True Religion

By an Alliance international worker serving in Burkina Faso

True religion that God considers faultless and pure, according to James 1:26–27 is, “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” The national church of Burkina Faso held the first national widows’ conference in Bobo-Dioulasso in October 2008. Missionary Esther Schaeffer, working in conjunction with ACCEDES, the national church’s relief and development agency, organized this week of meetings, meals, fellowship, and encouragement for the widows of the Alliance churches in Burkina. This is the first time the church has made a special national effort toward our widows. It was a week when James 1:26–27 was put into action.

The opening ceremony was attended by numerous dignitaries of the city of Bobo-Dioulasso. The mayor’s assistant gave her address in Jula, instead of in French, so she could be fully understood by the women in attendance. She encouraged the widows to trust in the Lord and to work hard to raise their children.

The church president, Pastor Job, gave the opening exhortation. He spoke of the need for Alliance churches to care for the widows in their congregations and to practice this “true religion.” He also spoke to the widows, encouraging them to take their place in the church, to serve the Lord wholeheartedly, and to trust in Him.

Although the atmosphere at the opening ceremony and throughout the week was one of joy and mutual encouragement, the collective sadness of these 400 widows could also be felt. Some widows are older ladies, whose husbands have passed away many years ago. Some are young, even with nursing babies, who are still trying to adjust to the loss of their spouse and their provider. Some live with other family members; some live alone. Some have children who care for them; some do not. Some are treated kindly by their extended family; many are not.

It has been said that the face of poverty in Burkina Faso is a woman, more specifically, a widow. When the husband dies, a woman’s property and even her children are sometimes taken by the family of the husband. She has no rights, especially if the marriage was never formalized by the mayor or government official in the villages or in the city, as is often the case. A widow has a hard time earning a living without the help of a husband to work in the field, as most of the people in Burkina Faso are subsistence farmers. Some widows are left with large amounts of debt incurred by their late husbands.

Widows are sometimes required by the family to participate in funeral rites that are contrary to their Christian faith. It has been a source of much persecution and difficultly with the in-laws when the Christian widow refuses to “honor” her husband with these pagan ceremonies. Even young widows, have a difficult time finding someone to remarry, as the common myth is that if a woman’s husband has died, she most-likely put a curse on him. It takes a brave man to marry a widow, as he will be warned of this curse and reminded that she could be a witch. Some older widows are believed to be witches, too, as any bad thing that happens in their family or village is blamed on them. It takes strong faith and perseverance for Christian widows to stand firm despite this sort of persecution and stereotyping.

At the conference, the widows enjoyed hearing speakers who encouraged them to stand strong in their faith. Noelle, the Alliance Women (AW) president in another West African nation, was one of the speakers. Noelle lost her husband a few years ago, so she is able to speak to the widows at the point of their need.

Other speakers included members of the national AW committee and respected leaders in the church. The messages were aimed, not at providing answers to these dear widows as to why their husbands are no longer by their sides, but they encouraged the widows to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty and to work for Him in their local church, holding strong to the hope that they have in Christ.

At the conference, the widows also enjoyed lots of good food, which was a blessing to them as they do not often have the funds to prepare daily nutritious meals for themselves. Although the conference planning committee prepared for 250 widows, comprised of delegations from each of the districts, they were surprised when 400 widows arrived at the conference. After some extra trips to the market and a rather large increase in budget, the widows were all fed for the four days of the conference. The encouragement provided by the spiritual food from God’s Word, coupled with the physical food, surely satisfied each attendee.

This was the first national widow’s conference held in Burkina Faso. We hope that it will be the first of many. As the church is made aware of the needs of the widows in their congregations, we pray that more tangible acts of help and encouragement will be provided in the future. Widows in the Bobo-Dioulasso district meet together four times each year for a special day of prayer and fasting or for a seminar. Also, they have begun a small enterprise of making soap to sell at the local market. Many widows do handiwork or sell other small items to provide for their families. The needs are great. It is our prayer that this conference will be a start to many more ministries with widows. May we all have a heart to practice true religion that is faultless and pure.


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