I have just returned home from a 10 day trip to Burkina Faso, Africa. I saw hunger, disease, hope, joy, generosity. I felt hot, dusty, thirsty, loved, appreciated, encouraged, hospitality, inspired. I was filled with heart-breaking experiences that consumed my heart with compassion. I wish I could put it into one simple post and tell you what what all this means. But I cannot.
Ouagadougou is the capital city of Burkina Faso. Depending on who you ask, we were told, it is said there are between two and three million people living there. Driving through the city has many familiar sights that we are familiar with: restaurants, hotels, banks, parking garages. Some funny sights that make you scratch your head and laugh: trucks piled as high as the sky with everything imaginable, someone walking down the street balancing a door on their head, a woman walking down the street with a huge bowl of laundry on her head who’s also talking on her cell phone and nursing her baby.
But then we turned down a street that looked like this. A dusty path really. Into what’s called Sector 30. Ouagadougo, being divided into “sectors” similar to what we’d call neighborhoods or boroughs, is home to the poorest of the poor in Sector 30. But it happened to be the place where we experienced real joy. Joy found in the smiles of the women we met at Tabitha House.
Tabitha House is place where women of Sector 30 can come three times a week. Those who come are either widowed or abandoned; many of these women have young children. And they are trying to raise their families, feed their families, on 50 cents a day.
Tabitha House is a place they come to learn a trade.
It’s hard to tell this story without mentioning Dee Dee Sterling, Clay Church’s “Ambassador to Africa.” When Dee Dee first came to Burkina Faso in September, she did not expect to serve at Tabitha House. But that’s where God needed her.
On Dee Dee’s first day at Tabitha House, there were eight women coming regularly. And since, they’ve had a full house. Some days having to turn women away because they do not have the room for everyone. But they never turn anyone away because of their faith, or lack of it. They have Christians, Muslims and non-believers working together. As these women work, they experience Dee Dee’s smile, genuine love for them, and a fellowship with each other that is probably not easily afforded in a place like Sector 30. A place where days are consumed by getting to the next one.
One project these women are working on is making beads that are turned into earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. They are using scissors, which is a new concept to some of them and not the easiest thing to maneuver with their hands. They are rolling delicate little beads out of magazine pages and gluing them together. These are then strung into something beautiful and are sold to missionaries and teams that come to Burkina Faso. Dee Dee has had the privilege of placing the first “paycheck” into the hands of these women! What really amounted to just a few dollars, but more money than some had ever held at one time.
Dee Dee, who cannot speak their language, brings bread each morning. The first time she laid it on the table and offered it to them, they did not know what to do. It took a while, but eventually someone took a piece. And slowly everyone did. That was the first food many had had that morning. That was one step in these women beginning to trust Dee Dee and feel cared for by Dee Dee.
Using a translator, she and the women do a devotion every time they get together. God comes first, then work at Tabitha House. Over the past six months the women have heard of, or learned more of, God and His immense love for them. The week before we arrived, five women had given their life to Christ!
We only had a short visit with these women, but it was long enough to see that they were excited to meet us. As we began to look at their jewelry, a few were quickly at our side to point out the one’s they had made and help us try it on. It was evident in their smiles that they were proud of their work. This picture barely captures the grin this woman had when she was showing different things to me.
They also sew dolls, by hand, wearing a dress similar to what the Burkinabe wear and come complete with a baby strapped to their backs. Dee Dee has been able to get her hands on a few sewing machines and wants to begin teaching some of the women sewing skills. The hope is they can begin to make clothes or other items and begin a business to support themselves.
Tabitha House is a place they come to learn a trade. But it’s also a place of shelter and acceptance. It’s become a place where they are learning love. And their smiles say it’s more than one of the poorest of poor areas, but it’s become rich with joy.
You can read Dee Dee’s blog here and learn about her experiences with the women of Tabitha House. Most recently, she celebrated National Women’s Day with them!