Revive Our Hearts Podcast

— Audio Player —

A Vision for Oppressed Women

Leslie Basham: As a young missionary, Michele Rickett was impressed by the Christian women who headed out each day to the community garbage heap.

Michele Rickett: They told me that they went there to provide school for the girls, so they had a school, and they had a feeding program because there wasn’t anything for the children to eat except garbage.

 Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, October 2.

Today’s program deals with sensitive material, so you may want to get your young children busy doing something away from the radio, but it is a very important topic, so come back.

Nancy, I think today’s interview is going to impact our listeners in a big way.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: As I prepared for the interview that you’re about to hear, I’ve had a sense in my heart that this may be one of the most important programs we have ever aired on Revive Our Hearts.

As you hear the stories you’re about to hear, you may find some of them hard to believe. You may find yourself saying, “I had no idea this kind of thing was going on in other parts of the world.” You find some of what you hear probably shocking, some of it you’ll find deeply disturbing as I have, as I’ve reviewed some of the materials we’re going to be talking about. You may find it heartbreaking.

I do pray that God will break your heart and mine with a sense of what is on His heart and what breaks His heart as He seeks what is going on among some of our sisters in other parts of the world.

My prayer as we engage in this topic is that you will not be the same after you hear what you hear today, and that you will have this compulsion in your heart that you have got to do something about what you’ve heard.

Our guest today is Michele Rickett. Michelle is the director of women’s ministries at Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, Georgia, near Atlanta, pastored by my friend Crawford Loritts. She is also the founder and president of a ministry called Sisters In Service.

Michele, welcome to Revive Our Hearts, and thank you so much, in the midst of a busy schedule that I know you have today, for taking time to sit down with me and to share with our listeners the burden and the passion God has put on your heart.

Michele: Thank you, Nancy. It’s a privilege for me.

Nancy: Tell us a little bit about the mission of Sisters In Service, and what it’s all about.

Michele: The mission of Sisters in Service really is to extend the good news of God’s love to those who are least valued in our world today, and those who are least reached with the gospel. Those are women and their children in countries where there are very few local Christians. So we are very focused as an organization on what missiologists call the 10-40 window, where people have very little opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ or to have the Word, and the few Christians who are there are persecuted for their faith.

We focus there. We find what the local Christian women are doing to reach their neighbors for Christ, and then we fan into flame their initiatives. All of them have the umbrella of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting, coupled with very practical solutions for hurting women and children of health, education, economic, and leadership development.

Nancy: That’s quite a mission. The world is big. There are a lot of women and children in the world, and, as you point out in your book, Daughters of Hope, there are a lot of hurting and needy, desperately needy women and children in the world.

Michele, take us back years ago to how God first planted the seeds of this burden in your own heart.

Michele: Well, Nancy, it really grew out of my own hurts as a little girl. I was not raised in a Christian home. I did not know that I had any value at all. My poor parents didn’t have the love of God to share with me. They got more than one tiger by the tail that practically devoured our family, and we children were like war orphans. My mother left when I was 12 years old. I told her some of the awful things that Daddy was doing to me, and my father sunk from there into alcoholic dementia. I never really believed I would even survive my Daddy at that point.

Well, I was wonderfully rescued from that situation by a wonderful woman in my community and went to live with my grandmother in Michigan.

It was there that I met, for the first time that I know, a Christian woman. She was so lovely to me. I wanted to know how she got to be that way. I had no idea that women could be so gracious, so full of love. This woman is a woman that I call my mother-in-love, my mother-in-law of 34 years.

She opened the door of her heart, the door of her home, and the doorway to the gospel for me. She began to teach me that, yes, indeed there was a God of love for hurting little girls like me. She helped me to catch a glimpse of the dignity that Jesus had to offer me, the forgiveness. I bore the shame of my entire family.

Only now in retrospect do I realize that God was with me through the very things that I suffered, forging a heart of tenderness to the sufferings of women and girls everywhere.

Nancy: So the Lord Jesus found you as that dysfunctional little girl from that very confused and messed up family and rescued and redeemed your life from destruction for a purpose—not just to give you life, which He obviously has. As I look into your face, I see the hope and the freedom that Christ has brought to you. But God had a purpose for your life to turn around that mess and turn it into something of worth and value to offer to other women who need the redemption that Jesus offers.

Michele: Yes. Now, I didn’t have a clue about that. It was many years after I was a Christian. It took many years, I think, to renew my mind and come to see my new identity that, yes, Jesus had blessed me; but, as you say, it was for a purpose that I might bless the nations.

My husband and I were married, went to Bible College, trained as missionaries, and moved to East Africa in the early 80s. Our daughters were one and three years old when we moved to Kenya. My husband was to oversee all of the missions projects in five East African countries. I was his assistant and raising our beautiful little girls in a foreign country, plugging in with the African Christian women, seeing how I could be a part of the women’s ministry there with my limitations. I knew I had a lot to learn from them, and boy did they teach me.

These women met every morning for prayer then told me that their job as Christian women was to go out and meet the forces of darkness in Jesus’ name. That was a whole new concept of women’s ministry that I had ever heard about. I wasn’t exactly sure how one met the forces of darkness in the African context, but I was willing to learn.

These women said, “Well, of course, Michele, in our country, though there is public education, children have to pay to go to school. They have to buy their own books and pay teacher fees, and if they can’t do that, they cannot go.” Since girls are least valued in the African context, if there’s a little bit of money for a poor family, they are not going to educate the girls. So these African Christian women went to the garbage dump community.

Garbage dump communities are the fastest growing communities in our world today. They told me that they went there to provide school for the girls. So they had a school, and they had a feeding program because there wasn’t anything for the children to eat except garbage.

I thought, “Well, I’ve got to see this.”

They took me to this slum, and they took me to the school. There was no building. There were no benches. There was no blackboard. They would knock on shanty doors and invite the women and their children, mostly girls, to come out and have oral education.

I was shocked. I thought, “It would terrify me to have 500 children show up and no books and no blackboard, no program for them.” The feeding program—mind you there are children as far as the eye can see—and these women are bringing food from their own kitchens in their pockets. They make a soup first thing in the morning when they get there to feed the most needy. These women were not rich women. They were extremely poor themselves, and yet they were sharing what they had in Jesus’ name in a practical way to extend His love to these.

I was so humbled by what I saw. I thought, “I loved my Christian friends back in the United States, these women who would not miss a day of Bible study. They loved the Savior, and yet, how is it these can do so much with so little, and we seem to do so little with the much that God has given us?” I knew that if only I could introduce my friends back in the United States to these incredible women, for mutual benefit, we could work together to advance the gospel.

So that’s how the vision began. I saw food withheld from little girls.

Nancy: Because they were girls?

Michele: Because they were girls. Education was withheld from little girls. They were treated more like pack animals than people. It was nothing to see a 12-year-old child married off to an old man for a few cows or goats. That was the life of a woman, a 12-year old.

I thought I was fairly well educated before I went to Africa, and yet this was all news to me, this proportionate suffering of women and girls. So when we came back to the United States, I thought, “That’s something I can do. I can get behind women like these African women who suffer to serve, and invite women here in the U.S. to really partner with them so that together we could encourage and learn from each other and for the purpose of extending the gospel to the least of these.”

What I began to learn I shared with our friends who were missionaries—the China director and his wife, and the North Africa director and his wife, the Middle East director and his wife. I told them about what was happening to African girls, and they said, “Oh, Michele, it’s everywhere the gospel has not taken deep root in the culture.”

You look at our culture where the gospel has taken root, yes, things are not perfect here, but we wouldn’t think of withholding food from our little girls just because they’re girls. There’s a reason for that: Wherever Jesus went when He walked on the face of the earth, He offered dignity to women and girls as well as to men and boys.

So countries that don’t have the love of God and Christ still treat women and girls with absolute disrespect and often teach them that they don’t even have a soul.

Nancy: You have, since that time, traveled in a lot of parts of the world.

Michele: Yes.

Nancy: Your book, Daughters of Hope, chronicles some of the stories you saw on a trip that you took around the world, several continents. I’d like for you, Michele, to give us a glimpse of the kinds of things you have seen. As I was reading your book, I found myself thinking, “I suspect that most of us as Christian women in America really do not have a clue of what is going on, what is the experience of some of our Christian sisters in other parts of the world.”

So give us a sense of what kinds of things women and children are experiencing in these cultures where the gospel has not taken root.

Michele: First, I will give you some research statistics. Missiologists, those who study the state of global outreach in our time, tell us that women and girls do indeed suffer disproportionately. Global evangelization researcher Justin Long contends, “Women make up 49% of the world. They perform 62% of the world’s work hours, yet they receive only 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the world’s property. They make up 70% of the poor, and 80% of its refugees. It seems to me,” he continues, “that women deserve a special focus.”

So it’s not just Christian women like me, but those who study global outreach. They tell us also that, “Yes, two-thirds of the world’s illiterates are women.” That means that in a country like Afghanistan, 90% of the women there cannot read one letter of their own alphabet. They couldn’t read their name on a name tag.

Every year two million girls undergo a mutilating practice called circumcision. It’s not nice to talk about, but this involves gouging and stitching without antiseptic and anesthesia and over a quarter of these girls die of shock and infection.

Nancy: Why is this done? Is this related to religious practice, or is it just . . .

Michele: It’s both tribal and religious. It has everything to do with the purity and the honor of a man and his family, and so to protect his name, the girls are circumcised. They also believe and teach in a lot of African and Middle Eastern cultures that men are tempted by over-sexed girls and women, so the problem is with these girls. So they not only circumcise them at great risk, and those who do survive suffer all kinds of disabilities because of this practice, but they also do the covering of the women as well.

It’s all about protecting the men in the culture from these women, though often, if you hear people talk, they’ll say, “No, it’s to protect the woman from advances of men.” But if you get at the root of it, such things as circumcision really have less to do with a vow of protecting the girls.

Nancy: And there are other ways many of these women and girls are being taken advantage of sexually.

Michele: Oh absolutely. In most cultures a girl is a piece of property, and if she’s alone and available, then there’s no reason why one shouldn’t violate her. It’s not really considered a violation unless she’s the daughter of a man who takes offense that she has been touched inappropriately.

So not only do they come from behind by not having food when they are very little, not having protein, by not being able to get an education, they are often oppressed and cloistered at home and then passed off to their fathers’ or their brothers’ friends in marriage with no thought to their age. It’s just such a terrible, terrible situation.

According to the World Health Organization, there are one million missing girls in the world. Now these are not the girls who were buried alive. These are not the girls who were left to starve after birth. These are girls whose births were registered in their community. We believe they have been sold into some kind of industry, drug making or something else much more sinister. The sex-slave trade industry demands younger and younger girls all of the time. The problem is when a girl is a piece of property, she can be sold off or given away without impunity. The situation is dire.

Nancy: In your book you talk about how young girls and women are married off into less than ideal situations.

Michele: Yes. One of the most compelling women that we met in our journey, to just hear from these women . . . We’d just ask them, “Tell us what it’s like to be a woman in Muslim West Africa. What is your life like? How did you grow up?”

One of the women was a girl when she was married off. We rename all of the women in the book so that they wouldn’t be put at risk for the things they told us and we tried to obscure exactly where they lived. 

One woman/girl that we called Songa told us that she was married off as a young teen, probably about 13 or 14, she wasn’t sure, in Senegal. That was the western most point of Africa, about 98% Muslim. In this Muslim culture, a man may have four wives at a time. If he would like another wife, he would simply say to his least favorite one, “I divorce you now.”

Songa’s life began with a man who already had wives. She was sold into the family, and she began at an early age to give birth. She gave birth to sons, and for that reason the other wives were very worried that Songa would become the most favored wife, and so they decided to break her health down. They gave her the hardest job to do, and that is fetching water for the entire family in the Sahara Desert.

The average woman around the world walks seven miles a day for fresh water. Just think about that.

Nancy: That’s hard to imagine.

Michele: “The next time you turn on the tap in your house,” this is what I tell women everywhere, “just pause a moment when you turn on that water and realize, ‘I didn’t have to carry this any distance. It comes fresh into my house in more than one location, and I can turn on the hot tap water, too.’”

If Songa wanted water like that, she’d have to build a fire. That’s just the existence, and most of these women never complain about that issue, but in the Sahara Desert, it’s another thing to walk those miles for the family, and she wouldn’t survive long under those conditions.

Songa never complained, though. She said every day she’d put a baby on her back and head for the well. One day she put a baby on her back and realized, “This child has a fever.” So she cried her way to the well and showed up crying. There were some women at the well, Senegalese Christian women, our sisters, who make it their business to be there at the time when women will be there to come for water.

Nancy: Sounds like Jesus who made it His business to be at that well in Samaria.

Michele: It does, absolutely, to share the Living Water with these women.

Nancy: Yes.

Michele: They saw her crying, and they said, “Oh, we know your life is hard; please don’t cry.” Songa said, “I never cry for myself, but my baby has the fever.” The fever had killed several babies in their community, and she thought, “This baby is next.”

They said, “Oh Songa, let us tell you something: There is a God who loves even women and children, and if we pray for your son in Jesus’ name, He might have mercy on him.”

That’s exactly what happened. By the time Songa got back to the family, the fever had broken from her little baby boy. When the family got down on their prayer mats to pray, Songa prayed, “Thank You, Jesus, for healing our son,” thinking that everyone would be so happy about this. Instead, the wives pounced on Songa and beat her nearly to death.

That’s where we pick up the end of the story, Songa’s story. The last Songa saw of her children was them crying in the doorway. Songa is now one of the women who stands at the well and shares the Living Water with other women who come.

We asked her, “Was it worth it? Tell us what you think about this.”

She said, “Oh, well, I tell these stories to the women, and the more I tell them, the more precious Jesus is to me. I have everything.”

I’m thinking, “You don’t have everything. I know women who have everything.” Often we carry around our problems like a ball and chain.

Later on we asked Songa, “Tell us how we can pray for you at least.”

Tears just spilled out of her eyes so quickly, and she said, “Every day I pray for my children that they would know that there is a God who loves them. Will you pray for my boys? Will you pray for my children?”

We told her we would.

One day these boys are going to grow up, and they’re going to go on a quest for their mom who stood for this Jesus, and she’ll be there to introduce them to the God who saved one of their lives and who is there for them now and forever.

Leslie: You can read that story in more detail in Michele Rickett’s book, Daughters of Hope. She’s been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about the book, and Nancy will be right back.

Let me tell you how to get a copy of the book. It will open your eyes to the needs of women around the world. You’ll grow in compassion and thankfulness as you read these stories. You’ll know better how to pray for women and how you can get involved.

We want to send you the book, Daughters of Hope. We’ll send you a copy when you donate any amount to support the radio ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Call 1-800-569-5959, or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

You can get more information at our site about Michele Rickett and her important ministry.

Nancy?

Nancy: If it weren’t for Jesus and the gospel, the plight of women in many parts of the world would be such that it would lead you to despair. It would be hopeless. Thankfully there is a God in heaven who knows their plight, who loves them, and who sent His Son Jesus to this earth to give life to them as He has given life to us.

As we’re talking, Michele, there are tears on your face, and tears welling up in my own heart to think of God’s incredible grace to us, but also to think of the love that God has for these women, the least of these and the sense that we can’t have the heart of God if our hearts do not reach out and care for the Songas of this world.

Leslie: Nancy will continue that conversation tomorrow. We'll hear how God is rescuing and redeeming women in other parts of the world. Join us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Support the Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Darkness. Fear. Uncertainty. Women around the world wake up hopeless every day. You can play a part in bringing them freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness instead. Your gift ensures that we can continue to spread gospel hope! Donate now.

Donate Now

About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.