Divine Grace

We were late arriving in the district of Yopougon on account of heavy traffic that day in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.   The Project Hannah cell group could be heard singing from the cement block building that was in a state of halted construction and was now occupied by squatters, one of whom was the person who was hosting their meeting.   We met with a woman before ascending the stairs; she was anxiously awaiting our arrival so that she could tell us her story…

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In a difficult marriage and pregnant for the fourth time, she prayed that she would miscarry.  She did not want to bring another child into a situation that seemed so hopeless.  But God did not answer her prayer so she asked for the courage to abort her baby.  When she visited her cousin, she told her that she could not sin against the Lord in this situation.  She left her home in tears and went to a meeting of Project Hannah where she was given a prayer request – for women who were in difficulty and wanted to have an abortion.  Seeing the request, she began to cry.  She shared with the women at the meeting what was wrong and asked them to pray for her.  And, she prayed and asked God to forgive her.

Small seeds of hope began to take root in her life, and her heart and mind were changed.  God gave her a deep love for her child and when she was born, she named her “Divine Grace.”

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“Divine Grace.”  What an unusual name, especially for one who was so “unwanted.”  The word divine means “from God.” And, grace is defined as “the free and unmerited favour or blessing of God.”  This mother, in giving her child such a name, was acknowledging that she had received from God what she did not deserve – both in salvation through Jesus Christ and in the birth of her precious little girl.

This woman has three sons.  Divine Grace is her one and only daughter.   And, her face beamed as she told us just how much her little gift of blessing, at just eight years of age, loves the Lord.   God’s grace is truly amazing!

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Colleen Shoemaker, Divine Grace and her mother, and Ruth Mbennah, PH Africa Regional Coordinator

 

Their voices have been heard

Shelley writes…

They served us with such grace that day.  Two beautiful, young women.  But their faces were etched with a sadness that we would not understand until we met them again in their home a few hours later.

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They are cousins and they live together.  Alone.  I am not sure of their ages, but I would guess that they are in their early to mid twenties.  Life for them has undoubtedly been hard.  Hard enough to have found themselves alone without the support of family.  Hard enough to want and to need the help of the other.  Hard enough to be certain that they do not want to have to depend upon a man to take care of them.   Hard enough to be willing to share one room, with one bed, with no “conveniences.”  And, I mean none!

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We visited them in their “home” in Abobo, Abidjan, after the Project Hannah meeting in the adjacent grove had concluded.  Given how well they were dressed, I would not have guessed at their living conditions.  In this area, it would seem that many live in compounds – a few families sharing a common courtyard with separate living quarters for sleeping.  I have no idea if they had a water supply nearby or where the “toilets” were.  I have no idea how they prepared their meals, although it would seem that most were doing so in one pot over a charcoal fire on the ground in the courtyard.

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As Fabian, Project Hannah Coordinator for Cote d’Ivoire, introduced them to us, we learned that they make their modest living as seamstresses.  One (left) is currently in school so she undoubtedly depends upon the other for support.  Why they are here without family remains a mystery as does the reason they have chosen to not to be dependent upon a man – a husband – for support.

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We brought very little with us that day – a few bags of rice, a bag of salt, a bottle of oil and some tomato paste.  It will, at best, provide for their physical needs for a few days or a few weeks.  But the smiles that came to their sad faces as we spent time with them assured us that they know they have not been forgotten.  That their voices have been heard.  That they have value and dignity and beauty.  That they are loved.

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And that is, without a doubt, a much greater gift than the few provisions that came from our hands.

The joy of the Lord is my strength

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Colleen writes…

“The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

These are the words that I woke to one morning in Cote d’Ivoire. What a great way to wake up! And what a foreshadowing of things to come.

That day, we arrived to meet a Project Hannah prayer group for lunch. We heard their voicesbefore we saw them. As we got closer their singing became louder, and we saw that the womenwere dancing in praise to the Lord. In one song they danced in a circle bent over with their hands behind their backs. Through translation I learned that they were demonstrating the way a mom carries her baby, tied with a cloth to her back – and they were asking the Lord to carry them and their burdens on His back.

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What a beautiful picture. And it was so symbolic of these precious women. They have little or nothing and life is difficult, yet they have hope in Christ.

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They have learned the freedom of letting the Lord carry their burdens. They have learned peace in bringing themselves to Him and allowing Him to carry them. And they have learned of the strength gained in praying together in community, in helping one another and in sharing one another’s burdens. And in this they are finding their joy and strength.

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 “…Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV)

Partnership is the key

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Ray writes…

It is hot and dusty and only the main road to Ouelessebougou is paved. Mud huts, hand dug wells, huge cooking pots are all normal sights.

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The church has a tin roof. Its windows are metal, pivot in the center and are held open by a stick. The seats all sag in the center because they have only two supports, one at each end. They are made of hardwood so you can’t fall asleep. The women come dressed beautifully even though it would appear they have no way of maintaining their wardrobe. Approximately 20 women share their testimonies. Some are humorous, others are very serious, but the common theme is the importance of family.

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After the testimonies a retired pastor shares with us how there used to be no crime in Mali.  But now, villages are having problems they never had before. He talks about the breakdown of the family and the importance of having Christian programs. He says that people don’t have electricity, they don’t have running water, but they do have radios and cellphones.

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In Mali TWR programs are aired on 22 stations.  When we think of a station in Canada, it includes a properly fitted studio and a room where the transmitter is housed. When you are recording you close the door so no outside sound gets in. This was not the case in the village we were in. The studio was one room with 3 people sitting in it.  The transmitter sat a few feet from the studio, and the tower was 10 metres away from the building.

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Nevertheless, the message is being preached to a population that is 95% Muslim and people are responding. Some of the women who shared have not received Christ as their Saviour, but they are learning and teaching their children Christian values. The same scenario can be repeated in 22 other locations in Mali.

TWR is only one small piece of the puzzle in Mali, but we are an important part of the puzzle. Broadcasting by radio is vital, and media players are needed so that listeners can hear a program for a second time.  And because there are still big parts of the country where there is no radio signal, SD cards are necessary because they can be played on cellphones. People may not have anything else of value but they do have phones.

The question I always ask when I drive away is this – “Can we somehow do more?” In the case of Project Hannah much of the work is being done by two people with limited resources.  Partnership is the key.  Pastors, the local church, TWR, Gideons, Galcom, AVANT Ministries, all of us working together.  God will build His church (Matthew 16:18); let’s work together to do our part.

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The Bible, printed in the Bambara language, is distributed in Mali by TWR in partnership with Gideons Canada

Through the eyes of a child

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Shelley writes…

When I accepted the invitation of my friend, Colleen, to come with her to West Africa to see the work of Project Hannah up close, I was prepared to have my heart moved with love for the women I would meet.  You see, I love women.  And I love working with women.  So it was no surprise that I found myself quickly bonding with the women of Cote d’Ivoire and Mali.  They are beautiful and even without uttering a word, their eyes express so much – both the burden of everyday life and the joy they have found in a relationship with Jesus Christ and in community with one another.  But I am also thankful that I can speak the French language “pas mal” as a result of four years spent in the south of France in the early 1990’s and although words came back to me rather slowly at first, it did not take long before I could talk and share with them as well.

Little did I know just how much I would be smitten by the children of these women!

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Although somewhat timid at first, the lens of my camera gave me a unique opportunity to connect with them. If I asked, “est-ce que je peux prendre votre photo?” they immediately grinned or assumed a pose. They love to have their pictures taken.

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In a culture where most of the women they see have dark skin, dark hair and brown eyes, I stand out. And, not just a bit. My freckled skin, my blond hair and my blue eyes must have seemed strange to many. So it is not surprising that when I spoke to some of the little ones, they immediately began to cry. And, it is not surprising that a few just had to reach out and touch me.

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Project Hannah is a ministry of compassion, encouragement and hope to hurting women.  And we have heard and seen that it has been a conduit of hope to so many here. But what about the children? Is there hope for them?

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In the midst of unspeakable poverty?  In the absence of a health care system?  In the lack of an education?

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Is there really hope for the children?  The answer in a word – yes. There IS hope for the children.

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Their mothers are being affected in ways that will filter down to their children for generations to come. Through a relationship with Jesus Christ, through the radio program, Women of Hope, through prayer, through mercy ministries, and through so many other means, women’s lives are being impacted.  And, that cannot but help to change the lives of their children.

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They cannot perhaps speak for themselves.  But their eyes speak for them.  And their eyes are filled with hope.

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My heart has been pierced with love for these little ones.  And while I can do little to change the circumstances of their everyday lives, I can pray for them.  And, my prayer is that they would come to know the One who is their true hope, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Visiting orphans and widows in their affliction…

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Shelley writes…

We began the long trek up the hill from the lovely grove where we had just met with the Project Hannah cell group of Abobo, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.  The climb was not easy but we knew that it was going to be worth the effort for at the top were several families who were in distress materially because their husbands and fathers were dead.  James 1: 27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  And so, putting our faith into action, we went to make some visits.

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Project Hannah began primarily as a prayer ministry with a vision of providing radio programming that would educate, encourage and give hope to suffering women.  That morning we had heard from many just how much prayer had changed their lives.  When suffering women come together to pray, not only do they forget about the magnitude of their own needs, but God undertakes for them as well.  The program, Women of Hope, came next, providing life lessons to women in raising their children, in caring for their husbands, in relating to others in the community both inside and outside the church.  It provides education in health and hygiene matters, spiritual food to sustain the weary and beaten soul and is a source of life to those who have for the first time heard the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is no surprise that Project Hannah continues to evolve to meet the needs of women and now includes a mercy ministry.  How beautiful to see these women, who have been so helped by the ministry of PH, begin to reach out and help other women.

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A page from National Geographic

Colleen writes…

We are definitely in another world here in Mali, West Africa. We drove quite a distance in busy traffic which seems to follow no rules. Motorcycles, cars, and small buses all jockeying for position on the road. The heat was intense and drained us quickly. There was red clay and dust. The sides of the roads were dotted with stands of all kinds. Women selling freshly picked mangos and papayas. Men offering to fix motorcycles. Women gathered together chatting and doing one another’s hair. Some just under small lean-tos trying to keep cool. All manner of ways to earn some desperately needed money.

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Today’s journey made me think of the National Geographic articles we all saw as kids. Dirty clay soil. Huts with thatched roofs. Small stands with old bottles filled with gas or oil. People under shelters of whatever kind they can find. But the pictures and stories in the National Geographic magazine don’t let you experience the smells and sounds. Or the beautiful warm spirits of the women and men we met with today.

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We drove into a small village complete with goats on the church step, chickens by the water jug, dogs sleeping under the small shade tree, and women cooking our lunch in large pots over the hot fire. This village was equipped with a church and a small radio station, which airs Project Hannah’s Women of Hope program in the Bambara language. And this is why we have come.

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Jeanne Dembélé, the producer of the program, had been invited to come and meet with several women who listen to the program. They graciously welcomed us into their group as well. We met in the church building where they sang, prayed and shared. Once again it was humbling to hear their testimonies and the way this one program has made a difference in their village. And what a reward to sit with them and listen.

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Time and time again, the women shared how the program has changed the way they are raising their children, and their relationships with their husbands. They talked about not knowing how to get their children to listen to them – threatening them with mean words was not working. Now they were learning to speak with love and teach their children rather than threaten or mock them. One young mother laughed as she said her children listen with her and now they remind her if she doesn’t treat them the way they heard in the program.

Relationships are being built. Children are being raised to be God-fearing and to know they are loved. Women are discovering they have value.

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A local pastor talked about the great need for this program in Mali. He estimated that 90% of women are unable to read, but they listen to the radio. In fact, Women of Hope is listened to over about 30 stations in small villages. It is making changes in the mindset of the children and women, the very ones who will influence the future.

And this is why we do what we do. What an incredible reward to hear from these beautiful women how their lives have been changed by a radio program. What a gift to be able to sit with them and hear from their hearts. As we hugged good-bye we knew that we each carry a small piece of one another in our hearts. We are bonded together as sisters of the King.

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