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Issue 11-10

What Can I Do?

In my mind, there is no excuse but one for isolating ourselves from the suffering and horrific abuse women experience around the world. That one excuse would be for the woman who has have suffered similarly and exposure decathects their past pain. They actually re-experience, live out again, and vividly remember all the pains and sorrows of and horrors of the past.

Apart from this, I simply do not accept the excuse—“I’m really an oversensitive person. I can’t bear the thought of other women going through those terrible things.”

Christ entered into our suffering and He calls us to enter into the pain of those who are suffering around us. Paul wrote: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10a). One of the ways we share in Christ’s sufferings is to suffer with Him over the brokenness of this world.

On October 1 and 2, Monday and Tuesday, PBS is telecasting a documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. This is from the book by the same name written by two of our most fiercely moral voices, Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

I strongly suggest that you save these two evenings to watch this documentary.

Sensitivities aside, every Christian, man and woman, should read this book, which has been named as one of the 12 best books written in 2011. It certainly is a stunning and comprehensive handbook chronicling the battering and abuse and sex-trafficking of women around the world. The book has become a lightning rod for raising consciousness and a clarion call for both men and women to positive action.

For those of you who have read the book, just a few quick reminders:

•  “The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”

•  The writers assert that there are 3 million women and girls (and a small number of boys) worldwide who can be fairly termed enslaved in the sex trade. “In other words, far more women and girls are shipped into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries…”

This does nothing about addressing issues such as the systematized refusal to educate women, which is condoned by many religious systems or cultures, the daily or weekly beatings women received at the hands of male relatives, entire cultures of sexual predation, acid attacks, and high maternal mortality rates. In her book A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, Eva Ensler writes, “The mechanism of violence is what destroys women, controls women, diminishes women and keeps women in their so-called place.”

I strongly encourage you to set time aside to watch the PBS special Half the Sky.

Then when you have done this, talk about it with friends. Immanuel Presbyterian Church in nearby Warrenville, IL, conducted an eight-week study program in which the books Half the Sky and Half the Church were read and discussed concurrently. Designed by Wheaton College professor Amy Black, Department Chair of Politics and International Relations, this is an unusual journey into educated consciousness-raising, with the resulting outcome being the question, “What can we do?”

On Tuesday, October 25, President Obama, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative, announced new initiatives aimed at ending sex trafficking nationwide, including the first-ever assessment of the problem in this country and a $6 million grant to build solutions. “When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family, or girls my daughters’ ages run away from home and are lured—that’s slavery,” said the President. “It’s barbaric, it’s evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.” Not many politicians in this country have taken up this horrific reality in a way that has grabbed national media attention. But headlines were made yesterday and again this morning. Someone, somewhere in this administration has been asking the question: What can we do?

That question is what we have been asking in the Global Bag Project in our pilot project in Nairobi, Kenya, as together we have been building a microenterprise effort for vulnerable women desperately seeking to lift themselves out of poverty—most of them raising their children alone. For me, the learning curve, I will confess, has been huge. Had I known how much work it would require of me, I would never have started. If I’d known how many nights I would lay awake, praying that I would do it right, I might have preferred my comfortable sleep. If I had known what amounts of my small discretionary income the Global Bag Project would require in order for me to keep it going, I might have felt like I couldn’t afford to get involved.

When we talk about knowing Christ more by “sharing in His sufferings,” it will probably involve extra work, sleepless nights and emptying our pockets.

Along the journey I have discovered that there are right ways of helping and destructive ways of helping, and we are seeking to steer the Global Bag Project in those correct directions. I commend to you again the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.
Before you rush out to “do something” please consider some random bullet points from their book (but please read or re-read the whole book):

•  One of the biggest mistakes North American make—by far—is in applying relief (handouts) in which rehabilitation or development is the appropriate intervention.

•  Ensure participation of the affected population in the assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the assistance program.

•  Identify and mobilize the capabilities, skills and resources of the individual or community. See poor people and impoverished communities as full of possibilities, given to them by God.

Avoid paternalism. Do not do for people what they can do for themselves.

•  As much as possible, look for resources and solutions to come from within the community, not from the outside.

As more and more we understand these principles, and as the need of women in our little pilot project continues to urge us to ask, “What is it that we can do?”, we are beginning to evolve our microenterprise venture into an empowerment and educational emphasis. Two months ago, Mary Ogalo, our Kenya manager, began teaching the seamstresses in the Global Bag Project sewing room about the Women’s Cycle of Life—lessons seamlessly combined with Scripture with the purpose of teaching women to teach one another. As much as possible, we want to free the women to look to their own resources to devise business plans and healthcare plans and hygiene plans that they can share in their own communities.

In Ethiopia, 42 women were taught the Women’s Cycle of Life over a five-day retreat. In a few months these 42 women had taught over 1600 other women at least one of the many lessons. We believe, not in doing things for women around the world, but in empowering women to empower women to empower women.

I loved Bill Clinton’s comments in the October 2012 TIME magazine: “I firmly believe that progress changes consciousness, and when you change people’s consciousness, then their awareness of what is possible changes as well—a virtuous circle.”

A virtuous circle. That is what we are attempting to create in the little sewing room on the campus of Africa International University in Nairobi, Kenya—a virtuous circle where through God’s help the awareness of what is possible empowers a little group of women.

“What can I do?” Begin by watching the PBS documentary Half the Sky this October 1 and 2 (check your local listings for times). Begin to know Christ better as you ask yourself, “What is Jesus feeling about all this awful reality?” Get involved somehow, be ready to partake in some way in part of the suffering. Just living in America, no matter what difficulties you might be facing, you are one of the privileged of the earth.

I caught this phrase in Michele Obama’s speech at the DNC: “And he believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity … you do not slam it shut behind you … you reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” Sounds like a paraphrase of that well-known Scripture my mother quoted to me frequently, “To whom much is given, much is required.” I’ve got October 1 & 2 on my calendar.

Karen Mains


Help With Facebook

A prayer and discernment committee is gathering around me (spontaneously and surprisingly) for the purpose of designing the future of the Hungry Souls ministry. One of my prayer partners reminded me that when we began some 11 years ago, the idea was to provide an online mentoring ministry. We are committing ourselves to this discernment process for the next few months. I invite you to keep us in your prayers. My involvements worldwide and the inevitabilities of an aging timeline are and will eventually decrease my capacities.

If you are interested in being part of this discernment process, let me know at

I also need someone to help me redesign my Facebook page! Tiffany Stamen, through leveraging her Facebook expertise, has almost filled the registration for the annual Advent Retreat of Silence. And we are barely through September! I NEVER filled that retreat until the week of the deadline. Hurray for Tiffany (and for Facebook)!

A good Facebook presence would help me expand the projects I am committed to for the next few years.

Global Bag Project

GBP women

I have now redesigned the GBP home party to include a demonstration of how to build a microenterprise project (and some ways not to—from personal experience). There will be a short sample participatory presentation of the WCL teaching method, and we will bring bags for an Alternative Christmas Gift-Buying event.

If you provide the venue and invite your family, work colleagues and friends, we will provide the content and the teaching on empowering women to empower women to empower women. Contact Carla Boelkens at


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“Christ entered into our suffering and He calls us to enter into the pain of those who are suffering around us.”

Half the Sky

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn


From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.

“Passionate yet practical. … [Half the Sky] is both stirring and sensible … This wonderful book combines a denunciation of horrible abuses with clear-eyed hope and some compelling practical strategies. The courageous women described here, and millions more like them, deserve nothing less.” –Martha Nussbaum, The New York Times

“Superb … As Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring once catalyzed us to save our birds and better steward our earth, Half the Sky stands to become a classic, spurring us to spare impoverished women these terrors, and elevate them to turn around the future of their nations.” – Susan Ager, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Stunning. … [Half the Sky] belongs on the ‘must-read’ list because it offers perspective, insight, and clear-eyed optimism for why and how each of us can and should meet one of the great moral and humanitarian challenges of our times.” – Bill Gates, Sr., The Huffington Post

“An unblinking look at one of the seminal moral challenges of our time. This stirring book is at once a savage indictment of gender inequality in the developing world and an inspiring testament to these women’s courage, resilience, and their struggle for hope and recovery. An unexpectedly uplifting read.” – Khaled Hosseini, author, The Kite Runner

“It’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of this book about one of the most serious problems of our time: the worldwide abuse and exploitation of women. In addition to describing the injustices, Kristof and WuDunn show how concerned individuals everywhere are working effectively to empower women and help them overcome adversity.  Wonderfully written and vividly descriptive, Half the Sky can and should galvanize support for reform on all levels.  Inspiring as it is shocking, this book demands to be read.” – Anne Rice

Copyright 2006-2012 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

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