Lead Like a Woman, Fierce and Strong

As a wife and a mom of a little one, I find my life full of messages that demand to define my womanhood & motherhood.  If you’re a woman, a mom, a working mom, a wife and such, the list of what type of woman you must be is so overwhelming.  I’ve had seasons of life where I tried the whole staying at home mom thing because it was what everyone around me seemed to do and it felt like the christian thing to do.  Some even gave me their opinions based on the bible as to why life from now on must be just that for me, and as much as I would LOVE to be able to stay home with my sweet little one and I even gave it a try, I found out that I was not capable of doing it. My unique personality, gifting and impatience drove me crazy craving to do more, not that i didn’t have enough to do I did but I needed to add more.  I know it may sound exhausting but to me being able to go out and work and come home and spend the 3-4 hours I have with my baby giving her my undivided attention and loving on her was so much better than hiding in the bathroom a few times a day, praying for nap time to be longer than 2 hours and not being able to leave the house until after my husband came home to help out.  I felt trapped and I knew that wasn’t for me.  In that season the Lord taught me one thing, he taught me what it means to be a woman of God in my life for me and how I can honor him in this season of chaos and be joyful.

That’s when I decided to study Proverbs 31 in depth and really look into what it means to be “the proverbs 31” woman we all are killing ourselves to become.  I started asking God these questions: What does it mean to be a woman of Valor? Can a woman be a devout follower of Christ and be a strong woman? Why don’t we see strength being celebrated in women in the church?  Why don’t we see women leaders in the church? Why do I have to wonder if it’s biblical for me to go back to work after having my baby when everything within me wants to and I know plenty of followers of Jesus have done it? Why do I feel shame for wanting to? Why do I fear what others have to say about me when I’m speaking truth in love but FIRMLY? Why do I have to prove my intellect before entering a conversation with men in the church….why?

Reading Proverbs 31 in those few weeks and asking those questions allowed me to see the woman of valor, not the “good wife” “the virtuous woman” or the “quiet and gentle spirit” one I’ve always heard about but this woman who is fierce and strong.   A woman who contributes to the household income but who fully handles her business at home, her kids are well loved and cared for, the heart of  her husband trusts in her and he will have no lack of good and he praises her.

I especially love the parallel made about the city gates in vs. 23 & 31

Her husband is known in the gateswhen he sits among the elders of the land.”  

And “Give her of the fruit of her hands,and let her works praise her in the gates.” 

It shows how her influence on her husband and his success are well connected.  This is not a timid and unmotivated woman, she’s fierce and A BOSS LADY!

Learning about this strong, powerful, fierce, woman has been such a validation to how God has designed me and the cultural background He’s given me to be the woman I am today.  I am no where near this amazing woman I see in Proverbs 31 but I strive to be like her and see the gifts God has given me that gives me the strength to work towards being such a woman of Valor.

In a recent sermon I heard, I was reminded that the original word used in Proverbs 31 to describe the virtuous woman was a “Woman of Valor” or a “Woman of Strength”.  I thought it was very interesting how the original Hebrew word chayil which is pronounced HAAyil, is also a word used to describe God as a warrior in the bible. We see this woman of valor described in so many ways we typically separate and categorize.  we usually hear in the church about the quiet and gentle spirited woman and in my mind she is the type of woman who is super patient and has the gift to hold her tongue when in distress and I get the message I should strive to be like her.  Then we hear about the strong willed woman and the way she’s typically described is as the one who wears the pants at home and doesn’t take no for an answer and I should distance myself from her.  But this woman of Valor in Proverbs 31 seems like she’s neither. Being a woman of Valor is not a personality contest, it’s a character trait that is expressed through work, mentorship, creativity & wisdom.  She is strong & a hard worker … She manages her house well and ownes a business that she runs effectively…She is also tender and a nurturer at home.   We see in that chapter both her husband and children called her blessed, it also mentions how she rises early in the morning and makes food, how everyone is clothed for winter and how she laughed at the days ahead, meaning she’s well prepared.  To the outside world her household is well respected, because of the way she carried herself her husband was a respected man at the city gates, people knew who he was, he was the man who was strong enough to lead such a woman of valor with gentleness, respect and wisdom.  So why are we discouraged from becoming all of that? Especially for me, I’ve wondered why can’t I be all and celebrate all that God has given me as a strength. Why must I be put down for having an opinion, and why do people act surprised when they find out I’m a really good cook. Why can’t I be both?

Chayil resonates with me so much because the same word means strength in Amharic, which is my native language.  I grew up being told I was Hailegna 🙂 they meant to tell me I was stubborn but I didn’t mind. My dad always encouraged me to think for myself and my mom always asked me to make a decision based on what would honor the Lord so I never felt incapable of making up my own mind.  I knew I can ask hard questions and bring it to God’s word and find an answer. It doesn’t mean I’m never wrong, in fact I find that I am often, but God has allowed me to surround myself with amazing people who fact check me, and lovingly rebuke me which has served me so well. I wouldn’t be able to write and dare to speak into tough topics If I didn’t have the covering of my husband which usually is a series of grueling questions that makes me check my heart and invite the Holy Spirit in to take over my pride. But, my dependency on the Lord and my independency as a person are two strengths the Lord has built in me as I pursue to be a woman of Valor.

What does it mean to be a woman of Valor today? How do women lead when most of our lives we’ve been told to follow. When we’ve been taught our greatest achievement might be becoming a wife and a mother. Don’t get me wrong those are such great gifts from the Lord but it’s easy to make them our idol and identity if we don’t know what being a true woman of Valor is. I think being a woman of strength is being complete as is, whether single or married, she is God’s, she knows her purpose in life and practices it daily. She is a builder, a leader, a manager, an entrepreneur, an engineer, a doctor, a writer, an activist, a truth teller, a teacher, etc… most importantly she is a disciple of Jesus Christ. She follows the heart of her savior and fearlessly steps into the unknown. She loves deeply, cares deeply, fights deeply for what she believes in and she honors the Lord deeply.

This is the type of woman I see in Proverbs 31, it’s so liberating to me to read God’s word and grasp the whole picture. As I submit to the teaching of the bible and the order of God’s creation, I find the keys that unlock the beauties of being a woman, a warrior, a builder, and a woman of Valor.  To me I’ve found it in investing my time making disciples who make disciples, being a voice to the oppressed, creating space for my passions to freely be expressed and used for the Kingdom, loving and serving my family in the unique ways God has shaped us. I’ve learned that a woman of valor has no time to compare herself and time with someone else’s home. She’s too busy fulfilling the plenty of ways God has called her to serve him. She’s fighting the enemy’s lies that try to creep in around all the areas God has called her to follow him.  She’s too busy pleasing the Father that she doesn’t have time to wait for people’s approval. She is unapologetically content in fulfilling the role she’s received from God himself. She is fierce and she is content.

 

 

When Their Love is not Enough

Have you ever felt so alone, isolated and unloved by the very people that were supposed to love you? Have you felt misunderstood, ganged up on and victimized by those who were supposed to protect you and care for you.  I have, and I want to share with you how God uses those experiences in my life to Grow my understanding of the theology of total depravity. We are so incapable of loving on our own strength because we as humans are totally flawed and depraved of doing anything good apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us.  Even as believers we struggle to love and show the grace of God when we’ve been deeply wounded by those we most trusted.  In that moment when we feel pain in our deepest being unless we run to the Lord for strength of His spirit to hold us up over and over again, our love will not be enough for the survival of those relationships.

When I feel isolated, hurt and unloved by those I care for the most there is one place in the Bible I love to go to and immerse myself with the Truth of God. Psalms 25 as a whole is where I typically go to pray for God’s deliverance, forgiveness and Love to be poured out on me…specifically these verses:

16  Turn to me and be gracious to me,

for I am lonely and afflicted.

17  The troubles of my heart are enlarged;

bring me out of my distresses.

18  Consider my affliction and my trouble,

and forgive all my sins.

19  Consider how many are my foes,

and with what violent hatred they hate me.

20  Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!

Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.

21  May integrity and uprightness preserve me,

for I wait for you.

22  Redeem Israel, O God,

out of all his troubles.

So friends, I encourage you to run to the Lord when it seems all hope is lost and when those who “love” you the most fail you, remember they cannot love you apart from God’s power in and through them just like you cannot do it without Him.  God’s word says our righteousness is like a filthy rag and reminds us that

10 None is righteous, no, not one;

11  no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”in Romans 3: 10-12

We cannot and shouldn’t hold the sin of others against them because Christ has paid it for them on the cross just as He’s done it for you and me.  I know it’s a hard one to swallow and I’m preaching to myself as I write this but, in all honesty I cannot stand before christ and proclaim His blood cleanses us from ALL sin and be a hypocrite by not forgiving those who sinned against me.

So what’s next? How do we forgive and move on?

I’m learning that forgiveness is very difficult, especially when you have to forgive and open up your heart again for a possible hurt because you cannot avoid those who you love the most.  I’m learning it’s a step of faith, I believe we forgive the person because unless we do then we haven’t accepted Christ’s saving power, and we open up our hearts to that person as an obedience to Christ.  You may have a very valid reason for not trusting the people in your life at the moment but if God’s word instructs us to forgive one another then we must act out of obedience and faith.  Jesus did tell his disciples that People will know you’re my disciples by the way you love one another. There fore, if the evidence of our christianity is by the way we love others not being able to forgive shows we’re not God’s Children. It is a direct indication of our life of obedience to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sometimes we may forgive but not be able to reconcile with people because of their refusal to sit and talk through the hurt they’ve caused and their unrepentant heart that fails to recognize the damage they’ve caused and lack of willingness to mend what’s broken. In that sense, what the Lord requires of us is to forgive and move on…if we look at Matthew 18:15-17 it gives us a clear direction on how to deal with those who refuse to reconcile…“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidenceof two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This has been a very freeing verse for me because of the cultural context I live in.  

Ethiopia as most African countries has a communal culture and we are very much scared of confrontation.  Confrontation is treated as being evil or an instigator of fights…the idea of a loving, correcting, rebuking and restoring process of confrontation is not well practiced in our culture and because of that we struggle as a Christian community because we cover up sin and not talk about it.  We all know what happens when a wound is covered up without treatment, it spreads and gets infected and can even be deadly. God’s word in James 5: 16 tells us “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  There is no healing and reconciliation unless there is an admittance of sin and praying for one another, there fore if and when we find ourselves in these situations, we need to remember that we’re at a vulnerable stage for the enemy of our souls. when we experience, rejection, hurt and isolation he can easily enter our hearts and minds and control the situation unless we humbly present ourselves to the Lord and remember that we don’t follow a high priest who didn’t experience what we are experiencing. We can take refuge in knowing that Christ more than any human being has experienced rejection, conviction and even death for a crime He didn’t commit but on our behalf has given His life to death on a cross so we may be free of the enemy’s strong hold.

There fore, I encourage you friends to take refuge in the name of Christ who has defeated the enemy.  Seek to live peacefully with everyone if you can, and when  you can’t pray you’ll be able to extend so much grace.  Pray for a Christ like forgiveness which encompasses seeking to understand and forgive and allow reconciliation to take place. If done right, it brings healing to the soul and glory to the King of Kings but when done wrong the enemy will get a foot hold and make a field day out of it.  Seek the Lord, even if things have gone wrong, pray for reconciliation, pray for peace and look for the opportune time to extend grace.  After all we’re called to live by faith and not by sight and most of the time walking by faith hurts a little but that’s when we get to see the beauty of Christ revealed and His love so lavishly displayed in the way he leads us, so yes when their love is not enough His love is more than enough.

 

Africans should Lead Africans

It’s very common to hear about the poverty in Africa, the AIDS epidemic, the orphans and widows of Africa and feel overwhelmed by the dark picture of Africa that’s painted by well meaning western workers who need to appeal to the emotions of westerners so they can get them to give financially and be involved in “changing the lives of the poorest of the poor”.

It sounds noble but this traditional money focused approach to introducing Africa to the world has done more damage than good to the reputation of African Leaders who are giving their lives away to the work of bringing the Gospel to their people and going into the unreached villages with culturally appropriate tools and methods.

That’s why I get overly excited when I meet African leaders who are not only building the kingdom of God but also are raising leaders wherever they go and empowering their communities to live a spiritually, economically and socially healthy environment that they helped create.

This morning, I had the honor and privilege of sitting and hearing the Founder and President of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (www.ALARM-inc.org).  Celestine has been empowering African Pastors, community leaders, women, politicians and the like for the past 20 years. His work mainly focuses on East Africa but his heart and long term plan is to expand to the other parts of Africa.

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What stood out to me from my meeting with Celestine what his heart and desire to see young African leaders like myself be empowered to do what God has called us to do for our countries and continent.  As someone who has grown up in Ethiopia seeing the lack of spiritual leadership in our churches and the void that was left when western missionaries left our country during the Derg Regime has deeply impacted how I approach leadership.

What happened was during the persecution local pastors who were not properly trained and equipped by western “long-term missionaries” were left to lead a congregation that went underground. Most of these pastors didn’t go through theological training nor were being actively groomed to take on the leadership of the churches planted and all of a sudden become the senior leaders of the churches that were under persecution.  Persecution had forced most of the Ethiopian Evangelical churches to remain underground but once there was religious freedom under the new government and churches were given the freedom to operate as non-profit businesses, a new era of corrupt evangelicalism ascended upon us and thus was the birth of prosperity gospel.

It’s important to emphasize that we have many christ centered, gospel believing evangelical churches in Ethiopia, the problem is most of them are not attracting the younger generation.  They are at the risk of dying out because the prosperity gospel movement has allured many young people to a pseudo christianity that doesn’t require carrying the cross, doesn’t identify with Christ in His suffering, dying to flesh is a foreign concept and no real sacrifice is expected, only sacrifice of money at the alter.

This false and deadly movement has confused the bible and pagan traditions and uses them interchangeably as the teacher pleases and when it’s most significant to manipulate the congregation.  Unfortunatley, because there was not long lasting leadership development and equipping done from church planting missionaries, false teachers took up the baton and churches started opening left and right.  This has gotten out of hand, now we have TV stations dedicated to the “man of god”, “prophet” and the like. These are the leaders that are strongly moving the communities because they have money, they know how to collect the money of the communities through untruthful fear based teachings that essentially say if you give you’ll be blessed and if you don’t you’ll be cursed.  They sucessfully use it to expand their businesses they call church. I daily plead with the Lord to raise spiritual leaders in my country, men and women who fear the Lord, stand for truth and are true prophets for change.

Meetings like this one fuel my heart with hope, passion, revival and anticipation for what the Lord has in store for my country and my people. Leadership development should be a key component to spreading the Gospel, I think we Africans tend to think that the Holy Spirit will do everything for us.  He will do everything THROUGH us not FOR us there fore, we have to present our minds, hearts, souls, abilities and skills to Him. We have to be invested in developing ourselves because we are the vehicle Jesus uses to work in and through the church, communities and government we’re a part of.

If we are christians we have to be the best in all we do, and if we’re Africans we have to be the best of the best because there is a whole lot of work we have to do to redeem the damage done by allowing philosophies and tactics that have shaped our communities from a cultural perspective that is not ours.  We have a lot of self educating we need to do, study our own cultures and go back to our roots.  God created us differently for a reason, he placed us in Africa for a reason and by abandoning our culture we’d be abandoning the image of God displayed in it.

Let us partner with ministries such as ALARM and use our gifts and talents to bring reconciliation and leadership to our continent. Let us equip our people, and be a part of the great commission that is a command to be obeyed for all believers including AFRICANS.

Just Missions Interview with Gena Thomas

As a follow up to my article about Why Africa doesn’t need more western workers, Gena Thomas of #justmissions interviewed me about my thoughts on Missions, my upbringing,  and how that has shaped my walk with Christ.  I talk about Immigration, the global church and living out the great commission as the body of Christ and supporting the global church financially.  click the link below to watch the video.

#Justmissions Interview