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Transformed Lives: Strong Women, Strong World stories at the United Nations

Channels of Hope instruction in Ethiopia
© World Vision

As Easter approaches, (way too quickly this year, if you ask me), I’m so grateful for glimpses of things we see God bringing to life. Of course, we all love the signs of spring we see in nature, so long awaited after winter, but I’m grateful particularly for the stories that come to life. At the reception for Strong Women, Strong World during the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York earlier this month, we heard three stories about lives that were stuck in different forms of darkness. However, all three of these lives, due to God’s grace and the work of World Vision, had come to life.

Humaiya Akhter, stood before us, beautiful and composed as she shared about her past in Bangladesh. Saved from a child marriage at the age eight, she is a living testimony of a life changed through World Vision’s advocacy. Growing up in a family living in poverty and in a country that does not see girls as equal (or very valuable at all), she is one of few that were saved from that fate among those she grew up with. Working hard on her education and even conquering our crazy English language, Humaiya is now a Girl Advocate for World Vision in Bangladesh. This woman was a joy, a gift – not just to listen to, but to all the girls in her country who do not have a voice. What a sight of hope she is as she braved speaking at the UN. For me, she is a far better example of redemption than our common Easter Lily.

Teresa Cheptoo spoke with all the confidence of a university student leader who may, in fact, change the entire world. Growing up in a village in Kenya that still performed female circumcision, she knew her time was coming for this ritual when she reached the ages of 10-13. She both feared it happening and what would happen if she refused. She knew once FGM was done to her, she was offered in marriage (thus her education was over) to the man with the most cattle to offer. This usually meant a very old man was to become the groom. Teresa confided in her mother about her fears and desires, which also happened to be at the same time that World Vision started Child Sponsorship in their village. Instead of enduring a painful ritual, quitting school and getting married so young, Teresa became the leader of the drama team that did skits on community health issues, such as female circumcision. At one point she even won an award from the UN for $15,000. Having never seen a check this big, I’m sure she had many dreams of what she could do with it – even for herself. However, this amazing girl gave all the money back to the community to the education of other girls and now serves as a Youth Advocate for World Vision in Kenya. Isn’t redemption amazing? It comes bigger than we ever could expect – not just one girl rising above, but one girl pulling up everyone around her, that they too may have life.

Lastly, Fred Laga Sikini, a Faith Leader from the Solomon Islands, spoke. He began by telling about the sad statistics of Solomon Islands having the highest percentage of violence against women in the world. He explained some reasons why culturally and even Biblically (taking passages out of context) this was the case, creating generations after generations of abusers and destroyed relationships. Fred than bravely and humbly shared that he too, was once an abuser of women, including his wife. It was in his darkest of days, when his wife was going to leave him, that God restored him through His Word. It was through material that is now transforming communities on Gender Equality through Channels of Hope that his mind and heart changed, resulting in his actions and relationships transforming. He now stands as a living example of a completely changed life, enduring mockery from some and complete amazement from others. His family is restored and thriving. He is leading the church and people into this new way of relationship and treating women. His sorrow and sin was turned into a great testimony that he got to share at the UN!

For me, there was something else that came to life. Them! They were there…in life. They were not a story in an article or on a screen and it was deeply moving for me, as it had been a while since I’d met actual people affected by World Vision’s work. We can sometimes become good at multi-tasking these agendas or perhaps become numb to all the sorrows of these different issues, but when it comes to life in front of us, it shocks us. We (okay, fine – I) am a little like doubting Thomas and sometimes wonder “Is this really true? There is so much sorrow of there. Can this type of life, culture, community transformation really occur?” And it is. It is true. And it does. It does happen. It is happening now. I’m so thankful for these extraordinary stories that come to life through initiatives like Strong Women, Strong World and Channels of Hope. It is amazing that their lives are transformed through this work, but it seems to me, that we are deeply transformed as well.

by Anna Goodworth, WOV Hartford, CT

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