"Zoe is a Greek word meaning “absolute fullness of life"
ZOE Projects is an initiative launched by the International Missions department of the PAOC. It consists of a network of Canadian churches that cares deeply about reaching, equipping and caring for women around the world. Keith Waara, the director of development and strategic initiatives for International Missions, interviewed Leanne McAlister, the Canadian liaison for ZOE Projects.
Keith Waara (KW): Tell us about how ZOE Projects got started.
Leanne McAlister (LM): Things began to stir in my heart about two years ago. I’m a pretty typical Canadian woman—I have a busy life with work and family, but I care very much about vulnerable women around the world. There is no shortage of stories in the news and social media about women around the world who lack resources to build a sustainable existence. What strikes me is that these women are just like me: they have hopes and dreams for themselves and for their children, but lack basics such as access to education, skills training, and employment options. My girlfriends in Canada care about these issues too. We talk about it—a lot—but we don’t always know what to do in response or where to begin. Because of my work and travel with International Missions, I get to see firsthand the work that PAOC global workers and our national partners are involved in, specifically with women. I met Marvelyn Schell, who at the time was working with women in South Africa, and we began to dream together about what could be done. The National Women’s Network then joined the conversation about how we can unite to educate and mobilize Canadian women within our districts in practical ways of service … and ZOE Projects was birthed!
KW: Is there any significance to the name?
LM: Zoe is a Greek word meaning “absolute fullness of life; life which belongs to God; life real and genuine; a life active and vigorous, to last forever.” It refers to the life that God Himself lives. While we respond to physical and social needs, we are motivated by the desire to meet the spiritual needs of women as well—helping women see their value as image bearers of Christ, inviting them into the life they were created for. I love how Eugene Peterson says it in THE MESSAGE in Ephesians 1:11-12: “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.… he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”1
KW: What kinds of projects are you involved in?
LM: We don’t “do” projects; we simply connect Canadian women with projects that our PAOC global workers are doing in their region. Our global workers and national partners are amazing people who creatively respond to the needs around them. For example, Judy Bowler in Senegal is involved in microfinance with Senegalese women. She is finding that small microloans are allowing women to make a better life. Women tend to invest back into their families and communities. Judy is also piloting a menstrual kit distribution project this year (manufactured by one of our own) since girls quit school in large numbers because they lack basic hygiene resources.
Sharon Thomas in the Dominican Republic is involved in the leadership development of women in a society where women are seen as “second-class citizens.” Sharon is bringing the message of equality and empowerment, and it is so exciting!
Sarah Emmanuel in Chennai, India, runs a skills development centre for women in her city. I seriously could go on and on with the exciting things that we as a Fellowship are involved in. Our role at ZOE Projects is to tell the story and connect people with one another for maximum impact.
How can women get involved?
LM: I would encourage women to inform themselves about ZOE projects. You can connect through our website (www.zoeprojects.org), follow the ZOE blog, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Through district events, church groups, community book clubs—wherever women gather—tell the story and inspire others to raise funds to meet the need. The bottom line is this: for our global workers to be doing what they are doing, they need financial support and prayer coverage from their senders. And that is us, the Canadian church. Together, we can do so much!
KW: Is anything else on the horizon?
LM: We believe strongly that if we raise and empower female leaders in Canada, it will have a ripple effect on the international work we engage in. So we are in the early stages of developing what we’re calling ZOE leadership. We’re developing quality leadership material in the form of modules and conference material, and desire to collaborate with districts and churches to help empower local leaders in their communities. The material is flexible enough to meet the specific needs in different contexts, whether in Canada or eventually overseas. It’s very exciting!
We’ve been partnering in the development of four conferences:
- She Leads conference at Master’s College in Peterborough, ON, with the Eastern Ontario District (this took place November 14-15, 2014).
- Free to Lead conference at Calvary Temple in Winnipeg, with the Manitoba and Northwest Ontario District (this will take place January 23-24, 2015 – visit www.paoc.net).
- Free to Lead conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, SK, with Horizon College (scheduled for March 27-28, 2015 – email email@example.com for more information).
- Free to Lead conference in Langley, BC, with Living Waters Church (this is scheduled for fall 2015 – visit www.lwchurch.ca).
As ZOE Projects and ZOE Leadership have organically developed over the past year, I am constantly being reminded that we really aren’t doing anything new. In many ways we, as PAOC women, are simply returning to our heritage. Early in our history, many women were strong leaders serving as church planters, evangelists, overseas missionaries, and outreach workers among the poor. The “Women’s Missionary Circle” was centred on supporting our PAOC missionaries. While our methods have changed radically (can you imagine your great-grandma tweeting?), the heart is the same—to bring the gospel, the good news, to women and men around the world.
Leanne McAlister serves as a Canadian liaison for ZOE Projects and as interim manager of training and care for global workers with the International Missions department of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
1 Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2201, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.