We sat down and spoke through a translator. I asked her what her name was. She said, “My name is Jessica, I am 20 years old, and I have two children. I have a six-year-old and a two-year-old.” I spent time with five young women that day and listened to their stories. I was heartbroken hearing so many stories similar to Jessica’s. Stories of women who dropped out of school so their other siblings could get an education. Stories of young women who were forced by their families to marry at a young age, having children when they were only 14 years old. Stories of young women who refused to get married despite family pressure, who are now carrying the financial burden for their younger siblings. I talked to women who are just my age and saw how different our lives and experiences are. At the end of every conversation, I asked the same question: “What do you want most?” Every time, the answer was the same; they wanted education and skills training so they could better provide for themselves and their families. These young women were so thankful for the chance they were given to generate an income and were looking for more opportunities to receive additional training to ensure that they can continue to provide for their families in the future.
It was only a few days prior to these conversations that we visited the communities these women lived in. These communities are called manyattas. A manyatta is a settlement of Maasai people in East Africa. As we drove up to the first manyatta, the entire community came out to greet us. For just over a year now, ERDO (Emergency Relief & Development Overseas) has been providing startup funds and marketing and business training for 40 women to bead by hand and sell traditional Samburu necklaces. These same women were coming up to us, presenting us with multiple traditional Samburu necklaces, and inviting us to join in a traditional welcome dance. Over the course of our visit with these communities, I was overwhelmed by the generosity demonstrated toward us. They were not only generous with what they had, but also with their thanks. The women and their families took the time to thank ERDO profusely for the support they received. They were incredibly thankful for the gift ERDO had given them—the gift of being able to provide for their families and to pay for their children’s school fees.
What continued to impact me was the way this community worshipped. ERDO partners with Christ is the Answer Ministries, a church that has multiple locations and mission posts in Kenya. One of these mission posts, Archer’s Post, is located in the community in which we work. After visiting the community, we spent the following day attending church with the women who are participants in the project. That Sunday, about 150 of us gathered in the church building. Along with a few other members of the ERDO team, I was blessed to worship alongside the program staff and the beneficiaries in one of the most passionate worship services I had ever been a part of. This community reminded me of the important truth that although there are many incredible gifts, the ultimate Gift was the incarnation of Jesus Christ. They received and gave gifts of significance, but the Gift they found was the most significant. During the service, we sang simple worship songs of gratitude to Jesus for all He is and for all that He has done.
As an organization, ERDO’s mission is focused on promoting holistic community transformation. This means addressing the physical needs of the people we serve while addressing their spiritual needs as well. My visit to Archer’s Post, Kenya, gave me a first-hand view of what holistic community transformation looks like: Jesus is at the centre.
As the holiday season approaches, what would it look like if we focused on Him? This Christmas, let’s think about the ultimate Gift and the type of life He propels us to lead. For this community, receiving Jesus spurred them into lives of generosity and hospitality. What is the ultimate gift for you?
Candice Mayers is the program analyst at ERDO. This holiday season, put less under the tree by shopping with ERDO’s Christmas Gift Catalogue. Visit erdo.ca/giftcatalogue.
This article appeared in the October/November/December 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.