Global partnerships. Local livelihoods.

Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women, a day to call for justice for women who are oppressed, and a day to nurture and inspire girls.

David and I (Rose) are in the midst of three months full of working with livelihood groups in person.  I had the great honor of working directly with four groups in Africa and East Asia.  David is in the middle of visiting current and potential groups in five Asian countries.

I wish I could tell you all the stories I heard from women who are living on the edge economically.  Over the next months, we will share many of their stories.  Today, see a glimpse of who the Faraja Widows of St. Martha’s Ministry are.

The Faraja Widows are a group of widows in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa.  They are all HIV-affected or HIV-infected.  Far from letting these things define who they are, the Faraja Widows have chosen to live hopefully.

Faraja means “comfort,” and they find comfort in Christ and in their fellowship with one another.  They also find some comfort through their economic development efforts.

Now before you start thinking “comfort” economically means they are sitting around eating bon-bons, let me tell you what it does mean for them.  It means that the group uses its earnings from making and selling jewelry and purses to finance loans to the widows.  And what do they use loan money for?  To strengthen the other small businesses they own.  For many of them, that means that they buy and resell vegetables most days.  They are entrepreneurs, that is who they are.

The other self-description many of them shared was this: “I am living positively.”  Far from letting their HIV status beat them down, they have chosen to look beyond it.  Between the dozen women that I met, they were raising about 40 children and grandchildren.

More than being affected by HIV, they are affected by faraja, by comfort.  It is visible in the peaceful look in their eyes, the way they speak with a calm steadfastness about their lives.  It is visible in the bonds of friendship they have with one another.

More than being infected by HIV, they are infected by joy of the Holy Spirit.  It is visible in their group leaders, Eunice and Caleb Otieno, who have suffered much and also experience joy very deeply.  It is visible in the women’s stories of what God has done in and through the livelihood group.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I celebrate the Faraja Widows… and also the Firm Foundations widows in Kenya… and the women of the Jinja FMC beaders’ group in Uganda… and the women of Mujeres Jireh in Peru… and the women of Reaksmei in Cambodia… and women overcoming oppressive social stigma and trafficking in East Asia… and the women of Dayanand Loom Project in India… and the women of Hearts & Hands, and Amparo FMC in the Phillipines… and the hundreds of women in the U.S. who support SEED in so many ways!

May we all be affected by faraja and infected with the Holy Spirit’s joy!