VILLA RIDGE—“His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”
Those poignant words filled the First Baptist Church, Villa Ridge, sanctuary as Mirabelle Kawara sang them.
Mirabelle and her husband, Samuel, coordinators for Hope Ministries in Cameroon, Africa, also known as “Hope for Widows and Orphans,” were in the United States to share their ministry and to visit Ed and Roberta Simons, members of First Baptist Church, Washington.
“Widows in Africa suffer greatly and it is the primary condition women dread,” Mirabelle said. “The mourning practices are so severe that they are detrimental to a woman’s health. They face general degradation in status without husbands.”
Mirabella explained that African widows are considered responsible for their husband’s death.
“They are forced to sit in isolation and wear the same clothes for days,” she said. “The denial of inheritance rights to widows forces them into poverty. They are forced to sell themselves and they have no money for school for their children.”
Hope for Widows and Orphans ministry began in 2000 by the Kawaras. They began working with 30 widows and orphans and that number has grown to 7,000 in 50 groups with leaders.
“We were called into this ministry based on the Word of God in James 1:27,” Mirabelle said. In addition, Mirabelle’s life experience of growing up as an orphan gave her first-hand knowledge of the need.
God provided a major boost to the ministry in 2001 with the arrival of Ed and Roberta Simons, owners of Ed’s Meat Market.
“We were in Africa on a missionary trip to discover the possibility of establishing a meat processing plant to provide jobs for the locals,” Roberta said. “When we met Sam and Mirabelle, we wanted to help.”
Help they did. For the next nine years, they closed up the Washington meat market for the three summer months and headed back to Africa to serve with the Kawaras.
“The first year,” Roberta said, “we met women with no hope in their eyes and in their face. It was a completely blank look.”
Five major components of the ministry give the widows and the orphans hope.
“We want to alleviate poverty and help them know hope and healing from the pain they’ve known all their life,” Mirabelle said.
The components include: counseling and spiritual support based on Scripture; orphan sponsorship; income generation; charity program and medical.
“Our message is the cross,” she said. “Proclaimers (a small, portable language box with the Bible recorded in many languages) help us share the Word of God with the women because they can hear the Bible in their own language. With 200 languages in Cameroon, the proclaimers are important and since they work from several power sources, it doesn’t matter that most don’t have electricity. The women can just crank it to listen.”
The women are taught methods for income generation to support their families including being able to send their children to school. This income generation is in the form of livestock production, food crop production, tailoring and knitting or in making other homemade products such as powdered soap, body lotions and shampoo.
“Each of the women is to give or pay back as they establish their trade,” Mirabelle said. “Things given for free have no value and we want to encourage the feeling of giving.”
The Kawaras described the income plan with examples. If the woman receives a goat, she takes care of it and eventually passes on another goat to another one of the widows. In the crop production, the widow is given seed and fertilizer to raise her crop. When she sells the crop, she returns $30 to the ministry for another widow to receive seed and fertilizer.
The Kawaras were speaking at Villa Ridge to share a gift from the widows. Five hundred of the women attending a conference sponsored by Hope Ministries decided to give an offering to another ministry, Operation Christmas Child, to help hurting children in other places. Mirabelle presented $80 to use for shoe boxes for suffering children. n
VICKI STAMPS/contributing writer