By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Projects empowering_women_in_jinjaHow can we help empower women?

Before we attempt to address such an important topic facing many secular and Christian organizations, let’s dig deeper and ask more questions:

Which women? In which country? Single or married? Do they have children? How many? Do any of the children have special needs? Do the women have a formal education? Through what level? Do they have a job or informal small business? Do they have any health problems? Do any of the children have health problems? The list goes on and on . . .

Bear with me as I go on a tangent.

From my experience working with many American churches, we are often quick to oversimplify problems and offer solutions. We tend to start new organizations, manage them from afar, and let outsiders make key decisions. Yes, I too am guilty as charged.

We tend to be slow to listen and learn. Seldom have I seen missionaries or teams spend several months and years living in a country, building relationships, visiting locally-run organizations, and seeking local input before starting a “project” or organization. One would assume this would be the norm. However, when we move intentionally and in ways appropriate to the local culture, people back home have a funny way of asking, “What are you waiting for?”

Let’s face it; we want a quick fix and think we can do it better on our own. We believe that we can take a solution or a model that worked in one community and apply it to every country. We tend to underestimate the challenges and costs of working cross-culturally and overcompensate by cutting corners. I’ve seen this play out over and over again by well-intentioned churches, ministries, and NGOs led by smart people with huge hearts.

Unfortunately, they were guided by their own visions and emotions rather than appropriate research and cultural considerations. This is a recipe for disaster. It often leads to bigger projects, bigger budgets, and bigger mistakes. This approach causes fractured relationships and damaged reputations, and these costs are far greater than money.

The same principles that apply to working in new countries also apply to specific communities and subsets of the population. The objectives may differ, but the questions we ask and the process we follow is very similar.

Let’s revisit our questions and get a little more specific.

How can we help empower women in Jinja, Uganda? While this is still quite broad, let’s dive in anyway to see if we can make some progress.

We’ve spent the last five years facilitating Church Partnership in Jinja. The initial vision for the partnership included inspiring and equipping the local church to care for a small number of orphaned and abandoned children, while exploring sustainable, long-term solutions to funding the work.

If you’ve ever been involved in these types of partnerships before, you know that nothing comes easy and it takes time to develop relationships and trust. Undoubtedly, you will face cultural miscues and things lost in translation. In other words, expect to make mistakes. Hopefully, you will minimize and learn from them.

Here we are, several years into the partnership, and the church partners have witnessed struggles and joys and everything in between. The work has evolved from merely creating a sustainable form of orphan care to finding local solutions to preserve, strengthen, and empower vulnerable families, particularly single mothers.

Over the course of time, and after ongoing meetings, phone calls, emails and trips, the church partners have learned a great deal about the local culture, the people, and the issues the local people face. Over and over again, they have been reminded of the importance of empowering women—spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. None of these are more important than the others. All aspects are overlapping each other.

Just two months ago, the church started a food distribution and visitation ministry. People in the community helped the church identify fifteen families that are highly vulnerable and in desperate situations. Members of the church visited these families to learn more and introduce themselves.

Rose*, a single mother of three, told her excruciating story. One of Rose’s children has a severe disability that requires her to be present with the child at all times. Her husband, who worked and provided for the family, considered the child a curse and would not accept the child as his own, so he left.

Rose, who couldn’t leave her child’s side, was unable to work, could no longer provide for the family, and could no longer pay rent. She and her children moved to a tiny parcel of property. They had no home and used an old tarp to provide covering from the rain. The other children didn’t receive much attention from Rose and they seldom had anything to eat. To make matters worse, the family was isolated from the community because having a child with special needs is often viewed as a curse or repayment for past sins.

Truly in despair, Rose and her family experienced physical, emotional, social, economic and spiritual pain. They had nowhere to turn.

Community of Faith Church has a desire to serve the community and is meeting these families in their brokenness and affliction, physically and spiritually. Rose and her family are now receiving food regularly, along with prayer and support. The church is working with her to find ways to come alongside her to provide proper care for her child and discuss ways to earn an income. These stories are all too common and long-term solutions are not often immediate.

After months of planning and prayer, the church is preparing to open The Greater Love Center for Women’s Ministries. The center will be a refuge for women from all backgrounds and faiths to share their stories, and receive counseling, encouragement, and emotional support.

The center will start with specialized programs for women who have experienced trauma and help them heal from their past. Over time, it will gradually develop economic empowerment programs, including savings groups, financial stewardship training, small business training, and possibly microloans.

Through the church and the relationships it has developed with the community and families with special needs, the center is also praying and researching ways to empower other local churches, particularly women’s ministries. The church hopes to see other churches visiting families with special needs, providing basic education and training, offering resources, and helping to initiate support groups for the women.

How do we empower women in Jinja, Uganda?

It looks different in each community. The church seeks women out and meets them right where they are. We listen to their stories and show compassion for their pain. We gather small groups of like-minded women together to encourage, pray for, and support each other through similar struggles in life. By working together with the people we serve, we identify needs within the community and find appropriate solutions to the problems we face while learning that our healing, restoration, and identity are all found in Christ.

*Name changed to protect identity