You are probably familiar with the Bible story (and song) about “a wee little man” called Zacchaeus who had to climb a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus Christ. When Jesus got to that very tree where Zacchaeus was perched, an astonishing incident took place. Not only did Zacchaeus see Jesus, Jesus saw him (Luke 19:1–10).
Before Zacchaeus knew what was happening, Jesus called him down from the tree and then promptly invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house. This was not exactly what Zacchaeus or the crowd expected to happen. Many grumbled about the impromptu visit — after all, Zacchaeus was a “sinner.” That sinner was certainly not “worthy” of such a guest as Jesus.
Zacchaeus wasn’t the only one that Jesus encountered who had experienced the rejection of their peers. Though there aren’t catchy songs to remind us of their stories, there were lepers, widows, prostitutes, Samaritans, women and children who were all considered unworthy, usually by the very community in which they lived.
Jesus invited Himself to their houses too. As with Zacchaeus, He saw them. He touched them, as He did with the leper. He offered them living water, like the woman at the well, nullifying the need to look anywhere else to quench their thirst. He received them as they were … made in the image of His Father. His love reached to the very core of their being, affirming their value even as they found their identity in Him.
Significance. Value. Worth. These are key components of our identity and what we all long for. As followers of the Messiah (Deliverer), we know that true significance and worth can only be found when it is understood that every person is created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ’s death and resurrection. As Free Methodists, we are committed to recognizing and respecting the worth of people everywhere. This means all the time, no matter what! We want to always acknowledge the worth and dignity of others.
This too is what Tumaini Women Kenya (TWK), a Free Methodist non-governmental organization (NGO), desires for every member in all of the organization’s 32 groups scattered throughout the country of Kenya.
The word “Tumaini” means hope. TWK provides unique opportunities to change the course of lives for those who have often felt the “sting” of being looked down upon. TWK wants to help every member recognize their true worth as people made in the image of the Messiah, redeemed by His death and resurrection and worthy to be called His heir. Opportunities include establishing a secure and unique savings and loan program, vocational skills training, leadership development, group Bible study and fellowship, and more.
Lencer Omah, a young woman from Western Kenya, is just one example of those who have experienced being considered “less than.” Lencer, still in her 20s, has faced more challenges than many of us will face in a lifetime. She had been given in marriage to a man who already had two wives. She is now a widow with four children to provide for and raise. Like others in her situation, Lencer faced the risk of being inherited by her husband’s family and falling into the enslaving culture of having others dictate what she could or could not do.
Instead, Lencer chose to defy the odds by seeking opportunities TWK had to offer. By choosing to be trained as a seamstress, she is giving herself power to say no to self-pity, and yes to who God made her to be. Lencer clings to verses like Galatians 3:28–29 and Colossians 3:11 that declare in Christ, “there is no longer any distinction” (GNT). In Christ, we are all one. She knows she is a child of God who is worthy of His mercy, love and deliverance. She understands God sees her in a much better light than those within her own culture.
Beginning in 2012, TWK started with one group but has now expanded to 32 groups serving more than 500 members. Each member in each TWK group saves money every month. As their savings grow, members have access to loans with a reasonable repayment plan and very low interest rate. In the past seven years, these women and men have collectively saved more than $50,000 and are currently paying off loans of more than $60,000. Having access to resources that typically are beyond their reach allows them to stabilize their family circumstances as they invest and grow their own businesses, develop their farms, and fulfill the responsibility of paying school fees for their children. Spending time in group Bible study and prayer strengthens their commitment to the body of Christ while building community.
Harriet enjoys being a member of TWK. She has become a leader in her local TWK group and is intentional about developing unity within the group. Through TWK, Harriet has been able to take loans to boost her clothing business. She testifies of how TWK is helping her put her children through school. Recently, also using her loan funds from TWK, Harriet was able to begin building a house for her family. The foundation has already been completed. Harriet shared recently that “Chama (the name of her TWK group) is life-giving. Now I will have a home.” Because of the benefits of TWK that Harriet has experienced, her sister became interested and is attending the group too.
Zacchaeus was known as a tax collector, Mary of Magdalene as a prostitute, Lencer as a widow, and Harriet as being insignificant. But in Christ there is no difference. In Christ, we are all one. In Christ, we are all worthy. Tumaini Women Kenya turns His promises into reality.
Vickie Reynen and her husband, the Rev. Michael Reynen, have served as missionaries with Free Methodist World Missions in Nigeria and Kenya, and they are currently serving in a third African country, Togo. In addition to her work as a regional coordinator for International Child Care Ministries, Vickie enjoys working with both the Kenya and U.S. boards of TWK to help provide greater opportunities for women in Kenya. Visit tumainiwomenkenya.org to learn more, donate, or sign up for email updates.