My dear friend Josephine K. is a brave and courageous woman who lives in a small town near Nakuru, Kenya. She has been in my life since our church began a partnership in which she remains a key leader for the last 16 years ago. God continues to use her in miraculous ways. She doesn’t settle for less.
As I have shared before, Josephine oversees Hope for Life, a community based program for children at risk in her own neighborhood where HIV/AIDS ravages childrens’ lives. Many of you sponsor her high schoolers. Josephine could remain at the center mentoring these 125 children, feeding and discipling them as she does so well, without stepping outside her community. But that is not her way. She is compelled to teach and empower people to their full potential as they understand from God’s word that they are God’s image bearers. .
A number of years ago she was mentored by an incredible American missionary woman in community development principles. She was trained to teach a fantastic curriculum in Transformational Development principles and methods that she now uses and teaches wherever she is invited around Kenya. She receives many invitations to teach womens’ community groups, church groups, and often in communities where no one else seems to want to go. It has been difficult to believe anything progressive can happen among some of these tribes.
I am going to share an unbelievable story I received recently from Josephine. My church helped sponsor this training event a few weeks ago and we received this report upon her return. I have asked her permission to share it on my blog. I know you will be blessed and even more so, you will be amazed at how God used this time in February to change lives. (I will mark in bold the statements that demonstrate strong development principles.)
“We arrived in Eldoret at 8 p.m. on Monday, the 1st of February. At 8.30 p.m. the first group of 30 arrived from Northern Kenya. The next group of 30 arrived at 7.30 a.m. on Tuesday. We started the training at 8.30 a.m. with 74 participants. (These individuals would be facilitators of new methods upon returning home.) It is tradition in some areas that women must be escorted by husbands and other leaders from their community. We embraced this as a good opportunity to involve these men in group discussions together with women.
Initially, it was very difficult for the men to allow women to speak in their midst. So as a method of teaching, we used a ball and tossed it to both men and women to answer open-ended questions. Men realized that women were sharp and were giving better opinions and ideas. At the end of the second day the men formed discussion groups to critically analyze resources (or assets) within their locality—untapped resources that could be utilized to improve their livelihood and quality life. We were surprised when they said how much women have been untapped wealthy resources in their communities.
There were five groups represented from different regions of Kenya: some near Eldoret including some well known groups like Turkana and Pokot. There were 76 women in all and 14 men. Realizing how much other people are gifted in creating ideas of different projects and how important it is to respect others by accommodating their ideas without discrimination or prejudice, facilitators were then asked to revisit their culture and analyze the good and also the harm it has done as pertains to women and development. They realized as facilitators that they are donors to development projects in the manner of mobilization, sensitization, planning, and assignment of different roles to willing people.
There were those present who could only communicate in the vernacular. We were amazed at how members from the two groups from Northern Kenya volunteered to interpret to their groups. Women translated while men sat and listened, something previously unheard of. One man who came representing a peace forum in his locality stood and said, “What I like about this seminar is women empowerment.” I asked why. He said, “This training is uncovering what we men have been covering for so long—not regarding women as God’s image bearers. When we go back to our place in the Chief’s meeting, we shall allow women to give ideas just like we do.”
This forum group wrote the following resolutions:
- No more marriages of young girls 14 years old.
- No more training boys to be raiders, because our girls are left as widows at an early age.
- There is no need for inheriting widows because they are capable of taking care of their families. They even have more money from the income generating groups of theirs and they manage families better.
- Those women who refused to be inherited are better than men.
- Our attitudes towards women must change from now to create space for improved livelihood.
- Abandoning the practice of ‘Disco Matanga’ a dance done a day before a funeral where people do sex with any partner in belief to replace the dead but which spreads HIV/AIDS, they resolved to do rational and appropriate projects.
- Raiding and killing of neighbors during raiding results in many children left as orphans and very young women as widows. So no more raiding. Social projects would immediately start for both women and men, as women will train men on initiating income generating projects.
- Women decided that they will present poems in public forums, teaching how important women are and, given a chance, they can sustain families.
There arose a question about intermarriages. One member of Turkana said that their girls get married to Pokots 80%, but Pokots give only 10% to Turkana. One woman quickly stood up and said, “When we Pokots get married to your boys, once the women get to old age after giving birth, according to your culture, you kill them, so this is why we don’t get married to you.” The room was deadly silent.
I called upon one of the old men who was a moran (warrior) escort to tell us the way forward. He said, “That was the only good we knew before we came here. It has dawned on us that you women are just like us and even better because several of you take care of families after the death of husbands. You still bear with us when we take you like our wealth of cows and goats. You bear with us when we marry many of you in a homestead and leave you without taking care of you and your children. Now that we have known how valuable you could have been and having learned what we have learned, we shall revisit our culture and discard those parts that overlook and demean you women. It is important that when we leave here we call a forum to put things in order.” Everybody shouted with joy. It was very impressive to see women come forward to tell what they have done to keep the lives of their children moving.
There was one who some years ago after the first training started an Early Childhood Development School. Partnering with her husband who is one of our facilitators, a pastor and now appointed as an assistant chief, the school has grown to a secondary school. She was kicked out when the school grew, but she vowed to start another school the same way. She said, “Women are donors of brains and visions but men have refused to accept.” The male representatives of different groups stood and said, “From now on, we are partners, and even in any public meeting, we shall listen when you share your ideas.” The women sang and sang.
When we came to the close of the seminar, one moran (young warrior) stood and boldly came forward. He said, “’No more guns, no more killing, but the Bible.” He came and knelt down and lifted his hands up ready to get saved. All the rest did the same and women sang praises. He got saved and 10 others confessed they want “the Bible way”. They do not know salvation. They said, ‘You Mum (Josephine), you have regarded us with respect even if we are dirty. You always ask whether we have had enough food and you don’t eat until we have eaten. You have taught us about a God who is very different from our gods of the sun, moon, mountains, lakes and the rivers. All our gods have been created by your God,. We want this God who is not as evil as us who have oppressed our women. Tell your God to accept us and we shall liberate these women of ours.” It was so touching.
I called upon one of the reverends who had come to join us to close the training officially and he prayed for them. They conducted a song in their vernacular and wrapped a green sheet on me and three of our facilitators as a sign that they have discarded all the evil they have been doing to women and girls. They promised to change and utilize every untapped resource to do development with women. One elder said that every one of his girls that will be married in his locality shall be given land to plow just like he would do to his sons.
I had ordered a cake for them to cut for the women as a sign of faithfulness to their vows. Both communities cut the cake and fed the women. They fed me, too, and it was great.
The funding done for such forums is God-planned because such a training was the first of its kind and the attitude towards women totally changed. The women felt so empowered that they sang songs of liberation and deliverance. They will now go to facilitate those interior areas that have women still downtrodden.”
I belive we have been privileged to read an account of God doing a miracle among some of the hardest African tribal people to reach with the gospel. It has been done through Transformational Development teaching. I know you are praising God for being allowed to read this testimony of what He has done. To God be the glory.
I will add that if you feel so moved to help Josephine in her many endeavors to teach in her community, you can visit this website to help support her.