Noemie* is a 16 year old Muslim girl living in the Horn of Africa. 18.8% of the population in her country lives below the poverty line. Women in her country do not have a lot of opportunity and many of them drop out of school to take care of their families but are unable to find work.
When walking around the streets of the city where Noemie lives, I was faced with extreme poverty, both physically and spiritually. Looking into peoples’ eyes I saw hopelessness. There are women on the street that have their children beg for money. Some women have set up street stands to sell “Khat,” a plant Native to the Horn of Africa that is a stimulant. This drug-like substance creates a psychological dependence, ruins relationships, and further drives people into poverty. All around me, there was a very palpable feeling of brokenness and emptiness.
Noemie has been given a different opportunity. A group of missionaries in her city have started what they call a “Women’s Project House.” At the Women’s Project House, women learn how to make beads for jewelry and they then sell their creations at the local market. When I first met the group of girls in the project, I saw something different: hope and dignity. These girls smiled, were laughing and were enjoying themselves. They were proud of their work and wanted to work hard to make their dreams come true – dreams they never would have had before.
How is poverty overcome? When I used to think of developing and poor countries in Africa, I thought of hopeless, helpless people who need me to send them food and clothing. This was an ignorant and limited perspective on an entire continent of people. After spending more time researching poverty in East Africa and visiting the Horn of Africa, I have come to realize that there is so much more depth to overcoming poverty in the countries that make up that region.
In their book, When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert describe four types of relationships God designed humans to have; without these relationships, humans live in poverty: (1) Relationship with God; (2) Relationship with self; (3) Relationship with others; (4) Relationship with the rest of creation. This provides a profoundly different view of poverty than what I grew up learning. What this perspective tells us is that poverty does not have to be material, it is also spiritual.
I saw this clearly in Djibouti. As western Christians, we can often times take a very paternalistic approach to alleviating poverty, and we often do not address the root cause of poverty. What the missionaries at the Women’s Project House in the Horn of Africa are doing is transforming the broken relationships in the lives of these women by: (1) Living out Christ in their interactions with these women and sharing Truth with them; (2) restoring their dignity and self-confidence and giving them hope by allowing them to create and work; (3) providing them with a loving community; (4) Helping them to contribute to God’s creation through their work.
What I saw in this Women’s Project House was a beautiful picture of God restoring His Kingdom to this earth. It was also a beautiful picture of God caring for and delighting in the creativity and skills that He instills in His people. We see this also in Exodus 35 and 36: Those who were selected to build the Tabernacle for the Lord were filled “with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs” (Genesis 35:31-32, ESV). Our Lord wanted these men to use the gifts and talent he gave them through their vocations.
God is working through the missionaries in the Horn of Africa to fulfill His purposes and bring glory to Himself through the creative work of Project House women. Why does God use us to bring Him glory? Look back at the Old Testament: God likely could have created a tabernacle for Himself on His own – but He doesn’t. God chooses to use man for His purposes. We see throughout the Old Testament that God does not give up on humanity, although humanity is full of sin.
Instead, God continues to lift humanity up to restore us to carrying out his original purpose for our lives: to be fruitful and multiply and to have dominion over the earth. This is why God gives us all different skills and talents: to carry out His work. Not because he cannot do it on His own, but because He will not give up on partnering with man in creating, restoring, and redeeming.
Baylee Molloy works in international development and is a participant in the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program. She has a Master’s from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia.
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