Women are mutually encouraged as they seek God's provision for community empowerment
My Kenyan ministry colleagues and I walked through rutted alleys turned to thick orange mud by an unseasonable downpour. The rains should have come two months earlier when they would have kept the seedlings from withering. Now the crops were all but lost as the rains came in sudden torrents.
One woman instructed me, “Scrunch up your toes so your shoes come with you as you walk.” I tried, but the mud was too deep and precariously slick. My shoes, now weighed heavy with muck, refused to budge. Losing my balance, I tried to remain standing but as I had feared, I nearly plummeted sideways down into the mire. Another woman seized my arm and I was grateful. The muddy path was littered with trash and running with waste from the open sewer. To me, the unaccustomed, it was frightening. Yet, at the same time, I was almost giddy with fresh faith and good feeling.
We had just come from a small gathering of local women. They had shared their individual stories with me, each coming from a unique life. But there were also many common threads: economic deprivation; abusive partners sunk low by hopelessness, drugs and alcohol; and the pain of having little to give their children, a young generation who for lack of money couldn’t attend school and who are in a perpetual state of hunger.
Yet these resilient mothers had banded together to create a self-help community. They were jointly making jewelry to sell at the tourist markets and some bought and resold produce to their neighbors. They had decided that although one reed can easily be snapped, a bundle tied together defies the hand that would break it. They were committing to a collaborative relationship based on faith in what they couldn’t yet see. They had promised one another to stretch their vision of what is possible to change their lives.
As we talked together, I encouraged them to believe that they, bound together through faith and mutuality, could not only survive but flourish. We reviewed the biblical story of manna coming down from heaven to the fleeing Israelites when there appeared to be no resources, no nourishment for the desert journey from enslavement in Egypt to the promised land. We women challenged ourselves to look around and see the provisions of the Lord our God that perhaps had been hidden by dark clouds of despair.
I asked them, “What is your manna? Where is the rock that you can strike to bring forth streams of refreshment?” We continued to talk together, but mainly they talked among themselves in small dialogue groups, stretching their vision of what is possible, what resources they could muster, and what might be in plain sight yet hidden from a long-fettered view. To trust God’s goodness, we agreed, and to see with new eyes what God has already provided, is a critical step out of the wilderness.
As our time of envisioning came to a close, in the traditionally polite and sociable way of Kenyans, they brought out African tea, a lovely mixture of tea and hot milk. One sweet-faced woman shyly offered around mandazi. The taste of mandazi is a lot like cake doughnuts but are, to my mind, far better. Even so, these mandazi were the best I had ever eaten. The ladies kept offering and I kept saying, “Oh, yes, please…just one more.” Finally, I asked, “Did one of you make these fabulous mandazi?” Yes, was the answer: the very shy lady had made them. I turned to her with everyone listening, leaned in, and asked, “Do you sell these?”, so hoping she would say yes. “No,” she timidly replied.
“Oh, my sister! , I rejoined. “Do you not know the fine quality of your mandazi? God has given you a gift and a business literally at your fingertips. This could be the manna that God has given to sustain you. You and your friends here can make and sell your pastry; you can be the Mandazi Queens!” Everyone laughed. The shy woman blushed but her eyes sparkled with hope as she dared to raise her head a bit higher.
As I was about to leave, I shook her hand and said, “I pray that when I come again, I see what God has provided you, your children, and your women’s group through your delicious mandazi. Believe that God has given what you need for the journey.” We hugged.
I continue to pray that God had that day reawakened hope and stretched all of us to embrace a broader vision.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1