I posted that picture on Instagram at the prodding of a friend who encouraged me to challenge the typical mental image of a missionary. True, my job often includes Bible stories and songs, but it is so much more! Occasionally we receive criticism from others for what we do: “Why help people who are just dying from a disease they got from bad behavior?” “You can’t ever end poverty, so why do you keep feeding those kids?” “Why don’t you do more spiritual work?”
Have you read the Gospels? Really? It’s a ton of words, but less than your typical dystopian novel that is on the bestsellers list. Jesus was a great teacher. The Bible says people were amazed at what He taught from the time He was just a boy. But for every instance of teaching we read, He also did. And John tells us there’s even more He did that isn't written down in the Gospels! Jesus healed and taught. He fed and taught. I am honored that we get to follow in His steps and participate in His Kingdom the way He did: teaching and feeding and healing.
So why do I spend a ton of time and money teaching girls about health and hygiene? Because of love. Because of justice.
Whatever your opinion of how women are treated, in Zambia, teenage girls are at risk. Nearly half of all girls will be married by the age of 18. More than one third of all babies born in Zambia are to mothers under the age of 18. Adolescent girls are more than twice as likely to acquire HIV as boys of the same age. The leading cause of death for adolescent girls in Zambia is giving birth.
It’s easy to relegate these numbers to behavior and bad choices, but the time I have spent here has shown me that the situation is not that simple.
Without argument, the global consensus is that one of the primary indicators of development in a nation is the education of girls. But girls in poverty face a huge challenge. Monthly.
Can you imagine living in a place where you would have to spend more than one day’s wages on a sanitary product that will just be thrown away? And that day of wages probably doesn’t exist for you but for your caregiver who is likely supporting 4-5 people on less than $2 a day. You are grateful to go to school (even if it is in the second-worst system in SubSaharan Africa), but for about five days every month, you aren’t sure if you can go. Some days, you sit on garbage paper or cardboard to keep clean. Sometimes you can find rags to put in your pants. You might own one pair of underwear, but you don’t want to ruin them. It’s unlikely that anyone has explained to you what a menstrual cycle is and why you have it. The things you do hear tell you that you are bleeding because you had sex, because you are a bad girl, or because you have HIV. Your mostly cycle is a curse in every sense of the word because you can’t do anything about it.
When I go teach a class on womens’ health, we begin with the account of creation in Genesis 1. God creates each part of this universe and calls each part ‘good’. But then He creates man and woman. He calls this part of creation ‘VERY good.’ The way He made us, the way He knit us together, is wonderful. He gave us our bodies to use to glorify Him. Our bodies are not for the use of others or for destruction and abuse. We are given the gift of this body and are to take care of it and rejoice in it. We all have the same parts, our bodies all work the same way. Some part are easy to talk about and see, like our eyes, arms, and feet. But some parts are impossible to see with our eyes, like our brains, hearts, and stomachs. And some are private. But all these parts were made by God for a purpose. The way God created human life to continue is not easy to understand and poses challenges for women especially. I get to teach these girls to care for the body God gave them and equip them with practical supplies that are appropriate for life without indoor plumbing or trash disposal!
Now see for yourself what I see when I get to teach a group of girls and give them supplies. They rejoice! They sing with gratefulness for the gifts! They tell me that they did not know that God made their bodies to do this but thought it was because women are less worthy than men.
This is not what I pictured myself doing when I came to Zambia. It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing, and expensive (the supplies alone cost about $10 for each girl, but they should last 3 years; however, this is a huge part of our personal budget).
This is not healing the women with the issue of blood like Jesus did. But it is giving these girls a chance. It is healing a bit of the injustice they face as vulnerable humans in this society, valued only for their service to men and ability to have children. It is giving them a chance to go to school, to learn, to grow up. It is empowering these girls to make choices, to have a voice in their future, an opportunity to dream. It is showing them that someone loves them enough to care about all of them, even the parts we keep private and don’t want to talk about.
This is love. This is justice.
Thank you for partnering with us so we can be here and be a part of seeing His Kingdom come!