Friday, August 3, 2012

Yes You Can -- The Birth of Sister Connection

Joy and her husband, Bishop Eli
It was 1972 when ethnic conflict erupted in Burundi, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. A school girl named Joy lost her father, all her brothers and all but one uncle in the genocide.

The Vibbert family arrived in Burundi to serve as missionaries in 1976. Their eight-year-old daughter, Denise, loved the Burundian people she met and made a huge place in her heart for them.  She enjoyed the friendship that she experienced with them and felt completely at home in Burundi. The five years she spent in Burundi were happy, rich years for her.

Then came 1993 and the beginning of another ethnic war which lasted a decade and took the lives of hundreds of thousands more people. Let's let Denise pick up the story now.

In the fall of 2004, I reluctantly accepted the role of Women's Ministries Director at our local church in Indianapolis.  I didn't feel called to women's ministry, but felt that I should take this position for a year while the 'real' director was being sought.  The first thing I did was to call the team together and discuss the existing activities for women.  What did we like?  What was effective?  What needed to be subtracted or added?  The ladies felt that the Secret Pal/Sister program had run its course and they were tired of buying token gifts for each other every month and secretly leaving them on the table in the foyer.  They asked me if there was some way they could reach into the lives of women in another country and use that $25/month to really change lives.  

"Are you serious about this?"  I asked. 


"Then I think there's something we could do," I replied.  I had been asking God for years to let me be involved in the restoration of Burundi, specifically the widows.  The war had finally started to subside in 2004, and therefore we could begin helping. When this request came, I started to wonder what God might be doing.  

I called my mom and she suggested I get in touch with Joy.  I emailed Joy to ask if she could facilitate connecting me with about 20 widows for the ladies of my church to begin helping every month.  Just 20.  

Joy sent me back a letter telling me about a dream she had had two years previous.  She was still living in Kenya, the war in Burundi was still going strong, and the Buconyoris had no intention of returning to Burundi at that time.  But one night she dreamed that she was involved in a ministry in Burundi specifically aimed at women and children.  There weren't a lot of details about the actual ministry in her dream, but it was a very successful ministry.  She shared the dream with her husband and kids, and for two years they had been praying about this ministry, whatever it was, that it would come to fruition if it was a message from the Lord.  She said to me, "I think this might be the ministry from my dream."  And she sent me 39 profiles and photos of widows.  

39.  I was overwhelmed.  20 was pushing it, but 39?  How could I ever find 'sisters' for all of them?  As I read through the profiles and looked at photo after photo of widows that I had known since childhood, I cried from the depths of my soul.  I knew the details of the attacks that killed their husbands, and I knew they had been suffering for a long time.  I also knew that their husbands never imagined that there would be a day when their beloved wives would be photographed in all their brokenness and destitution, hoping beyond their ability to hope that someone would care.  

I cried and I cried.  And I told God, if He would permit it, I would do whatever I could to make sure all 39 of those widows received a connection to a new sister.  

Denise and some of the widows in July
The rest, as they say, is history.  I never set out to start an organization.  I just wanted to help a few widows...and give a few of the ladies in my church the opportunity to reach beyond themselves.  Today we have over 500 widows connected to sponsors, rising up out of the ashes of war to find healing, dignity and hope. 

Only God could do a thing like that!

Joy and Denise, co-directors of Sister Connection
You know, I don't tell these Yes You Can stories to put people on pedestals. I tell them because, in each instance, the people I have showcased have been very common folks who have been willing to follow a dream or pursue a passion. And God blesses us when we are faithful to what He plants in us. As Denise recently reminded me, God "doesn't call us to do great things for Him; He calls us to obedience so that He can do great things through us...for His glory."

Sister Connection, born out of deep grief and untold tragedy, is a testament to God's care for widows and orphans, and it's a reminder that He uses willing hearts to accomplish His will.

What is He putting in your heart to do? What would He like to accomplish through you. You may be saying (like Moses did), "No, I can't do this!" But I'd say, "By God's grace, yes you can!"

No comments: