So, how is South Sudan? It’s a question that I get a lot these days. From other humanitarians in different countries, from friends who caught a rare headline, from family members who just want to know what is it that I do all day when I say I am going back. It’s a question that is so much more complicated than it seems.
April 7th is World Health Day. A significant day for the international community and the global population.
This is a story about a small village in Mzimba, a northern district in the small Southern African country of Malawi. It is a story about love and the relentless pursuit of the truth—a truth that has set the village of Jenda free and paved the way for love to flourish.
Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.
The Village Nearby is an chapter from The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope—compiled by Hope Through Healing Hands’ Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide.
Deborah Dortzbach currently serves as World Relief’s Senior Health Advisor. Her extensive background in international public health has equipped her to oversee maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, child development, adolescent health, and anti-trafficking programs for over twenty-five years.
In 2015, Zondervan published The Mother & Child Project: Raising our Voices for Health and Hope, featuring personal stories from women around the world—including Deborah’s. Her story covers her work in the late 1970s, and journeys through a time when she was held hostage while pregnant. She applauds the strength of the women who surrounded her at that time. We thank God for Deborah and the work she continues to do to empower women. Here’s an excerpt her story...
I thought I would deliver my firstborn child by myself in a makeshift lean-to on a windswept hill far from a health facility. I was terrified.
There was no one to give me prenatal care. No one to coach me. No one to talk to about my fears. No emergency backup for complications. No one except…soldiers, hovering.
I am a nurse and was taken hostage while pregnant by the Eritrean Liberation Front and held in a remote, desolate location near the Sudan border. One day, as I wandered in allowable short distances, I discovered others like myself in a nearby village. They were Tigre women, clustered around each other as they framed their nomadic huts. Some were pregnant; some had children tugging at their long, faded skirts as they stretched straw mats over simple poles. One woman stood alone. She had no children and looked sad and abandoned.
I went to them, and we chatted, each in our own mother tongue, as together we thrust grass mats over the acacia sticks, bounced babies in our arms, and laughed at each other’s strange expressions. I put their weathered hands on my bulging bump of baby, and they seemed to curiously question, “What are you doing here?”
I have had many years now to reflect on that question. I was eventually released, received good medical care, and delivered a healthy baby boy. But my newfound friends were never freed from the captivity of unsafe motherhood and the future opportunity to participate in decisions about their families and their own well-being. Were I to return to the same hill today, I wonder if they would ask me the very same question, in the past tense, and what my answer would be. “What have you done, for us?”
The Tigre moms and millions like them, let us know that before us is a choice—to improve maternal health, or to actually increase maternal harm through just doing nothing. While we get genuinely interested for a brief season or for some project silos in maternal health, we all know the deeper issues of behavior and structural change take time and perseverance. Our commitments must be unswerving and unending.
Fundamentally, as Christians, we work and strive to improve maternal health because it’s about valuing who a woman is as God made her and treasures her, not because of a role or function, marital status, maternal status, or even because of need, as great as that may be. Needs and resources will come and go—but the intrinsic worth of woman as God sees her, will always warrant our highest efforts to esteem her and fight for her equality and full expression of honor, dignity, safety, and health.
The account in the Gospels of the bleeding woman healed by Jesus demonstrates this. The unnamed woman, bleeding for 12 years, was stigmatized, spiritually ostracized, extremely weak, and economically impoverished. Yet, drawn by the working of Christ in her life, she ventured into a crowded social space and touched Jesus. He cared so deeply and so thoroughly for her, that He allowed her blood-impure status to spiritually defile him. It instantly healed the woman.
What a beautiful picture for us of the spiritual healing soon to come through the defilement Jesus took upon himself on the cross! God chose the body of woman through which to be born (Mary) and now the body of a woman to bring a foreshadowing of His healing power through death. Can there be any doubt He loves, treasures, honors, and redeems women and seeks to bring His redemption and completeness to all humankind in brokenness and suffering?
 Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48
Join us as we support those whose work raises the value of women and provides the opportunities for growth and progress.
At World Relief, it’s in our DNA to stand with the vulnerable. With school back in session and all of the dynamics that come along with this season, how do we teach our kids to stand with the vulnerable?
This week, as many children in America start a new school year, I can’t help but think of the thousands of immigrant and refugee children starting the academic year at a new school, in a new country, learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture with the hopes of making new friends.
These kids may be scared, excited, happy, sad or—at times—all of the above. But, like all kids, they mostly want to feel included and welcomed in their new environment.
As a parent myself, the start of the school year always proves to be chaotic as we go from a free-for-all summer, to trying to assemble some sort of routine that will carry us through the day—from the morning mayhem to the afternoon witching hours of homework, hungry bellies, and dinner—before doing it all over again in Groundhog Day-like fashion.
As caregivers, we want the kids in our lives to do their best in school. We also want to raise children who help the world be a better place. And as engaged parents, even during this chaotic season, we can do this. We can envision our children to help those around them who may be vulnerable, so that their school is an environment where they and their peers can experience hope, confidence, possibility, growth and opportunity.
At World Relief, we talk a lot about standing with the vulnerable. In kid language, I would define a vulnerable person at school as someone that is being picked on or left out.
Amidst the chaos of a new school year, how do we help our kids think bigger than themselves as we try to raise global citizens? We pause the whirlwind—if only for a brief moment—to circle the wagons over dinner or pre-bedtime routines, to engage in intentional conversations with our kids. We help them understand how to identify a peer that may be vulnerable, and ask them if they’ve noticed anyone in their classroom or school who seemed vulnerable today. We ask how they can help make their classroom or school an environment where they and their peers can experience hope, confidence, possibility, growth and opportunity.
We know life is busy. So to help, we’ve created a free, downloadable, ready-to-print coloring page that we hope serves as a conversation starter for you and your kids. Together, we can help our kids not only be more aware and welcoming to the thousands of kids new to school in America, but also have the courage to stand with anyone who is vulnerable by simply being kind to them.
Who knows? Maybe plopping a few coloring pages and crayons on the table before dinner will help turn the after-school chaos into a meaningful evening, if only for a few moments.
I’m going to try this at our dinner table tonight.*
*Provided there isn’t too much homework.