Imagine your husband of five years has just died and you have been left alone with a small child. Your financial support system has just collapsed. The culture says your husband’s brother should now ‘inherit’ you, but you know that won’t be a good thing. Now you are an unmarried widow and are suddenly not welcome in your friends’ homes. All the neighbor ladies are suspicious of you because they think you will try to steal their husbands. Overnight you have gone from a respected, productive member of a community to a pariah, looked down upon by everyone. This is where Samina found herself some 30 years ago. After her husband’s death she took her young son and struck out for Eldoret where she found work as a teacher. For 30 years she taught school, raised her son alone and generally avoided people. If she told anyone that she was a widow they would start treating her differently. This is just a fact of life for most widows in Kenya.
Last year she retired from teaching after being diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t really have any friends so she decided to move back to the village where she and her husband’s people were from. The village of Munduma is located about forty-five minutes’ drive outside Kakamega. That’s 10 minutes on a tarmac road and 35 minutes down a dusty rutted red dirt road. Mud huts with thatched roofs dot the area. When she arrived last July she saw a concrete block building being constructed and asked someone about it. To her amazement she found that there was a community of women just like her who had been widowed and were meeting together for discipleship and friendship. The block building that was being constructed was going to be a community meeting place for them! This group of ladies immediately welcomed her into their group and made her feel at home. For the first time in over thirty years, Samina had a community of friends.
Yesterday we were privileged to dedicate that concrete building to the Lord! The new Rebecca House Women’s Center sits within a walled compound on just under an acre of land in Munduma. Thirty-one women meet there every day to be discipled in the Word of God, fellowship and learn skills together. Some are learning to make handbags. Some are learning to sew on brand new Singer treadle sewing machines. In a couple of months there will be a class on business taught at the center. “Tenders” (orders) for school uniforms will be received in a few weeks when school is ready to go back in session. This will be their first “commercial” project. As the ladies work on these items they are paid while they learn. This allows them to buy food for their families until their training is complete. Then they will have a skill that will allow them to provide for their families as well as teaching others what they’ve learned. And the “community” never goes away. They always have each other.
Susan and I have a group of friends who who’ve know each other for almost 40 years. Just before we left for this trip, one of the ladies in the group came by and brought Susan a small wooden elephant. Attached to it was this story: “In the wild, female elephants are known as fierce protectors. And when one of their sisters is suffering, they circle up around her. They close in tight, watch guard, and even kick dust around her to mask her vulnerable scent from predators. And yet, we are the same. This is who we are, and who we are meant to be for each other. Sometimes we’re the ones in the middle. Sometimes we’re the ones kicking up dust with fierce, fierce love. But the circle remains.” Samina now has a circle. She was once in the middle, but now she’s kicking up dust!