By Emily Theresa
Half the sky is held up by women. – Chinese proverb
I’m on a road trip with my family, driving through the Canadian prairies, and the pale land stretches like a long, flat face stubbled with corn and wheat. We pass tired old grain elevators that once brimmed with purpose like strong country women, their aprons full of seed, now slumped and disheartened beside the train tracks they partnered with in days gone by.
To pass the hours, I’m reading Half the Sky by Pulitzer Prize winners, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It’s a book I’ve long intended to read about turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide.
Meanwhile, I’m getting texts on my phone from Rosemary, Lulu Tree’s Director of Finance in Uganda, who is training some of the women from the slums who’ve been with us from the start in an attempt to set them up for sustainability. All are receiving the same training, equipment, and opportunity, but not all are flourishing.
Some of these women are more business-minded than others, but they’re all driven by the knowledge that Lulu Tree will not pay their children’s school fees forever, and their success really boils down to one thing – attitude. Some keep pressing on, determined to overcome. Others fall into despair, eating whatever profits they make before quickly giving up and sleeping on the floor of the church, abandoning even their children.
It bears re-stating: there are few committed, faithful fathers in Africa. Few fathers to fall back on when mothers fall apart.
In 2014, The Lulu Tree was birthed on behalf of those falling-apart-mothers, the ones who desire to overcome yet, for all of the injustice thrown against them, cannot.
Over time, we began to see the faithful fathers that still existed – the pastors who still cared for their people, who wanted to help the mothers. And our focus slowly shifted: we began to focus more on the men who selflessly poured out for their families and their churches and villages. We helped them with sustainable projects like piggeries, tree nurseries, goat farms, cows, and pharmacies — building up their capital so they in turn could invest more in the families of their community. And father-hearted pastors in South Sudan, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have benefited from these gifts and subsequently invested in the vulnerable.
But as we fasted for the future this summer, the Lord led us to Matthew 24:19, which says, “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!”
He also took us to Isaiah 40:11, where He’s depicted as a caring Shepherd who gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; who gently leads those that have young.
As the dreadfulness of these days increases, God is saying to renew our focus on the ones who bear life in the most heartbreaking of situations, who undergo abuse and neglect as they forage for food for their little ones, who fight to work hard yet can only earn half of what their counterparts do. We hear the Savior saying, “As the days darken, focus directly again on the ones I called you to in the beginning.”
The truth is, we want to help everyone. We want to help the elderly, the disabled, the orphan. But we are a small ministry, and we’re called to steward the resources we’ve been given wisely. And so our focus and our vision needs to be clear.
And even as we focus on equipping mothers, we know our efforts will spill over onto the children and the church, because God multiplies the bread and fish offered to Him. Already this is happening in South Asia – at the request of pastors there, a curriculum has been developed and is being provided through Lulu’s website for millions of youth who wouldn’t otherwise hear the gospel, and none of this is costing Lulu any money.
We can’t do it all, but our prayer is that, one day, Jesus will say of us what He said of Mary Magdalene after she poured expensive perfume on His body:
“She did what she could.” (Mark 14:8)
By God’s grace, may we all do our small part. And may we embrace an attitude that presses on, our eyes fixed on the victory Jesus won on the cross. May we love one another well, brimming with purpose, our aprons filled with the seeds of the gospel, partnering together for His kingdom purposes until that glorious day when we see His face and hear His, “Well done,” and the aroma of our offering rises even higher than half the sky.