Tag Archives: widows

Pressing into the Positives

“I would have missed this,” I thought, as I blinked back tears that were creeping into my eyes. He shared how growing up he was more of a street kid hanging out at the local dump. He wasn’t drawn, he said, to smoking, drinking or chewing beetle nut; but he was pulled into destroying property through graffiti. It almost cost him his life when in the early hours of the morning he was caught by a property owner from Wabag who swung a machete at him with full force. Somehow the long knife turned whipping him instead of cutting into his flesh. “Run for your life,” an observer yelled out, and Sammy ran shaken by the experience, which became a wake up call in his life. Sammy shared his testimony at a prayer breakfast we helped organize for him to raise funds to start his training with YWAM. 

One of our goals when we came to PNG was to help be a support for those interested in doing missions. It has been three years now that we have had the privilege of helping organize a missions week at our local church. Last year our friend George, from Wabag, come and shared his testimony. His story and message touched Sammy’s life to the point that Sammy came forward wanting to dedicate his life to missions. He walked to the front from the side since he was part of the music team. George didn’t see anyone coming forward so he started to say a closing prayer. Standing there awkwardly during the closing prayer Sammy felt himself wondering, “Why did I even walk up here?” But, Simon noticed him come up and pointed him out to George who prayed for him. “A man from Wabag nearly took my life,” Sammy shared, “and then a man from Wabag prayed for me.” 

 What a testimony, one of those only God could have arrange something like this, and yet if everything had gone according to my plan I would have missed that moment one of those rare moments of knowing that, yes, God has us here for a reason. He is using our often weak and broken efforts to advance His kingdom.  

Sammy at his commissioning service

Like it has been for many, 2020 has been a year that hasn’t gone as planned. We were supposed to board a plane for the US on May 25th for a very much looked forward to furlough. We were supposed to fly back just in time for my grandma’s birthday and my newest niece’s birth. We were supposed to be there to celebrate my other niece’s 3rd birthday (I only ever got to hold her the day she was born as we were set to fly back to PNG right after that from our furlough three years ago). We had hoped to celebrate my other niece’s 2nd birthday and to finally get to actually give her an in person hug for the first time. None of those things have happened, and I’ll be honest it has really been a struggle “watching” those events take place from afar. 

Due to cancelled flights and the visa process being indefinitely on hold, 2020 is not a year conducive to making plans or ticking goals off the carefully written list. It seems to be a year when everything I had been counting on got striped away and that vulnerable feeling of—how do I even get through this day? Has been popping up more and more. It seems like half of my expat friends here are either suck wanting to travel but can’t and the other half are stuck because they did travel but now can’t return. 

But, in all the stuckness (is that a word?? It should be the new word for 2020) and all the plans that have been turned upside down, God continues to be faithful. He continues to show us that He has a bigger plan then all the plans we try to make. He continues to show us that there are reasons that we are here this year in PNG even though that wasn’t the original plan. One of our goals with the widows we work with is to buy as many of them as possible a small oven and a sewing machine. As covid-19 has slowly hit PNG, masks in public places have become mandatory. So, we have started to teach several of the ladies how to sew facemasks. With part of the profits that have come in from this project (the majority of the profits go directly to the ladies who make the masks), we have been able to save up and now buy three new sewing machines to give to widows who previously did not have one. The first machine we bought we gave to one of the widows who previously had a machine but after her husband died her in-laws took it. Sadly, we have heard of this happening so often to widows here. After their husband dies sometimes in-laws will take back the house where they lived, vehicles, money in a savings account, and even things like rice cookers. There can be so much injustice, which is one of the reasons we first felt called to work with this often vulnerable group. 

So, yes, this year in many, many ways has been so hard, but I choose to press into the positives letting go of plans and seeing what God has planned. It is not an easy exercise letting go, but there is so much good tangled up with the hard, and I am thankful that God sees and He knows. No pain or disappointment is wasted and I rest in that knowledge.

Christina the second widow we were able to buy a sewing machine for.

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Clothed in Purple

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She picked the project, she picked the style and she picked the color—a soft purple. One of my favorite things about helping facilitate the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship is seeing how the ladies know what they need so much better then I ever could. For the first sewing project, Rachael, knew exactly what she wanted to teach her fellow widows. They needed to make a uniform, she said, a full-length round-necked meri blouse. Complicated, I thought, for a first time sewing project. I probably would have chosen to make a pillowcase or something like that, but okay. As the name suggests, a meri (Pidgin English for woman) blouse is the common item of clothing that women in Papua New Guinea wear. They can be compared to a long peasant blouse, loose fitting and very much expected to be worn especially during childbearing years. (As if a woman didn’t already feel huge during pregnancy why not wear a small tent). At least the meri blouse cuts down on the cost of maternity clothes as one size gets you through to the end. But, I digress.

Uniforms, or matching meir blouses, are common here for conferences, church groups and things of that nature; so it made sense that Rachael wanted this to be the first sewing project for the ladies. As she picked out a bolt of purple cloth, I had to smile. Purple—the color often associated with royalty during Biblical times. Lydia, who is mentioned in Acts 16:14, made her living from selling this special purple cloth.  During Biblical times the dye used to produce the deep, rich purple color came from a marine mollusk called Murex trunculus. It was not an easy process to extract the color as the shells of these mollusks had to be broken in order to access the milky fluid that was used to make this natural reddish purple dye. It is said that it literally took thousands of mollusks to dye a single yard of fabric. The process was so intense that 1½ grams of pure dye is said to have had a value of more then 10 grams of gold. No wonder purple was considered the color of royalty. The average person would not have been able to afford it.

So, purple, the color of royalty a fitting choice for a group of women who are precious in the sight of their king. Seven meri-blouses were completed during the first sewing class thanks to several seamstresses from church who came and helped the ladies with their first project. Several of the widows had never touched a sewing machine before and there was an abundance of laughter and joking as some touched their foot to the machine’s petal for the first time. Some were hesitant to make their uniform because they did not want to spoil the beautiful material in front of them but with future classes confidence grew, and by the third class the ladies had organized themselves into teams of two or three and were sewing the blouses completely on their own.

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Watching those moments of learning, seeing confidence being gained, hearing the laughter and singing that takes place during those classes is sweet music. These ladies truly are walking along side each other, encouraging each other learning and growing together—what richness, what beauty even more beautiful then that royal color purple.

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She is the Reason

One of the main questions we were asked last year when we went back for our first furlough was, “why widows?” I guess people wanted to know if the need to work with widows was really worth traveling half way across the world and allocating resources towards. A fair question, but to be honest, the question and the frequency that it was asked surprised me. I hadn’t prepared an answer for that question because over the last few years I had seen and heard so many stories of injustice, heartache and need that I didn’t question why God had led us to work with widows in Papua New Guinea. So, I often found myself giving weak answers like, “there are many widows due to short life expectancies in PNG especially among men” and “there is a lack of government (and even church) support systems in place for widows,” all true facts but they fail to truly show the full picture of just how difficult life can be for widows here.

We were away in the village when we received news that the husband of one of the members of our support team had passed away suddenly. It was a shock. She is still young and has been apart of our support team these last three years as we launched the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship that meets monthly in the capital city.

Her husband died unexpectedly in his sleep, and as terrible of an experience as that must have been her story gets more heartbreaking. Not long after her husband’s death, her in-laws came. They took her car (a car she had paid for with her own money) they took the family laptop, they even took her rice cooker and cooking utensils. They left her simply with her clothes and nothing else. And, as if that was not enough, they even managed to change names on her husband’s bank account and empty that as well. They did not manage to take away her physical house because it is a company house, but I know of cases here in PNG (even among some of the widows we work with) were in-laws went as far as to kick the wife out of her home after the husband passed away. Coming from a western context, it is honestly hard to fathom that these types of things happen but they do! Too many widows here find themselves in very vulnerable situations without the proper law or family support to protect them.

When it comes to working with widows, James 1:27 states, ”Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So, if you ever need a reason to work with widows, there is a clear one. As a couple, we felt God leading us to work with widows during a prayer trip to Mombasa, Kenya while volunteering with YWAM. Simon had recently graduated from Bible college. I had finished an amazing but hard season of working at a children’s home in Kenya. We had recently gotten engaged and were looking forward to our upcoming wedding. We both knew that we wanted to continue to do mission work as a couple, something we had both been doing individually before we met. But the question was- where and with whom? We didn’t want to just go for the sake of going. We wanted to go with purpose and with God’s guidance and blessing. It was during our time in Mombasa that Simon received news that Yasameng’s son had passed away leaving two young children ages two and four. Yasameng lives in the village where Simon grew up. She lost her husband when her son and daughter were only two and four. Now that sad history was repeating itself again. You can read more of their story here. One of the first projects God put on our hearts was to help finish building a permanent house for Yasameng, her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. This project is almost finished now. During our time in the village a few months ago, Yasameng shared with me that when she is out working in her garden she often looks up at that nearly completed house, amazed and reminded that even in the midst of hard circumstances, God does care and people all over the world care as well. She said that she is strengthened daily by this knowledge.

That is why we are here in PNG, to simply be a channel of love and support to these precious women and their children. The problems can often seem daunting but when faced together, especially as the body of Christ, there is new strength. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121 “My help comes from the Lord.” It is our prayer to be apart of that, helping in whatever ways we are able.

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Yasameng standing on the porch of her nearly completed home.

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When it Rains…

“When it rains it pours,” the saying goes. This definitely has been true for us these last several weeks. It started on such a high (yet soggy) note. It rained buckets for days and days and then some more days. Our street flooded, the neighbor’s house flooded, a pair of flip flops I left outside by the door floated away to—I‘m still not sure where, wet laundry hung in the bathroom waiting for the sun to peak out. The outdoor mumu (pig and sweet potatoes roasted in a pit) we had planned to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the widows’ fellowship somehow got underway. Simon pulled our car right up to the front door so we could load all the remaining supplies needed for the celebration into the car without getting utterly drenched.

Trevor was still enjoying his morning nap, so I scooped him up, threw a blanket over his head and off we went. I thought back to the first Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship (WEWF). Trevor was not quite born yet. Now he runs around with the other kids like he owns the place. A lot has changed over the last two years; and as I look back, I am so humbled and thankful that our little family gets to work with such an amazing group of ladies.

The downpour dampened our efforts for an early start. We were an hour late to the venue (still ok by PNG time standards). The ladies had been invited to come help with the baking (if interested), but only Rose managed to brave the rain and come early. So we started: first bread, then muffins, and finally we finished off with some cookies. As we baked we laughed, reminisced and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Rose was one of the first widows we visited when we first came to PNG. After her husband’s death she told us that she had stopped coming to church. She said she felt forgotten when the initial support from people at church slowly faded. Grief—it is just hard and sometimes such a lonely process.

I remember that first visit. I barely spoke any Tok Pisin. We brought a bag of rice and Simon and our good friend from church, Elizabeth, prayed for Rose and her children. Rose’s little guy was just a toddler then. It wasn’t a long visit, but as we baked together Rose brought up again how much that initial visit had meant to her. It ended up being a turning point for her, she said. She started going back to church again realizing that people were there to walk this difficult road with her. She is a faithful attendee of WEWF; and as we celebrated the 2nd Anniversary I couldn’t help but think, “this is why we are here.” It matters. Each lady, each one for their kids matters and getting to walk along side them on their journeys is a privilege.

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Baked Goods for the 2nd Anniversary of the Widows Encouraging Widows Fellowship

On the drive home from the celebration, the car started making banging noises—again. Sunday, coming home from church the noises grew even worse. So, back to the mechanic it went. He fixed it only for the car to die again on Wednesday. Now a week and a half later, two new tires, a new fuel pump and a few other things fixed we believe that we’re mobile again. Well, at least for the moment. The reality is that it is an old car and slowly (or not so slowly) dying. We are saving up for a new one, but it is hard to save when money has to continually go towards repairs.

This week brought other hard news. One of the widows we work with was sentenced to three years in jail due to a land issue that took place while her husband was still alive. Her children are now all young adults, but one of her kids has special needs.

Then we received news that one of the ladies who has been a support/encouragement person for WEWF passed away suddenly after a short illness. She and her husband have a young daughter.

Some weeks are just hard. It is hard to know what to say, hard to know how to move forward, hard to know how to be a support and encouragement. But, we do stand together not knowing the future, but knowing and trusting in a God who does. On the hard days I go back to that moment with Rose baking bread in the kitchen. We are here for a reason to stand together, walk together in the midst of broken cars, flooded streets, prison sentences and the painful reality of grief. It is not easy, but it is easier when you face it together.

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Rose with her freshly baked bread

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Building a Home and a Future

 

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Their hut is like most of the traditional homes in this mountainous area of Papua New Guinea. The sides of the house are a beautiful weave of bamboo mat and the roof is made from stiff, dried grass. It’s a beautiful home, but a temporary one as the walls and roof deteriorate over time. Dishes are washed outside and set out to dry on a platform made from sticks then covered with fresh banana leaves. The shower hole is literally that. A ditch off to the side of the house has been dug and the water dammed off so that a small stream and a jug provide a place for washing.

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Off to the right side of the house, there is a shelter covering neatly stacked boards. Further away, to the left of the hut, the ground has been cleared and posts are cemented in place providing evidence of the beginning construction of a more permanent home. But, apart from the gathered building materials and the cemented posts, nothing more has been done on the house.

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Solomon was three when his father passed away. His sister Naomi was just one. Now they are both a year older and their mother, Ai, wonders what they will do when their village hut begins falling apart. “My current concern,” Ai shared regarding her husband Alfred Doa’s death, “is having the boards how will I as a widow manage to build the house? That troubles me. When the village hut falls apart there is nobody to build. It would have been better if he had built the modern house before his passing.”

Ai and her children live with her mother- in-law, Yasameng, who is also a widow. Her husband passed away when her two children, Alfred and Esther, were very young. The same age as her grandchildren are now. Yasameng remained in her husband’s village not remarrying, but instead she focused on raising her young children. She vividly remembers her thoughts as she sought to raise her children on her own. “Where can we draw strength and support to live life without their dad and my husband?” She remembers thinking. “I thought a lot about what the future would entail.”

Yasameng was invited to join a prayer group and through this group she received the strength and encouragement she needed to face the daily struggle of raising her children as a widow. As they grew, both children were able to finish primary school, although neither had the opportunity to attend high school. Both Alfred and Esther married. Alfred Doa and Ai were married for five years before he passed away a year and a half ago.

“Since Doa’s passing I have again been concerned about my grandchildren,” Yasameng shared, “and also concerned about the project of the house he left uncompleted. Since I’m loosing my strength and advancing in age how will I be able to see these two grandchildren grow up? Who will be able to help support and raise these children?” she asks. “The uncompleted house, with some building materials left behind, is a big concern to me. How will I be able to get the remaining building materials to build the house for my grandchildren?”

In spite of these challenges, Yasameng continues to look to God for strength. “I have come to know that life with God is a huge strength for us,” she shared. “We believe that the Lord will be able to sustain us in life in the midst of all these concerns and worries that we have. However, the practical needs that we have in front of us include raising my grandchildren and gathering the building materials to complete the house- practical needs which still concern me.”

“The building materials are there and I keep looking at them with my eyes,” Yasameng said, “but I can’t do much. If Solomon and Naomi had happened to have been in primary school when their father passed away, it would be a different story, but that wasn’t the case. So much concerns me as a grandmother,” she confessed. “They are still young and I am gradually loosing strength.”

Ai continues to hold on to the dreams that she has for her children. Solomon recently started preschool, and she wants Naomi to receive a good education as well. “My biggest dream is for Solomon to complete his education,” she shared. “And then find a job which can take care of him and his sister. However, in order for him to accomplish such a desire, there is the financial need of his education.” This need continues to concern his mother. “I don’t want him to experience the same thing that happened to his grandfather and his dad. My dream is to help raise the kids so that they can grow up to be a man and a woman who live a healthy and decent life.”

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My husband and I are working to help these two ladies as they seek to raise their children. One practical way we want to help is to finish building their house. We would also love to see Solomon and Naomi complete school. If you feel lead to help this family by sponsoring one of the children’s education or by helping them to finish building their house, please contact us at siruthpotinu@ gmail.com for more information or click here to donate as well.

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