauds the strength of the women who surrounded her at that time. We thank God for Deborah and the work she continues to do to empower women. Here’s an excerpt her story...


I thought I would deliver my firstborn child by myself in a makeshift lean-to on a windswept hill far from a health facility. I was terrified.

There was no one to give me prenatal care. No one to coach me. No one to talk to about my fears.  No emergency backup for complications. No one except…soldiers, hovering.

I am a nurse and was taken hostage while pregnant by the Eritrean Liberation Front and held in a remote, desolate location near the Sudan border. One day, as I wandered in allowable short distances, I discovered others like myself in a nearby village. They were Tigre women, clustered around each other as they framed their nomadic huts. Some were pregnant; some had children tugging at their long, faded skirts as they stretched straw mats over simple poles. One woman stood alone. She had no children and looked sad and abandoned.

I went to them, and we chatted, each in our own mother tongue, as together we thrust grass mats over the acacia sticks, bounced babies in our arms, and laughed at each other’s strange expressions. I put their weathered hands on my bulging bump of baby, and they seemed to curiously question, “What are you doing here?”

I have had many years now to reflect on that question. I was eventually released, received good medical care, and delivered a healthy baby boy. But my newfound friends were never freed from the captivity of unsafe motherhood and the future opportunity to participate in decisions about their families and their own well-being. Were I to return to the same hill today, I wonder if they would ask me the very same question, in the past tense, and what my answer would be. “What have you done, for us?”

The Tigre moms and millions like them, let us know that before us is a choice—to improve maternal health, or to actually increase maternal harm through just doing nothing. While we get genuinely interested for a brief season or for some project silos in maternal health, we all know the deeper issues of behavior and structural change take time and perseverance. Our commitments must be unswerving and unending.

Fundamentally, as Christians, we work and strive to improve maternal health because it’s about valuing who a woman is as God made her and treasures her, not because of a role or function, marital status, maternal status, or even because of need, as great as that may be. Needs and resources will come and go—but the intrinsic worth of woman as God sees her, will always warrant our highest efforts to esteem her and fight for her equality and full expression of honor, dignity, safety, and health.

The account in the Gospels[1] of the bleeding woman healed by Jesus demonstrates this. The unnamed woman, bleeding for 12 years, was stigmatized, spiritually ostracized, extremely weak, and economically impoverished. Yet, drawn by the working of Christ in her life, she ventured into a crowded social space and touched Jesus. He cared so deeply and so thoroughly for her, that He allowed her blood-impure status to spiritually defile him. It instantly healed the woman.

What a beautiful picture for us of the spiritual healing soon to come through the defilement Jesus took upon himself on the cross! God chose the body of woman through which to be born (Mary) and now the body of a woman to bring a foreshadowing of His healing power through death. Can there be any doubt He loves, treasures, honors, and redeems women and seeks to bring His redemption and completeness to all humankind in brokenness and suffering?


[1] Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48

Join us as we support those whose work raises the value of women and provides the opportunities for growth and progress.

Thank God for Women — Saving Funds and Communities

 *Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.

 

As a pastor’s wife in rural Kenya, Elizabeth Ewoton saw glaring financial needs all around her community. She decided to lead by example, using her influence to mobilize 15 local women to join a community savings group at Full Gospel Church in Lokitaung, Kenya, which had implemented World Relief’s Savings For Life back in 2014.

Savings For Life is a holistic, community-based savings and credit program that offers safe and reliable financial services to people who are often excluded from more formal banking institutions. As time goes by, consistent savings allow participants access to appropriately-sized loans, without impossible fees and interest rates. This allows members of the group to take care of daily household needs and to establish and invest in their own income-generating activities.

Prior to Elizabeth's involvement, no one had ever heard of working together as a community to save their own funds. But one woman, Hellen Esekon, caught Elizabeth’s vision and decided to give it a try.

Both women’s families soon benefited substantially from the Savings For Life program, as each gained access to money to pay unexpected school fees for their daughters. Both Elizabeth and Hellen say there is no way they would have been able to pay the fees—which were demanded on very short notice—if it weren’t for the savings group.

Elizabeth, who is now chair of the group, and Hellen have become bold advocates for the Savings For Life program at Full Gospel Church. They have experienced first-hand the transformation and security that comes with financial stability, and they want that experience for others as well!

Give to World Relief to create a better world for women.

Thank God for Women — Defiant Love

 *Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

*Some information has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.

Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.
 


Six years ago, I was sitting at a small, unsteady table, in a room that was oppressively hot. Aamiina, a young refugee woman sat across from me. A few months prior to that, the word “refugee” had not really been part of my vernacular, but it was now an everyday term.

We opened the room’s small window to try to let in a breeze, and the cacophony of the streets soon invaded any sense of peace and quiet. Aamiina began to share her refugee journey—a story of sorrow, suffering, and loss.

To this day,  I have never been able to repeat what I heard, though I can still remember every detail. I still think of the two daughters Aamiina lost—one to death, and one to kidnapping. I wonder if her daughter is still alive somewhere, and if she knows how her mother longs to find her.

When Aamiina finished her story, she said something that I will never forget: “All the people that did these things to me, they want me to hate. But my act of defiance is to love.”

Amiina’s love and gentleness defied all odds. Despite such loss, Aamiina later took young women under her wing and loved them as if they were her own daughters. Her love changed these women. Her love changed me.

Since that day, I have met many women like Aamiina in some of the most violent corners of this earth. I have connected with mothers from Syria, who have made dangerous journeys across deserts and seas to seek refuge for their children. I have cried with women who have pulled their children from beneath the rubble of destroyed homes, schools, and hospitals. I have witnessed young women who have had to discontinue their education because of conflict, and instead have chosen to invest in the education of children in their communities. I have seen young women return to their destroyed homes, and begin the courageous work of rebuilding, even in the midst of uncertainty. I have seen women volunteer long hours to serve others, even when their own needs were profound. I have watched my friend—after ISIS killed everyone in her family except for her younger sister—work long hours to pay for her sister’s education.

These women inspire and fuel much World Relief’s work in the Middle East. We work with Syrian women who volunteer in Child Friendly Spaces, providing psychosocial, education, and health support to children. We partner with women in Iraq who provide support to children and youth in their communities. We stand with women that are working to rebuild their communities and restore livelihoods to their families as they return to cities in Iraq.

Women are leading, creating, and defining the work that we do across the Middle East. I am profoundly grateful to know these women and to witness the work that they are doing.

The women World Relief partners with and serve have taught me to love courageously. Love is not weakness in the wake of hatred and violence. Love is not passive. Love—like my friend Aamiina shared—is an act of defiance. The love of women across the Middle East is driving out darkness, and making the way for peace.

I thank God for women because women defy the darkness.

I thank God for women because in places of destruction, women rebuild, restore and reclaim peace.

Give to World Relief today.

Together, we can create a better world for women like Aamiina.


Maggie

Maggie Konstanski has been a part of the World Relief team for over 4 years, and currently serves at the Middle East Programs Technical and Operations Coordinator. With a passion for international human rights, Maggie often uses work-related travel as a platform to tell the powerful stories of the vulnerable families and communities we serve.

Thank God for Women — A Conversation with Rhona Murungi

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Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.

 

Rhona Murungi was born and raised in rural western Ugandan by a single mother—who, Rhona says, was her biggest cheerleader while she pursued an education. After finishing graduate school at Vanderbilt, Rhona was looking to begin her career in economic and country development. With a passion to address the needs in her home country, she was connected to World Relief, where she now serves as Program Officer for the organization’s Developing Countries Unit. Recently, Cassidy Stratton, World Relief’s Marketing Coordinator, spoke with Rhona about her story and her passion for working with women around the world:

Cassidy Stratton: From Uganda to Taylor University, and then to Vanderbilt. How did you get connected to World Relief?

Rhona Murungi: I had just finished graduate school at Vanderbilt, and I was looking for a job! And I knew that I wanted to do development work. I knew that I wanted to do work that was in some form or fashion directly connected to Africa, because that’s where I’m from. That’s what I know. That’s what I’m passionate about.

I got this email from World Relief, looked it up and got really excited about the Program Officer role and applied. The rest is history.

 

CS: Could you tell us more about your work within World Relief?

RM: I was a Program Officer, stationed in the U.S., working for the East African region for close to 3 years. And then I was itching to get back to [Africa]. I had been away from home for 9 plus years. I really wanted to go back home. I wanted to grow and be challenged, and get the opportunity to do this work in the African context. So, when the [Directors of Programs] role became open again, I jumped at the chance to fulfill it and go to the region, and the Rwanda office welcomed me for 2 years.

I’m doing a PhD program at the moment, so I decided to come back to [World Relief’s Baltimore] office so that I could better balance my school work and the service opportunities within World Relief—sort of similar to the Program Officer role, but in the Developing Countries Unit.

It’s really exciting to plug back in. I’m grateful that the role that I’m in at the moment still allows me to have a significant opportunity to support programs in the region. I [now] oversee Haiti, Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya.

 

CS: What work have you done with women throughout your time with World Relief or even before?

RM: I could talk about that for ages! Our work, actually, is very heavily focused on—and targets—women. Women and children, in many ways, make up a significant portion of beneficiaries.

 

CS: Why is it important for our work to intentionally address the needs of women?

RM: If your programs are intentionally involving and welcoming the participation of women (not at the exclusion of men by the way) it’s most likely to not just succeed, but actually benefit beyond the individual woman to the household and entire community. It’s proven, but I can also really attest to that from my own personal upbringing. Women glue the home together.

 

CS: Could you provide some examples?

RM: For example, one of my favorite programs in World Relief—and to be honest, I have a little personal bias to it—is our Savings For Life work. Seventy-two percent of our beneficiaries are women in this program. Which, in a way, makes sense because women are—at least in the communities in Africa that I’m from and have been exposed to— the backbone of households. And when you target women, when you empower women, when you engage women, and bring them in and allow for their participation, it actually benefits the entire household—not just one individual.

 

CS: Has there been a particular experience within the Savings For Life group you can recall?

RM: A few months ago, I was doing a field visit in one of our Church Empowerment Zones in Rwanda, and visited a savings group. I shared with these women that this [moment] took me back to when I was little. My mom was part of a savings group growing up—saving a little at a time, investing in setting up a small business, putting food on the table for my siblings and I, and sending us to school. I am, in many ways, a product of this program.

And I tell the women, “Look, I’m a product of what you are doing. And the Lord remain, 15 or 20 years from now, your kids, that are running around your feet, are going to be me—approaching the very work that you’re diligently doing in order for you to feed them, send them through school, and support your family.”

This particular program brings me to tears because it is a full-circle moment—that I have the privilege and honor to approach work that actually transformed my family and my life.

 

CS: You’re very passionate about the work you’ve done with women, children, and men. Has there been a specific time when your life has been transformed because of a woman’s impact?

RM: There is not two ways about it for me; by far the most impactful woman in my life has been my mother. She is just an incredible example. To be honest, we could sit here for a couple of hours and I would be able to exhaust the stories about my mother and the ways in which she has shepherded our family, and brought us so far and as single mother, too.

 

CS: You said yourself that “evidence shows that women tend to think beyond ourselves, beyond our own interests—to the interests of others.” That’s powerful. Why do you thank God for women?

RM: I thank God for the resilience of women and the way God has and continues to use women to be the backbone and the lifeblood of many households, communities, and nations—in ways that go both recognized and unrecognized.

You too can make a difference in the lives of women around the world.