March 13, 2019 by Linda Maynard
Why am I here, Lord? As I stood next to our reed hut, a brightly patterned kapalana encircling my waist and the dust of Africa’s red clay covering my feet, I suddenly wondered why. Our group’s 10-day mission was quickly coming to a close. Had God called me to serve on this mission for just this one time? Would I ever return? What was His purpose for including me?
Those thoughts continued to gnaw at me in the weeks after my return. Though I witnessed much poverty and need, God had also shown me the faith and strength of so many women and hope in the smiles of children. My personal assignment had been to share the word of God with the women and to purchase their hand-knit purses, which previous teams had taught them how to create. Our church’s hope was to provide these ladies with a sustainable microenterprise, one that could help support their families while their husbands worked in the mines of South Africa. But a lack of supplies and struggles in getting the purses to market made the project far less sustainable than we had hoped.
As I continued to pray, God gave me the idea of a home-based purse party. I invited friends and family over, shared the story of the Mozambicans and demonstrated several ways to use the knitted bags. I invited my guests to hold purse parties of their own, but I knew that this approach was still yielding only a smidgeon of what the Mozambicans needed. Little did I know that my little party was just a foretaste of the party planning God already had ordained!
One of the guests at my party was the woman who had created the pattern for the knitted purses. She had been administrating the making and selling of these African handbags from our hometown of Akron. About six months after we returned from our trip, she approached my mission partner and me with an idea. She wanted to hold a much bigger purse party with hundreds of guests—and with a unique twist. She explained that the women of Mozambique had been diligently offering their very best knitting work to create beautiful purses, while we in the US had the world’s best purses right at our fingertips. If we could get American women to donate some of their best purses to sell at a fundraising party, perhaps the funds could help launch a more sustainable business for the women and families in Mozambique.
My friend and I wholeheartedly agreed. We submitted our idea to the Lord in prayer, sought His guidance, and set to work. Our three-person planning committee quickly quadrupled. We discovered that an agricultural microenterprise had the best opportunities for sustainability in Mozambique, and designated the party funds for that purpose. We set a date for October 15, 2011, and began executing a plan. In truth, we executed many plans that failed or came up against obstacles; but each time we would pray, God would redirect. And on that October evening, we watched in awe as God assembled 400 guests in a beautiful venue who listened intently to the needs of the Mozambicans. They opened their hearts and handbags to help. Our fundraising goal was met, and an agriculture field was launched.
But that is not the only great work God did. While He fulfilled a need for the Mozambicans, God also moved women out of their church pews and into service for His Kingdom. In the midst of our little party plan, we watched women use their gifts of administration, hospitality, service, mercy, and exhortation in ways they never would have dreamed. What started out as a one-time party committee soon became WOW – Women for Oppressed Women, a ministry that encourages women of all ages to flourish in the church and beyond—equipping them to imitate Christ and empowering them to be missional.
In the eight years since that first party, WOW has gone on to hold four more Very Special Purse Parties, as well as several other events and initiatives. God has provided life and livelihood to people in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Greater Akron using this small band of sisters. And what He has done through us, He wants to do through you. Our significance comes from knowing who God made us to be so that we can do what God called us to do. He has given each of us God-designed abilities through which He will build up His church.
Why am I here? I discovered the answer through prayer, and I am serving as God has called. We each can do the same as we seek His face and allow Him to guide our paths.