And…Action {Part Three: Health Care}.

Two weeks ago, Michael and I led a prayer time, focusing on the issue of gender inequality. This post is the third in a series summarizing the prayer points and action points we presented during that prayer time. Please check out our previous posts in this series on girls’ education and economic opportunities for women.

Today I’d like to focus on the issue of health care. When I read Half the Sky, I learned that health care is generally more available for boys and men than girls and women. A boy is more likely to be immunized or to be treated for illness or injury than a girl. Girls are not typically breadwinners in a family, so they are less likely to receive costly medical attention, whereas boys receive healthcare because it is considered an investment into their (and their family’s) future.

If basic immunizations and health care are not available for girls in the same way as for boys, you can only imagine that when it comes to prenatal care, childbirth, and post-natal care, treatment is scarce. We don’t think of maternal health care as an issue in the West, but the rate of women dying in childbirth used to be equally high in North America and Europe as it is currently in Africa and parts of Asia. So what changed? Why the difference? When women got the vote in the West, politicians and governments began to see women and their children as more significant, and investments were made into women’s health. In developing nations, however, many women give birth without any skilled attendant. Often, women are giving birth with no assistance at all, or are “helped” by other women who have no basic knowledge of sanitation, and no skills in dealing with dangerous situations such as breech births or obstructed labor.

Many women die in childbirth in the developing world, but others are left with fistulas. Fistula is a little-known or talked about subject in the West, because it is virtually unseen here. In Africa and much of Asia, however, where many of the women giving birth are actually young teenagers, and where FGM is an ongoing issue, almost 100,000 women suffer from fistula every year. An obstetric fistula occurs “when the baby’s head puts too much pressure on the mother’s maternal tissues, cutting off the supply of blood. The tissue dies, leaving a hole – or fistula – which causes urine and feces to leak uncontrollably. The shame and stigma is simply unimaginable. Many women are rejected by their husbands, family and friends and left to suffer all alone” (www.cbmcanada.org/fistula). In addition to the smell that results from fistula (resulting in shame and stigma), women with fistula often cannot walk or stand because of the nerve damage which is a by-product of fistula. Because of the constant leak of urine, women with fistula often develop wounds on their legs because of the acid eating away at the skin.

The following video from Half the Sky tells the story of a woman suffering from fistula, and highlights Edna Adan hospital in Somaliland, which treats women with fistula:

I realize that these details are gruesome, and we shudder at the thought of fistula, but my aim is to bring awareness to an issue that is not as well known as HIV/AIDS, poverty, or natural disasters. Fistula can be easily fixed through surgery, and the women who once suffered physically, emotionally, and socially, can go on to live full and meaningful lives, and contribute to their societies. A fistula surgery only costs $400 CAD, and it means a completely changed life for a woman in the developing world.

The stories of women suffering from fistula were the stories that most impacted me when I read Half the Sky. When I finished reading this book, I was left knowing that I had to do something in response to all that I had learned. I am so fortunate to live in the West, to have access to education, economic opportunities, and health care. Leading an intercession time on gender inequality, and writing this series has been part of my own way of acting in response to what I have learned, but I want to do more.

On April 1, I will be turning thirty (yikes!). For my thirtieth birthday, I would like to raise funds for women to receive fistula surgery. Initially my goal was to raise $400 so that one woman could receive surgery, but since presenting this fundraising opportunity to friends at YWAM Turner Valley, we have already raised $430! Further, YWAM Turner Valley as a ministry has committed to matching all funds raised for fistula through this fundraiser, which means we have already reached $860, which will change the lives of two women with fistula! Praise God!

I’m asking for your help to transform the lives of even more women. I am using my birthday as a platform to change the lives of women with fistula, because I believe this is one way I can apply what I have learned, and more importantly, because it is a way I can shine the light of Christ into the life others. Christian Blind Mission is well known for its work amongst the marginalized in the developing world, specifically with regards to their work with the blind. CBM also works with women with fistula, however, and by giving through their organization, the lives of women with fistula can be changed forever. For my birthday, I’m asking that you would consider giving a financial gift towards fistula surgery. Here’s how you can give:

  1. Give via credit card online. Go to http://www.cbmcanada.org/fistula and click on the “donate” button half way down the page. You will be directed to a page that says YES! I want to bring God’s healing to stop the suffering for women with fistula! If you do not arrive at this page, your gift will not go directly to fistula. The direct link for the specific fistula donation page is here.
  2. Write a check out to Christian Blind Mission, and in the memo line, write “for fistula surgery.”
  3. Phone Christian Blind Mission at 1-800-567-2264, and give via credit card. Specify that the gift is for fistula surgery.

As you give, please let me know that you have given. My intention is not to advertise who has given/how much they have given, but I would like to keep a tally of where we are up to so that I can inform the Leadership Team at YWAM Turner Valley as to how much has been given (before the deadline of April 1st) so that the ministry can match those funds; I need to know the total that has been raised if I am to report an accurate number. Tax receipts are available for donations of more than $10.

We cannot fight fistula, gender inequality, or injustice on our own; these issues will only be resolved when culture is permeated and transformed by Jesus. Here are a few specific ways you can pray for health care for women:

  1. Pray for policy changes – that families, communities, and nations would see the importance of providing women with healthcare, particularly throughout their pregnancies and in childbirth.
  2. Pray that the church would send medical missionaries/missions teams to educate unskilled birth attendants in midwifery and pre/post natal care.
  3. Pray that the church would bring awareness to issues such as fistula, which are not as well-known causes as HIV/AIDS, poverty, and natural disasters.

Thank you for praying into the issue of gender inequality, and for following this blog series. Please continue to pray that God’s light would shine into the roots of all cultures, so that women and men would be known the world over as equally valuable children of God.

Musical Recommendation: Cageless Birds Live at Home

I (Michael) don’t often enjoy live recorded worship albums. It’s not that the quality of the recordings throws me off, but I find as I listen, I am often not in the same head space as those in the live setting. For the last week, however, I have been listening to a live worship album that has changed my perspective. I first listened to the music of Jonathan David Helser six years ago. At the time, Myspace was the way I was exposed to new music (that makes me feel old and a little sad), and I had been listening to a lot of John Mark McMillan. Helser was “friends” with McMillan on Myspace, so I started listening to his music. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep up with the songs Helser and his wife were producing, but I kept seeing their new music pop up, and I had friends who used their work in leading worship.

About two weeks ago, John Mark McMillian posted on Facebook that the Heslers and others from their community were putting out a live collaborative album. Since then, I have listened to the album at least twice a day. It is a beautiful combination of the spontaneity of live worship without the background noise of a live concert. The album was recorded live at the Heslers’ home (watch the above video to learn more about that process), and the comfort of that setting comes through in the music. Though there are many great songs on this album, right now “Come Close,” with its simple meditative lyrics and sweet guitar riffs, is what I gravitate towards on the album. I hope you get a chance to listen to this album, and that it ministers to you as it has to me. Enjoy.

Book Review: Over-Dressed (The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion), by Elizabeth L. Cline

I (Helen) first heard about Over-Dressed via the RELEVANT podcast. Michael is a big fan of RELEVANT’s magazine and podcast, and often when we’re doing longer driving stints, we’ll listen to a podcast or two. I was expecting Over-Dressed to be about the terrible working conditions of those employed in the factories that make much of the clothing we wear in the West, but this book is so much more than that. Rather than only looking at the human rights issues we hear about in the media following tragic factory collapses (though it is obviously an important topic), Over-Dressed gives multiple reasons why cheap fashion is damaging, both to those in the developing world, and to the consumer.

Over-Dressed by Elizabeth L. ClineAuthor photo: Keri Wiginton

Author Elizabeth L. Cline admits at the beginning of the book that she was once a fashion junkie. She tells stories of buying seven pairs of slip-on shoes that were marked down to $7 a pair, on clearance. She surveyed her closet and determined that she paid less than $30 per item on average for each item of clothing she owned. I have to admit I’m in a similar boat. Though I may not have the same affinity for canvas shoes, when I think about my closet, much of what I own was purchased on sale, and it is very rare that I spend more than $30 on an item of clothing. You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal?” Well, as Cline tells us,

“that clothes can be had for so little money is historically unprecedented. Clothes have almost always been expensive, hard to come by, and highly valued…Well into the twentieth century, clothes were pricey and precious enough that they were mended and cared for and reimagined countless times, and most people had a few outfits that they wore until they wore them out. How things have changed. We’ve gone from making good use of the clothes we own to buying things we’ll never or barely wear. We are caught in a cycle of consumption and waste that is unsettling at best and unsatisfying at its core” (p. 3-4).

Fast fashion has become a phenomenon in the last decade or two, a phenomenon that is really benefiting no one but retailers’ wallets. Clothes are made quickly and as cheaply as possible, and then sold to the consumer, who measures quality in “how many washes will this survive?” Stores no longer update their stock seasonally, but every couple of weeks in an effort to keep shoppers shopping. As new clothes are introduced every two to three weeks, clothes purchased only months ago seem hopelessly out of date, and are donated to second-hand shops. While this may seem like a positive way of dealing with an excess of clothing, the vast majority of items donated to second-hand shops do not actually make it to the shelves/racks, but end up as waste, or are shipped off to Africa.

Not only does fast fashion make the consumer into a hamster on a perpetual wheel of temporary trends, it has destroyed our sense of quality clothing. Fabrics are flimsy and seams are poorly sewn. At the turn of the twentieth century, a woman’s ready-to-wear suit retailed for $15 apiece (about $380 today). After World War I, the price of dresses came down to what would be about $200 in today’s (USD) money. So how is it that we can pay less than $20 for a dress today, when one hundred years ago, the average woman was expected to pay $380 for a ready-made-suit? Quality has come down, production has been moved overseas, and the quantity of garments produced has gone through the roof, allowing retailers to cut their costs and consequently slash their prices.

While Cline highlights several issues in her book, including the negative effects of moving production overseas, the unfair wages paid to garment workers, the impact on the environment, the difficulty of getting into the fashion industry as a designer, and the impact fast fashion has on the nations to which our fashion-rejects are carted, the issue of quality stood out most to me. I felt duped after reading this book. Though I don’t buy a lot of clothing right now for budgetary reasons, I really have no concept of what quality clothing looks like, and before, I was easily pulled into H&M every two to three weeks to see what was “new.” We think of high-end clothing as unaffordable and ridiculously-priced (or at least I did), but when we look at fashion historically, clothing was something that was prized, saved-up-for, and taken care of, not haphazardly donated after a few wears. Rather than buying a high quantity of clothing, what if we bought high quality clothing? Yes, it would mean that we wouldn’t have as many options in our wardrobes, but maybe we wouldn’t stand in front of our closets each morning thinking, “I have nothing to wear,” because we would actually love the look and feel of the high-quality clothing that we do own.

As a solution for her findings, Cline suggests that we adopt the strategies of making, altering, and mending. This means making our own quality clothing (which, buy the way, is more expensive than going to Target or Forever 21); altering the clothing we own so that it will fit us well (or even making something new out of something old); and mending those torn jeans or sending our boots in for repair, rather than purchasing new.

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 was to only purchase second-hand clothing, or make my own clothes. Over-Dressed has given me more fuel for keeping those resolutions. I’m especially interested in making clothing. Though I’ve made several quilts, the idea of sewing clothing is pretty daunting to me, as I have this horrible feeling that I’ll go out in something I’ve made, and it will fall apart around me. Fortunately, there are so many resources out there for those who want to learn to sew. Here are a few of my favorite sewing-related websites:

http://www.tillyandthebuttons.com/ (Tilly was a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee, which I highly recommend you check out for inspiration – unfortunately, these shows are no longer available through YouTube, but you can go to http://www.bbc.co.uk to check out pictures of the various makes from the show.)

https://www.colettepatterns.com/ (I have made one of Colette’s patterns – the Sorbetto top – which can be downloaded for free! I love the look of Colette’s patterns, and they are rated as beginner, intermediate, and advanced. If you know how to use a sewing machine and you aren’t afraid of googling a few terms, give the Sorbetto top a try! I found the hardest part was sewing the hem.)

http://www.pinterest.com (if you need ideas, check out Pinterest – the Pinterest link I’ve included is to my “One Day I Will Sew Clothes” board, and you can go down a sewing blogs rabbit trail by clicking on a few of those pins – you have been warned.)

I do hope you will give Over-Dressed a read, and be open to re-thinking your clothing purchases; cheap fashion certainly comes at a high cost.

And…Action {Part Two: Economic Opportunities}.

Last week, Michael and I led a prayer time, focusing on the issue of gender inequality, particularly in the developing world. This post is the second in a three-part series in which we hope to highlight some of the issues facing women throughout the world, and how the body of Christ can be praying and acting towards solutions. Check out our first post from last week, which highlighted the issue of girls’ education.

Half the Sky outlines some harrowing statistics concerning spending in the developing world. In many households across the world, men are the sole income-earners, and have complete control over spending. It is found that “the poorest families in the world typically spend approximately ten times as much (20 percent of their income on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitutes, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children.” When women control the purse-strings, however,  “family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine, and housing, and consequently children are healthier.”

So how do we shift from men controlling the money in families to women having a say in spending? One answer is through economic opportunities for women. When women have the opportunity to earn an income, their perceived value in the household increases, and they begin to have more control over spending, meaning that their children are likely to be healthier, and education becomes more feasible. One way to encourage economic opportunities for women is through micro-financing. Micro-financing involves individuals making small loans to those in the developing world. These loans go directly into the supplies needed for a woman (or a man) to start a business, or expand an already existing business. The increase in income that results from the loan allows the business woman (or man) to pay back the loan quickly.

One organization that is well-known for providing micro-financing opportunities for those in the developing world is Kiva. The following video was put together by Kiva to explain micro-financing:

 

Here are a few ways you can pray into the issue of economic opportunities for women:

  1. Pray that the body of Christ would see the advantages of being involved in micro-financing, rather than viewing it as a secular solution to poverty.
  2. Pray that God would open the eyes of believers around the world to recognize that women can be income-providers and can contribute to society.
  3. Pray for creative business opportunities for women.

Getting involved in micro-financing is easy, and it’s not expensive. Kiva allows lenders to give as little as $25 to the recipient of their choice. You can check out Kiva’s website and determine who you would like to loan to – you can specifically select which country, which gender, and even which field of business you would like to support. Though it is not entirely risk free, Kiva has an excellent track record – 98.96% borrowers have repaid their loans. Once your loan has been returned, you can choose to invest that money in a different entrepreneur, or you can withdraw it. Michael and I have lent $25 to a young woman in Peru, joining a team of lenders so that she can maintain her taxi and expand her business. When this entrepreneur pays back the loan, we look forward to the opportunity to lend that $25 to another woman, investing in her life, the life of her family, and her community.

Here’s a few action points to consider in the area of economic opportunities for women:

  1. Consider making a micro-finance loan through an organization such as Kiva.
  2. Introduce your church/small-group to micro-financing as a channel for charitable giving.
  3. Consider supporting business-women in the developing world by purchasing items that are hand-crafted by women in poor nations. Quite often, these reputable business opportunities/collectives give women the chance to stay off the streets, where they are susceptible to prostitution, trafficking, and other horrors. You can purchase fairly-made items, handcrafted by women and men, at Ten Thousand Villages. “Ten Thousand Villages creates opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.”

YWAM Turner Valley Winter Olympics

Warning: the video you’re about to view contains scenes of extreme winter fun and athleticism.

You may remember that a little over a year ago, I (Michael) wrote here about bringing more play into my life. Since then, my desire to play has undergone quite the evolution. After I facilitated a few different events over our last SBS school year, it was decided in September that we needed a “task force” responsible for getting our community out to play. This elite team was originally called the “Recreational Task Force” or RTF, but has seen a few name changes along the way; our current acronym is BORF (to be honest, I’m not sure what that stands for anymore!). So far this year, BORF has hosted a movie night under the stars, and a Winter Classic table tennis tournament. Last weekend, however, we hosted our greatest event to date: the YWAM Turner Valley Winter Olympiad. With the Winter Olympics currently on and with eight countries represented on our campus between staff and students, it felt appropriate to have our own event. Much planning and energy went into this five hour event which took place on Saturday.

There were four events of varying difficulty, all of which you saw in the above video. There was the Winter Tennis Ball Golf Long Drive competition, which consisted of standing on a tee box to hit a tennis ball with a golf iron onto a driving range made by packing down lines with snowshoes in a snowy field. Next was the Snowshoe Biathlon; in this event athletes ran from a start point following a track to the half-way mark, where they were handed a pellet gun and could shoot at balloons attached to trees at different distances. Depending on what balloons were hit, the competitors could get time deducted off their final run time. The competitors then completed the course, including a run up a brutal, game-changing hill Our next event was inspired by last year’s super-sledding – it was a Super Sled Jump/Freestyle event. This was the event that produced some scrapes and bruises. Competitors rode the super-sled off a jump, and were awarded points based on style, jump distance, and clean landing. Finally, we had what was likely the favorite event: Milk Jug Curling. This event took place on the frozen river at the back of our property; we found some ice not covered with snow, and with buckets of river water and squeegees, we flooded the ice to create a flat and slippery surface. Athletes were given two milk jugs filled with water. Competitors slid the jugs towards the spray-painted rings several feet away.

Three teams competed individually against each other, then the winners of each event from each group competed in the finals, and were awarded medals based on their performance. These Olympics were opened with a fantastic interpretive dance by the BORF members, and closed with an amazing fireworks display provided by generous friends of our ministry, who also provided a number of novelty gifts for our winners and some honorable mentions.

As we prepared for this event, I had my doubts on how it was going to go. It was a lot of work, and if all four of the BORF members didn’t contribute, there was no way it was going to work. Once again, however, I was reminded of the great pleasure it is to work in a team with my fellow YWAM Turner Valleyans. There was no one person who is responsible for the success of this event, so I want to thank my team members (Jon Monkman, Austin McKinley, and Evan Greenwood), all those who volunteered, everyone who came out to support, and especially all those who participated. I don’t know what BORF will do next, but I feel like we just raised the bar with this one.

And…Action {Part One: Education}.

You may remember that in early January I (Helen) posted a book review of the tremendously influential book Half the Sky. This book walks through some of the greatest issues facing women around the world, including trafficking, lack of educational opportunities, health care, poverty, and general gender inequality, and also suggests some solutions. The symptoms of gender inequality are varied, but there are ways we can take action. Of course, as a Christian, I know that the only way we can truly see an end to gender inequality is through the transformation of nations that comes through knowing Jesus, but there are many ways in which we can show the love of Christ to women around the world.

This morning, Michael and I led a “Prayer for the Nations” time at YWAM Turner Valley. Every Thursday morning our campus spends forty-five minutes to an hour, praying for various nations, people groups, and issues addressing the church. Michael and I focused on gender inequality. We used a lot of information from the book Half the Sky, and showed clips from the documentary developed in response to the popularity of that book. We focused specifically on three issues: education for girls, business opportunities for women in the developing world, and women’s healthcare. In this short blog series I’m calling “And…Action,” I’d like to address the issue of education for girls, and encourage you to pray into this issue. There will be two future posts that highlight prayer and action points for economic opportunities for women, and women’s healthcare.

Education is obviously not just an issue for girls; there are children all over the world who do not go to school for one reason or another. In many places in the world, however, girls are less likely to go to school than boys. The reasons for this are varied: parents keep their girls at home so they can look after siblings and attend to household concerns. Boys are sent to school because they are seen as breadwinners, and families consider it an investment for their males to receive an education. Girls are not considered breadwinners, so the investment in their education is not considered as valuable. This thinking is rooted in the devaluing of girls.

Education not only gives a girl the opportunity to be raised out of poverty, it is a catalyst for change in her life, the life of her family, and in her community. The following clip is from Half the Sky, where actress Gabrielle Union goes to Vietnam with Nicholas Kristof (journalist and co-author of the book Half the Sky), and reflects on her experience getting to know young teenage girls getting an education through the work of an organization called Room to Read.

Here are a few ways you can pray into the issue of girls’ education:

  1. Pray for Christian education to be made available to girls around the world, and that Christian organizations and missionaries would encourage communities to consider the value of educating their girls.
  2. Pray that Christian families would set an example of valuing their daughters as equal to their sons, through sending them to school and giving them equal opportunities to receive an education.
  3. Pray for the transformation that only Christ can bring – the transformation of culture that would show all that both girls and boys are made in the image of God, and deserve equal treatment.

It’s not enough for us to just learn about the issues – we are called to action. We are called to be doers of the Word (James 1:22-25), and the Word tells us that we are to love our neighbors (Mark 12:30-31). Here are some ways you can take action in the issue of education for girls:

  1. Consider giving to or fundraising for an organization that targets education for girls. One such organization is Room to Read. Room to Read focuses specifically on literacy and gender equality in education, and you can direct giving towards education for girls. Room to Read works in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Zambia, South Africa and Tanzania.
  2. If you are considering monthly sponsorship of a child through an organization such as World Vision or Compassion, consider selecting a girl as a recipient. Michael and I had the great pleasure of meeting a young woman in Thailand who was a “Compassion kid,” and she, along with several of her male friends, are receiving excellent post-secondary education because of the assistance of Compassion.
  3. Educate yourself. Find out more about the issues facing women and girls through reading Half the Sky, through watching the documentary, or through dedicating a month to interceding for those who are victims of gender inequality. A Voice for the Voiceless highlights 26 ways you can pray for the marginalized around the world; many of their prayer suggestions target praying for women and children.

Book Reviews: The Sparrow, and The Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell

Back in the summer I (Michael) sent a request to a trusted friend: “What science fiction novels would you recommend?” I received quite a large list, but the first book he recommended was The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. This book was Russell’s first foray into fiction, as previously she had only written technical manuals and scientific articles. I have to admit I was skeptical at the premise at first. Basically, the story follows the attempts of a group of Jesuit priests to make first contact with an alien race on a distant plant. Though I was initially unsure about this plot line, Russell’s work makes for one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time.

The Sparrow & Children of GodThe Sparrow follows two timelines. One takes place after the return of Emilio Sandoz from the expedition to the distant planet, tracing an inquiry as to what happened there. The other is years before the expedition, and over time, works its way up to what Sandoz is recalling in the inquiry. The book is masterfully written in a way where as you finish a chapter in one timeline, you are brought back to the other. I found myself pouring over the pages of this book in a way I haven’t in a long time. I don’t want to give much of the story away, but I will say that the spiritual implications of Russell’s work were what endeared this book to me most. The Sparrow ultimately deals with the problem of pain in a way that is truly challenging.

In Children of God, the story of Emilio Sandoz continues where we left off with him in the The Sparrow. Emilio is a man wrestling to understand where he is left in his relationship with God after coming to grips with what happened to him on the expedition. As the Jesuits (and really the Pope himself) want to return to the distant planet, there is also an attempt by those involved to help Sandoz face the demons he left on that planet. When I started this book, I was glad to see Sandoz starting to heal from the pain he experienced, but that joy was short-lived. In case you are interested in reading these books, however, I will promise that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I really cannot do justice to these two wonderful books. Russell’s work challenged me to see God’s truth reflected in fictional storytelling. As someone who argues hard for the fact that the Bible is the great anchor for the soul to stay moored to truth, it was encouraging to see the truth of Scripture used beautifully as the foundation for science fiction works. Please consider reading both The Sparrow and Children of God, and let me know what you think.