In Acts 6.1-7 a problem developed in the early church over the treatment of some of the widows under their care. After they had successfully solved the problem by ensuring the widows were all taken care of equally, Luke reports that the word of God spread, the number of disciples increased rapidly, including a significant number of priests – and the way he says it leads us to believe that it was how they treated the widows that had a direct bearing on the willingness of these people to give the gospel a hearing.
Among the Christian Fulbe a problem with the widows has also been noticed, though it is not of their doing. Older Christian women who have lost their husbands will normally live in the same village as their grown sons. However, if their sons are Muslim – which many of them are – it is often the case that the Christ-following mothers are neglected and ostracized in their communities.
Our brothers and sisters have decided that they need to do something about this. They have so far built two very modest homes (basically multi-plexes, with four and eight women in a structure, each woman having just one room) in their villages and have taken some of these women in.
The strategy is two-fold. First, it gives these women a place to live, and be, where they are loved and cared for, and are able to practise their Christian faith without fear of hindrance. Second, it makes for an evangelistic opportunity. A Muslim son can ignore his mother when he lives next door to her, but when she moves away he is obligated by custom to go out of his way to visit her. So these Muslim family members (because not just sons will be obligated to visit) will come to these Christian villages, meet followers of Jesus, see how everyone – including their relatives – live, and will even attend worship services there.
When I was in our partner village last year at this time I lived beside Gogo for about a week. Gogo (which means “Auntie”) was one of these Christian widows languishing in her own village before our Christian partners took her to live with them. She was about eighty years old, in good health (since then she has had a mild stroke, but has mostly recovered), and very cheerful.
You had to go out of your way to visit her, but she seemed to have visitors very often: old people, children, middle aged men and women. I asked her how her life had changed since she has come to live in the village. I thought her smile was as big as it could be, but when I asked her that it grew even larger.
“Just happiness – joy and happiness all the time,” she told me. She praised God for bringing her to such a place where the love of Jesus was so evident.
Our church has been blessed to be a part of the building of these homes, as have a few others. To me, this is what partnership is all about: helping our partners’ vision be fulfilled and seeing the fruit of the gospel for the Kingdom.