The Sew Powerful ministry integrates opportunities for women in Zambia to earn a wage to feed their families, pay the rent and educate their children. In many cases, these women are widows or de-facto widows, serving as the head of their households while living in very challenging conditions. This is how we often think of this ministry serving widows. But around the world, Sew Powerful also serves our volunteer purse makers, some of whom may also be widows, by providing a spiritual, creative, and service outlet to serve, just as God has prepared us.
God's Heart for Widows with Jason Miles
IN THIS EPISODE
widows, single moms, donors, Zambia, podcasts, William Carey, widow burning, purse makers, Ngombe compound, Lusaka, Sew Powerful, education, hope
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
William Carey, https://bethanygu.edu/blog/stories/william-carey/
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Jason Miles
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Hello, Sew Powerful Podcast listeners, we are continuing our series, Jesus and the Poor, with Sew Powerful co-founder, Jason Miles. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about orphans. Today we're going to talk about widows and how Sew Powerful supports widows in not only the Ngombe compound, but as we expand further into Zambia, so we're going to get to that in just a moment. But Jason, how are you today?
Jason Miles, Guest 00:48
I'm doing well. How are you?
Oh, I'm fantastic. Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?
Yeah. Great time. And you?
Yeah, great, great time. Saw family and every other Thanksgiving, we make a trip to St. Louis in Kansas City and see all the siblings. So, we cram a lot of sibling visits in one long weekend. So anyway, yeah, so we're back here.
You know, in prior episodes, we talked about the origin of the Sew Powerful program, way back in 2009 and the HIV AIDS pandemic. How does how does all of that connect to our topic today with widows?
Yeah. The community of Ngombe compound in many urban neighborhoods, urban slums, in challenging places, like Lusaka, is a community built on really, Mom-led households, and grandma-led households. And if you go and do house to house visits, and walk through the neighborhoods and meet the people, who you're meeting as the matriarchs, who have a whole group of kids, and grandkids frequently in their house. And so, when we started working in March 2009, we were working with a group of moms, you know, eight, nine moms that had come together to try to make a difference in their school. And that's the context in which we work. The reasons are many, but you know, frequently, HIV AIDS, TB malaria has, at that point had just devastated people physically, but also there's, you know, divorce and abandonment and challenges of desperate poverty, a lot of early marriage that ends sadly, a lot of young girls married really older guys, and that ends tragically. So, you're in the mix relationally of a very, very challenging context. And many people that we're working with are widows and, and or single single moms and grandmas. And so that's sort of the context in which we operate. Yeah.
What does that look like in terms of numbers?
You know, I asked Esther, that question, and we don't have a hard count in terms of, you know, what specific number of widows we work with. But I asked her just as percentages what she thought in terms of the total beneficiaries that we work with, through the sewing uncooperative, soap cooperative, you know, the parents of the school, the Tikandone garden project, and her commentary was about 35% are widows. And then 35% are single moms through divorce. So that's 70% of the people we work with. And then she said, from there, another 15% are single moms, you know, due to what she would call poverty. And what that generally means is, the mom will, in essence, be alone and will be technically married. But the husband might work in the Copperbelt, somewhere far away, or, you know, works or maybe he's in the village, and she's in the town, you know, in Ngombe in the slum there, and they're just separated that way. And so, she said, if she had to guess, about 7%, of who they work with, are actually married, like, you know, have a spouse there. And the rest find themselves in those circumstances of, you know, being being on their own. Yeah.
That sounds incredibly, incredibly challenged. And so, what is the impact of so many, I mean, basically, single moms, right, whether the widow divorce husband away, how does that impact the Ngombe compound in general?
Yeah, it creates a circumstance in which the head of the household is tasked with so many things, but one of the things is just physical provision of food and shelter, and it's all resting on the mom's shoulders. So, food is an exceptionally challenging; the rental amounts for the little homes that they'll live in, is incredibly challenging. And you know, if you've got a household and most of the time, the average would be like 9 to 11 people in the house. If you have a household with 9 to 11, either, you know, teenage to early 20s or 30s aged children, but you're the matriarch, and then you've got babies there. And you're tasked with the responsibility for all that, you know? What, what are you doing beyond that? I mean, can you have a job? Can you do anything other than just full time trying to keep that together? That's the the reality for them. And if you just think about that for a moment, and think what if that was your sister, or your mom, then you know, you you really realize the depth of the challenge that they're facing? Yeah.
Well, you know, I can sort of relate to that. My niece is the mother of a three-month-old baby, and she's on maternity leave, she has a job to go back to. But I mean, the stress and struggles she has of just trying to manage the husband, a baby, the job, and they're not worried about food, and they're not worried about paying the rent, and it's just everyday life. But you add all those stresses on top of it. I just, I just can't even imagine.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's the reality. And it's the context in which God's called us to work. And so, then the question is, what do we do, you know,
Well, and so we work with donors and purse makers. And so, when we volunteer for Sew Powerful, how does that help the women living in poverty in Zambia?
Well, there's two sides of it, really. One side is the program work in Zambia, and how it's designed. And then the other part is ministry to the donors that we work with. And so, I'll describe both parts. The ministry on the ground in Zambia, you know, the circumstances in which we find ourselves is, many of those moms are not educated. So, they might have education through third grade, fourth grade, and so functionally illiterate. And then they've got this whole household full of, you know, kids they are responsible for. So, we've really tried to design our programs, so that they can work with us and integrate the opportunity to have a job, but also be, you know, responsible for the household. So a lot of our team members actually have their kids in the school during school time. The moms are working with us in our program. And so it kind of makes it a convenient way to say okay, the kids are okay for, you know, from early morning to midafternoon. And therefore, they can go over and be a part of the soap cooperative, sewing cooperative and make a living for their family. And that's the design of the program. We also have after school programming for adult literacy, that happens that they're a part of and, and we're passionate about that. So, we really tried to design a program on the ground with the intention of it working for them. So that's one piece. But the other piece is how we work with people around the world. Our donors are 99% women, a purse maker is at least a little broader when you talk about just financial donors and men are included in that a little more. But we have the opportunity to work in collaboration with them, with a lot of women around the world, and many of them are are widows. My mom is in that category. So, she's been on the podcast and told her story. I just have a particular passion for this idea, because what we've heard so often from the purse makers is that this is ministry to them. This is vision and hope and a calling for them. And you know, in the context of Ngombe compound, and the moms in Lusaka, the question is, what do they put in their hopes, and then they're passionate about their faith, but they also put their hope in their children's education. When you hear their stories, the moms there will say, if my kids can just get through school, it's my hope. That's their hope for a better life is their children. And so that's, that's kind of the context in which they have hope. But I think that donors around the world that we work with, in the purse makers, they also have a hope in their heart, and I think that hope in their heart is God has a purpose for them. God has a calling for them. There's a specific assignment that God has prepared for them that they could actually thrive in and do. And not only just do, but do with panache, you know, do with exceptionalism. And so that's what the purse program represents, I think for a lot of people. And it's a it's a frequent commentary that we hear. And I think it's really a central part of what we do and who we are.
You're making me cry, because that's exactly how I feel. And we're in the midst as we record this, we're in the midst of having a survey with our volunteers. And I've taken sort of a peek at some of the answers, and I mean, you really hit the nail on the head. That's how so many of us feel. And I know many of our volunteers are themselves widows and so to be a part of this community to serve others is just so rewarding and you just you just feel like you're serving God's purpose. And it's wonderful
Because you are. And it's not it's not a contrivance. It's not an abstraction like, oh, this sort of symbolically serving the Lord. It's literally clothing people and helping people with food. And the reusable hygiene pad product is just, it is just a miracle of the integration of people's individual work at their house around the world. Participating with the moms in Zambia, and literally, it's all going to the girls together. And I'm as passionate about donor involvement these days, as I am about the work on the ground, because I just have realized over time, people who were in the situation who were alone, and maybe feeling like they missed it, or that maybe they were felt called to Africa, but they never got there. This is an opportunity. And it really is exciting. So, I'm passionate about that. And I think we need to get better at it. I think we do okay, integrating donors from around the world. But I think we can even get better at it going forward. And I'm really excited about just hearing people's commentary that they feel that and they know that we're we're including them in the ministry in a powerful and meaningful way.
You know,I think back at a podcast I recorded with Millie McKerley, and I'm giving you a shout out Millie. And even this morning, she posted beautiful, beautiful purses that she has made and is sending in, that will be a blessing to a girl. But, you know, I asked her what she liked about being part of the program. And she said there were two parts to what she liked. She liked being able to use her creativity. But she liked the fact that she felt called by God to do this. And that that was the more important part to her. And, you know, it's just person after person who says that, and we may have gotten a little a little off topic here on on supporting widows here. But
No, it's not, though, in my view, because it's, I guess you could say spiritual support, psychological support, social support. You know, the widows, largely in the West, it's not always financial, that they need help with. Mm hmm. Whereas in Zambia, it's it's really a financial crush, a burden. But in the West, it's, you know that the purpose and the calling is the way in which we help work with them. And so there you go, yeah.
Well, and I think of again, I think the podcast with your mom, Barbara Stroup, and it was the 'Callings of Barbara Stroup.' And she has many callings, and she serves widows is one of her callings. And she herself is a widow. And that was a very moving podcast. And I really appreciated her being so open about that. And she was a single mom when you were growing up. And so, she's had her share of challenges. And yet, she's turned that around to serve others. And yeah, and it's just wonderful.
Yeah, I think as I reflected on these topics in my own life, and listening to her podcast, I think it's very common for boys to grow up with a single mom, that they'll either resent that mom over the long haul of their life, or they'll have a growing compassion, and just a, an admiration and respect in a sense that if the world was a better place, such things wouldn't happen. And you realize over time, that it's the, the love of Christ in us, that He's called us to such things. And, to me, that's really an important part of who we are, what we do is to say, we're caring for orphans. And we're caring for widows, because we have a passion for it. Because Christ had a passion for it, you know?
Well, and oftentimes widows are marginalized. They're alone. And what happens in the West, it happens in Zambia. It sort of happens all over. Why, why do you think that happens?
I wish I I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. But I know it happens. One of the most tragic widow related stories. I don't know if you've ever heard of this before, looked into it. But there was a long practice in India of widow burning, where… have you heard of this before, Jan, is this have you?
I don't think so.
So, from basically 500 to 1800, in India, there's widow burning, which was the widow would sacrificially jump onto or join the pyre of their husband who died. And it was a common cultural practice. And William Carey was a Baptist missionary who went in the early 1820s or something like that and started to count and document what was happening and advocate. And as it happens, he was a tentmaker, which I love William Carey for but also as it happens, he was just a wonderful person in terms of loving people. He hired many people who were local Hindu faith, people into his businesses. And he learned the language and translated many texts and including the Bible into local language. But he began to raise the issue of this widow burning practice and documented how often it occurred. And his advocacy directly led to that being changed culturally. If you go and look at the history of it, it's It's tragic, because they would do it as a symbolic thing that they were willing to do it themselves. So, it was sort of a rights thing, I guess. But just so sad. And so tragic in his heart was to say, you know, there's hope beyond the death of your husband. And so that whole story is, is very fascinating to look into. But, but the marginalization of widows does occur, you know, it was Gandhi, who said, actually, as it happens, 100 years after all of that work of William Carey, Gandhi said, the measure of any culture is how they treat their most vulnerable or something along that line. And I think that's, that's right. And so, the orphans and the widows being addressed is central to the culture and practice and society of any people. And I think as believers, we can lead the way and say, What does God demand? And, and really have a faith practice that says, we're going to do right.
As we think about this topic, what scripture verses or verse comes to mind.
The passage that stands out to me that is so striking, I mean, I think it's probably the most vibrant, emotional story in the whole Bible is Jesus on the cross. And when Jesus is on the cross, John, chapter 19, there's this wonderful passage that is verse 25. It's right after the soldiers literally divided up his clothing. And in verse 25, it says, near the cross stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. So, these group of ladies were, were gathered around. And when Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved, which is John, the Evangelist, John, the Apostle, who's writing this, this is his story account, he was the only disciple that was there. So, this is, you know, the story of his situation, says, when Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple who meet loved standing nearby, He said to her, Woman, here's your son, and to the disciple, here's your mother. From that time on, the disciple took her into his home. So that's just the kind of foot of the cross, little story about this impending situation. Many people believe that Jesus's mother was widowed at that point, because Joseph is never mentioned in the gospels, really, after the birth of Christ. So, the assumption is that he had passed, but it's never stated directly. But there's this beautiful story, where in sort of this dying act, Jesus is deliberate about making sure his mother is cared for. And then if you read John's books, the John, the Gospel of John, of course, is full of references to knowing that we're believers because the love of Christ is in us. And then if you read 1st John, and 2nd John, 3rd John, if you read 1st John, the whole thing is structured around whether we are demonstrating love to others, as a reference to our love for Christ. And that's just the structure of his writing and his life. And so, to me, that story that that story, you know, Jesus on the cross is so central. And it's just such a beautiful part of Christian tradition, to care for orphans and widows. Then you go to the book of Acts, and they talk about the widows not being cared for properly, and somebody raising it to the attention. And, and we should talk about this whole story at some point. But, but in that story, in the book of Acts, all the disciples gathered together, including John, and they talk about the care for widows, and they appoint Steven, who is in essence tasked with this responsibility to care for widows. And that's a central part of the birth of the church. And so, there's just so much rich history there, and ideas related to those things. But anyway, that's the story that stands out to me the most.
Well, thank you very much. Jason, thank you so much for your time. This has been a wonderful discussion, and I look forward to talking with you next week, where we're going to talk about the Tikondane garden program in a lot more depth. Then we're going to maybe talk about some of those specific young men that are working the program and really get to personalize it and really understand what's going on there.
Thanks, Jan. Wonderful time.
Okay, thank you so much. We'll talk to you soon.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference. I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns, or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.