Bless the MamasRich Stigall
Sharon, was born and raised in Congo. Her story is a profound picture of the shattered lives of thousands like her. She has suffered through tribal warfare, an attempt on her life, and the loss of family and home. In the depths of her brokenness she found a place of respite, healing and restoration. Mto Moyoni, (Swahili for “river in the heart”) sits along the bank of the River Nile, near its very source. Two amazing women from the Netherlands with their own stories of pain and need for healing were called years ago to create this place of refuge and restoration for African Christian leaders. Sharon’s participation in the Transformation of the Heart Retreat at Mto Moyoni proved pivotal in her personal transformation and subsequent calling to ministry with GO Project and GO Africa.
While serving at the village level with Management committees, Mamas and children, Sharon began to see a great need and share her observations.
“I observed the Mamas as they looked after the most hurt kids, they seemed puzzled by something I never knew by then…but I remained pondering. When the Lord called me to be part of GO-Africa team and started interacting with them more often and more closely, I realized that they were suffering from bitterness, unforgiveness, pain and traumatic memories of loss. They might not have known but I could tell because I have once been on that path in my life. While on a visit to a Father’s House I could hear a member of the management committee asking the Mamas to give what they did not possess: “love these children as they were yours,” “forgive these kids, they been through a lot,” “you show these kids God’s love,” and the advise could go on and on; I would see a mom’s face responding: “I am not sure of what you mean by love,” “I have also been through a lot and no one has ever cared,” “literally, I have nothing to offer these kids and also hungering…” then I could feel an urge to help these mamas! Whenever we could visit the villages a lot of emphasis was on kids, a lot of time was with kids but we “forgot” the Mamas…
I also knew with all my being that the Mamas are key to this ministry; I mean, as all of us in our different capacities and bring together our different little contributions to the ministry, I knew that they are the ones who listen, speak, touch, smell, see, know and work 24/7 with these kids than anyone else. If we have healthy moms, there is a high percentage of having healthy kids. And slowly, as I kept listening to their personal stories this became too real to me; I shared with Alison the idea of finding a way that would help mamas to help themselves before they could help the kids. I shared with Marsha how the “Transformational week retreat” in Mto Moyoni helped me forgive from my heart–not by my head, deal with trauma, an orphaned heart and to knowing God’s love for me. It was after that retreat that onto my social work knowledge that I added my heart AND, there was nothing else I would wish to recommend to the Mamas (and everyone) than experiencing God’s dealing with one’s life’s details and serving and looking after these kids from the confidence of knowing God’s love! I found my heart in the Father’s heart for me.”
Sharon has served as a heavenly harbinger for our ministry on many levels, but particularly on the need for empowering the “Mamas” (those women who our church partners choose to make their “home” with the children.) Creating a nurturing home for children that are not your own is a 24/7 relentless challenge that rests solely on these womens shoulders.
The orphan pandemic has urgently captured our hearts and commitment to giving a future and a hope to these dear children. One key to their lives is in the heart of their Mama. Exploring her personal context helps bring both clarity and challenge.
Statistics overwhelmingly demonstrate that investing in women is the highest-return investment available in the developing world. “Women’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation.” (Half the Sky: Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. P. 11)
According to a Duke University study that spans five impoverished nations in Africa and Asia, “The health of a caregiver is the most important predictor of orphan health. More important than an orphan’s geographic location, living conditions or past trauma.” The Duke study finds that an unhealthy caregiver likely means an unhealthy child.
The findings prompt Duke Researchers to call for international orphan policies to place greater attention on assessing and treating an orphan and his caregiver’s health together, rather than focusing solely on children’s health.
Both secular research and personal experience as pronounced the emotional and spiritual health of these Mamas is paramount and intrinsically linked to the health and welfare of the children in their care. However, “You can NOT give what you have NOT received.” Many of the Mamas come from backgrounds of being orphaned, abandoned or abused. Each has a story that has gone untold. They need and deserve a time of therapeutic retreat, a time for healing, to be listened to and loved. A time to find their heart in the Father’s.
In 2012, Sharon’s dream of providing such a time of healing for the Mamas of Uganda became a reality. A caring circle of women from the US joyfully covered the cost and brought an early Christmas gift of the Mto Moyoni retreat for the Mamas/leaders of the Church of Uganda’s four regional Father’s House villages: Rukore, Kabale, Lira and Gulu.
The week-long Transformation of the Heart retreat provided a time to discover that Jesus is the way to the heart of Father God. He comes to change Orphan hearts and bring revelation that each is His beloved Daughter: discovering how much our heavenly Father wishes to love and transform our heart. Teaching to help discover what hinders us from receiving the fullness of God and His blessings was a key in this journey of the heart. Allowing Him to show the hidden areas that block the River of Life—his spring of living water—all amidst the backdrop of the gardens overlooking the Nile River, was a cathartic process. It was an intensive time of listening to Father God, allowing His love to heal and restore what the enemy had stolen, killed or destroyed in one’s life. Healing life’s hurts was the overall theme. Each was challenged to forgive, and receive healing, redemption and restoration.*
On the first day, Ingrid, founder and facilitator of Mto Moyoni, welcomed us and began by sharing the words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” John 10:10
One of the things the enemy has stolen is the ability for women to rise up. God the Father is going to restore women to their rightful position as they have suffered so very much in Africa, especially in Northern Uganda with over 25 years of civil war and traumatic atrocities. Father God has put things in YOU that your culture has suppressed and not allowed to come out. Sin has destroyed relationships. A lot of pain is in the hearts of women. Yet, each of you carries the image of God in your heart. You are here to discover your heart in the loving heart of the Father. In Him you will find your true self—the treasure He has created you to be. You must first discover this and find healing forgiveness and restoration for your own heart. Then you will be blessed to be a blessing to others. Then, together as we bless the children, they will change the world. What YOU give them will make a difference in their lives, the community and the world. Together, you and the children are the heart and the hope for the future of Africa.
The intervals of teaching and contemplation were significant. These women have never had the luxury of time for themselves. In fact, they have no real sense that they deserve such. To have a cup of African tea served to them was so overwhelming—the joy was visceral. It demanded breaking out in a song of happiness, which all joined in. One song led to another and soon a song was not enough. Cups were set down. Chairs scooted away as the dance of delight broke forth…arms swaying, feet stomping, smiling faces and of course the available drum was beaten, giving pulsating depth to this African flash of the Father’s love. That was one great cup of tea!
It has been said that African women are most free when they dance. And dance they did, many times throughout the week. There is something so freeing to see, to revel in the unleashed movement of praise and joy—happiness of hands and feet—the body letting go of restraints and twirling with delight. The Spirit was moving soulfully in a way that words elude description. Perhaps, it was a lifting of the veil, a heavenly glimpse of all the earthly joy these dear ones had missed, perhaps their hearts had seen in a mirror faintly, the beloved daughter that they were, reflected in the loving face of their heavenly Father. Together, they did belong, they did have a family, they did have value and worth, there was palpable, powerful joy shining forth from these sisters of the heart.
Sharon and countless others whose stories you have read, embody God’s heart for the lost and the least. They are the beloved apple of His eye. Their stories bear His story of transformation and hope that continue to be written.
Research has shown that the health of the Mama/Caregiver is the greatest predictor of a child’s health. As such, the Mama is the fulcrum upon which an orphan balances his/her life. Investment in the life of a Mama is the leverage that blesses the future and hope of each child in her care.
You can be part of the story. Based on the inaugural, “Transformation of the Heart” retreat, GO Project will work with local church and ministry leaders to launch Christ centered retreats/trainings that will bless the children in our care by ministering to their Mamas, while also developing the local church’s organic capacity to care for the care givers. You can also participate in the first inaugural GO Adventures women’s retreat this June. By so doing, an ample portion of your registration will fund a similar retreat for the Mamas in Haiti and Uganda. (For more information on investing in the life of a Mama contact Marsha Campbell)
Invest in the lives of the Mamas around the world. Pay your blessings forward this Mother’s Day!