This year marks a milestone in our journey with women affected by disability. It was five years ago that we started down this path, walking in the dark with only enough light for the next step. We had no idea what God had in mind – for the organization, for the women, for us. What we have seen looking back is far more difficult, and far more glorious, than we would have ever imagined or planned for ourselves. Walk with me down the path on this journey of hope and be amazed with me at our God’s ways and plans.
May 2009 – A group of women in Seattle call a woman in Memphis to lead a strategic planning retreat to think, discuss and pray over a way to reach out to women with disabilities in Sierra Leone. Women of Hope International is born – originally named “Women with Purpose.”
October 2009 – Seven women head to Sierra Leone for an assessment trip and come back utterly broken over the extreme needs and poverty of the women with disabilities. Two women in SL are contracted to begin building relationship with the women and bring them the message of Hope in the Gospel.
March 2010 – With 2 weeks to go for departure to Sierra Leone, and $10,000 short for the tickets and expenses, a family with many financial needs handed us a check for $10,000 out of the blue. They were unaware of the amount of the need until that moment. That was the first of many, many miraculous financial provisions over the past 5 years. Money in the bank – Kim, Kelsey and 3 kids headed for Sierra Leone to get the ministry set up.
July 2010 – A full staff is set up in Sierra Leone, an office established, and 325 women registered with the program. The CHE (Community Health Evangelism) program is established as the foundational element of Women of Hope. Committees are chosen and training begins.
March 2011 – The first CHE training begins with 10 women from one geographical zone in Makeni. The failure of the other 2 zone’s committees to select their trainees initially looked like a setback, but became the impetus to infuse ownership at the community level as the women deposed the existing committees and asked if they could have new committees trained instead.
September 2011 – Women of Hope International moves into donated office space in the Barnhart building in Memphis, taking the office out of Kim’s home and allowing for more staff to join the team. The Board of Directors for Women of Hope also held it’s first annual board retreat and annual meeting for 2 days in Memphis in the new facility.
December 2011 – The first 10 CHEs graduate amidst great celebration. Additionally, at a Christmas/graduation celebration, the women took up a love offering to provide relief assistance to families in Somalia where a famine was killing many women and children. They collected $30 which was matched by Women of Hope and provided one family care pack through World Concern. Seeing women who were used to receiving take the initiative to give to those in worse circumstances was inspiring and transformational.
March 2012 – The Fair Trade Initiative kicks off with skills training classes taught by short-term team members, and products being brought back to the States for sale, providing much-needed income for a number of women in the program.
October 2012 – The second class of 24 CHEs graduate, impacting over 200 families in their communities by passing on the training they’ve received. This results in ongoing transformation in the community as they model and teach a healthier lifestyle in all areas of life.
April 2013 – Sixteen women publicly decide to become followers of Christ on Easter weekend.
May 2013 – The first national-taught skills training classes are held, using local trainers to learn crafting skills indigenous to Sierra Leone. One of the trainers is a woman with a disability who had never left her village.
June 2013 – As the rains continued to wreak havoc for women who live in less than ideal housing situations, new roofs were provided to 71 families in partnership with a Memphis-area church. This project was initiated and co-invested in by the women themselves as they assessed their critical need and created a solution for addressing it.
July 2013 – Women of Hope Sierra Leone establishes itself as a separate and local NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in Sierra Leone with its own Board of Directors and accounting system.
September 2013 – Women of Hope holds its first annual fundraising banquet, raising $68,000 toward the construction of a cooperative workshop and training center for the women to work from.
January 2014 – Construction on the HOPE Centre (Cooperative Workshop and Training Center) begins.
June 2014 – Women of Hope International adopts new mission and vision statements in keeping with the direction that the Lord is driving us to train and equip the Body of Christ to utilize a Biblical framework to promote the wholistic transformation of women affected by disability with the Gospel throughout the developing world, including Sierra Leone. We envision women affected by disability, transformed by Christ, bringing hope and shalom to broken nations.
October 2014 – In the throes of the Ebola epidemic, Women of Hope begins relief efforts to assist the women we serve alongside through this horrific crisis. This feels like a setback to the progress made over these past 5 years, but though we did not see this coming, we know our Lord, who started Women of Hope five years ago, did. We know that He is constantly in the process of redeeming all things (Col 1:19-20), including virus epidemics.
We are incredibly humbled to look back over the past 5 years and see all that God has done through people who are not always adequately equipped for the work, but who are willing to be used as vessels for His purposes. Women of Hope has gone from 2 volunteers in the US and two in Sierra Leone to 4 full-time staff in the US and 13 full-time staff in Sierra Leone. We serve 350 women and their families through wholistic development and discipleship ministry. We have been given platforms to speak to hundreds of missionaries and ministry leaders about a Biblical framework for disability, and now about how to respond well to Ebola. In our weakness, He has proven strong.
We are deeply grateful for hundreds of people who have joined the team and participated in the work God is doing in the lives of these amazing women. May He continue to be glorified as He rebuilds lives and demonstrates His transforming power in the months and years ahead!