Feature

No Longer Alone

Widows minister to one another in Africa

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“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24–25). Bintu is a young woman who began attending a local Alliance women’s group in the district of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. She accepted Jesus as her Savior and became active in the church, even though no other members of her family were Christians. A short time later, Bintu’s husband passed away. As she faced this huge crisis, where did she turn for advice and encouragement?

A Special Bond

Because of her involvement with The Alliance, Bintu knew that there was a special group of women who could help her in the weeks and months that lay ahead. Christian widows from Alliance churches in the Bobo district actively encourage one another toward love and good works, meeting regularly to fellowship with others in the same situation as well as to take the opportunity to pray for each other and learn God’s Word.

Why is ministry to and by widows so vital for the Burkina national church? The life of a widow in this culture is very difficult. In Burkina Faso, when a woman’s husband dies, she loses more than her helpmate; she often loses her home and children as well. Upon the death of a husband, land and property revert back to his people. Even the widow’s children are considered progeny of her husband’s family, and she may not have any legal rights over them. The woman often has no means to provide for herself, since the husband is the bread winner in the majority of Burkina families.

At the first widows’ meeting Bintu attended, she heard practical advice concerning the Christian’s response to the pagan funeral rites her husband’s family expected. She was encouraged to remain strong in her new faith and was able to withstand the persecution of her unbelieving extended family.

Meeting Together

Since the first meeting of Alliance widows in this district five years ago, the group has grown and expanded its ministry. Currently, 158 widows participate, all confessing faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and active in an Alliance church. Some are older women who have been widowed for years. Others are young women, like Bintu, who have recently lost their husbands. Angeline’s husband died just one week after their only child was born. Within a short time, the baby also passed away. How can she deal with such heartbreak? Angeline attends the widows’ meetings and is active in her local church. This is where she finds the encouragement she needs to continue.

Led by a committee of widows and aided by another C&MA missionary and me, the women meet for one-day seminars four times a year and prayer-and-fasting sessions, which are scheduled at four other times. During the seminars, the widows hear from church leaders and Alliance Women representatives, as well as from respected professionals. For example, at one seminar, an Alliance doctor spoke about health issues, answering questions until late into the afternoon. At another, the director of our relief and development agency encouraged the widows in practical ways. During times of prayer and fasting the women bring their needs, burdens and praises to the Lord.

Making a Living

Many women in Burkina depend on their husband’s income, and they themselves work in small ways to supplement what he earns. A widow is left to fend for herself with few job options. Widows find it hard to save money, or if given a large sum of money at one time, they find it difficult to manage it.

The Alliance Women’s district widows’ group has begun a small soap-making business to provide income for some of the women. The idea was presented to leadership to have widows who have no source of income and are not able to find work come and make soap; they would then be paid right away from the project for the number of hours worked. Widows are also able to buy cartons of soap from the project to sell in their neighborhoods for a profit. Some walk door to door or travel to surrounding villages selling soap. It is a start in helping our widows in a practical way to meet the needs of their families.

The group hopes to eventually have a ministry center with sewing machines for those who want to learn the skill or even just repair their own clothing. The Bobo widows also have a vision for free counseling services for women who have recently lost their husbands, and the group members eventually want to be able to help widows in practical ways in the initial stages of their loss.

Bringing Other to Jesus

But the foundational purpose of this group is to encourage women in crisis and to show them how they in turn can be a blessing to others. Once a year, we hold an evangelistic meeting so the women can invite widows who do not know the Lord. Each year we see several come to Christ. One woman was widowed suddenly when her husband was killed in a car accident, leaving her with three-month-old twin girls. She accepted Christ at the evangelistic meeting last year and has now been instrumental in leading two other people to Christ.

Invited by a friend and fellow widow, Sita attended a widows’ meeting shortly after her husband passed away. There, she heard about salvation through faith in Jesus. Her story was heartbreaking as she shared through tears the abuse she and her children were enduring. Drawn by the love and concern displayed by the others in the group, Sita accepted Christ as her Savior. Soon after her conversion, Sita was diagnosed with the same sickness that took her husband’s life. The widows’ group was a wonderful help to her in many ways until she herself passed away. We praise the Lord that she died knowing Him.

We pray that this group will continue to provide widows with the fellowship and encouragement they need to walk in faith despite hardships and will give them the help they need to raise their children to obey the Lord. We have noticed that widows are becoming more involved in prayer ministry and are coming forward to be a true part of their local churches: singing in the choir, helping with visitation and encouraging others. Recently, I visited one of our churches on a Saturday afternoon and noticed women sweeping the huge church yard in preparation for Sunday. As I looked closer, I realized every one of those women was a widow from our group.

Certainly a Burkinabe woman whose husband dies faces a huge crisis. But we have noticed that the joy of being with other women in the same situation, women who have gotten through the difficult first month or first year or 10 years, begins to outweigh their sadness. One widow put it this way: “If you are alone, your heart is crying too much. If you are together, you are encouraged and you help each other. We have joy, and it is much better.”

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