Mala – A Woman of Valor

We continue our Women of Valor series this morning with a special contribution from Joy Bennett, who sent this story to us this morning from Sri Lanka, where she and a fantastic team of bloggers are reporting for World Vision

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"The Fire in Her Gut"
Mala – A Woman of Valor 
by Joy Bennett 

I met Mala, Woman of Valor, in her small palm-branch-thatched home in a rural village in Sri Lanka. As we sat in the plastic chairs stamped with flowers in the front room of her two-room house, she stood in the elbow between a handmade standing table and the woven palm branch wall of her home. Her curly black hair was pulled back from her face, and she shifted nervously as her daughter, Sewwandi, took a seat in the circle with us.

The house had no windows, though the woven branches let in slivers of light. The air was still, heavy, and hot. We perspired through every layer we had on as we listened to their story.

Sewwandi recently took a scholarship exam. If her marks are high enough, she will earn a scholarship that would partially cover the cost of her education. Mala explained that while the education itself is free in Sri Lanka, they must pay for books, supplies, and other fees. Sewwandi lives 3-4 km from school (over 2 miles), so they also pay for a tuk-tuk to carry her to and from. Despite the fact that they share with 7 other children, it still costs 1450 rupees per month. They have to purchase safe drinking water at 40 rupees per 40-liter container (they need at least one container per day). And their home, made of sticks and branches, isn’t water-tight during rainy season.

Mala spoke quietly but firmly as she explained that she and her husband often went hungry in order to feed their children or pay for Sewwandi’s education. She had to leave her boys with a sister so she could work in a coconut estate as a day laborer, while her husband, who is completely illiterate, works in a chili grinding mill.

Our interpreter asked Mala why education was so important that she would work so hard and sacrifice so much. Her eyes filled as she said simply, “I had a difficult childhood.”We leaned forward a little as she began to tell her story.

Mala never had a childhood. Starting at age 4, she worked as a domestic servant alongside her mother. At age 7, her parents pulled her out of school to live and work as a maid with a family an hour from home. She referred to that job as “domestic service,” but she earned just 7 cents a day (300 rupees per month). She cried as she described her father’s monthly visit to collect her pay. Each time he came, she cried and begged him to take her home. But they were so poor even this tiny amount helped. So she stayed until her mother got a better opportunity in the Middle East.

Mala returned home to raise her siblings when her mother left the country. Her efforts enabled her siblings to remain in school through level 7 (6th grade).The merciless grind of those years bred in Mala a passion for bettering the people she loved, starting with her siblings. The four additional years of education they received made a huge difference in the trajectory of their lives compared to Mala’s. For example, Mala’s twin sister is married to a government worker, lives in Colombo, and stays home with her children.

We grew frustrated and angry for her as she shared all the things she had tried to make a better life for them. We asked, “Is moving an option?” since so many of their challenges derive from their remote location. She explained that they had tried to rent a home in Colombo (Sri Lanka’s largest city), but it was too hard. Then she scraped together enough money to purchase a small piece of land much closer to the main road. But the land owner took advantage of her, also selling the property to someone else. When she began to build a house there, the other owner tore it down. When she went to the police, she discovered that the other owner had already bribed them. She lost every rupee.

In spite of it all, the fire in her gut burned fierce as she told us her one dream was for at least one of her children to finish school, no matter what it took.

Before we left, we told Mala that we were so proud of her. We said that we could see that her daughter had inherited her spunk and intelligence. I told her she inspired all of us with her problem-solving and indomitable spirit, despite overwhelming odds.

World Vision is working on infrastructure improvements in Mala’s area that will help change her life. They just completed a new road (the old path became impassable during rainy season), and the improvement plan for this year includes addressing water, electricity, and education. When you sponsor a child through World Vision, your money goes directly to her community, supporting their development work in partnership with World Vision. 

Sponsor a child, and you will also be sponsoring many women of valor, women like Mala. 

Sponsor a child today

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Joy Bennett has been writing since the second grade and blogging since 2005. She grew up in a Christian home, and says she should know the answers to all the usual faith questions...but doesn’t. She has delivered four babies, handed two over to heart surgeons in the hall outside an operating room, and buried one in a cemetery just a few miles from her home.

Joy is right. Sponsoring a child with World Vision changes not only one life, but many. I saw this firsthand when I traveled with World Vision to Bolivia. (If, like me, you’re a skeptic by nature, check out “Confessions of a Child Sponsorship Skeptic.”)

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This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.

The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now.  I enourage you to  read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work. 

photo by Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C. 
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen 

I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)

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Sarah – A Woman of Valor

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Sarah – A Woman of Valor 
by Jenny Everett King

We met in Sunday school, in a moment that could have been the beginning of a coming-of-age friendship movie. In a smaller than small Vermont town, I was the shy new girl, the daughter of the visiting preacher; she was the bubbly, outgoing girl from the unchurched family. We connected over the fact that our birthdays were four days apart, and soon we would both turn 11.

When the church hired my father as the full-time pastor, she welcomed me with a 2-inch piece of coral wrapped in a handkerchief. Within months she became the best friend with whom I swapped clothes, experimented with make-up, played MASH with the names of the boys in youth group. She adopted my family as her own, took it upon herself to call my parents “Mom” and “Dad,” and kept a small piece of the parsonage's hideous kitchen floor when the church finally replaced it.

Like so many childhood friendships, job and family changes separated us in adolescence. She and her mother moved to South Carolina after her parents' divorce, while my family moved back to New Hampshire to plant another church. We kept in touch through phone calls, a few letters, and the rare visit. Eventually we were bridesmaids in each others' weddings, though each of us married a man the other had not met. Before my rehearsal dinner she gave me a card that said, “I have not met him, but I love him because you love him.” When she married six years later, I stood beside her with the same attitude. She loved him, and that was enough.

Until it wasn't enough.

Today, Sarah's life bears so little resemblance to the woman of Proverbs 31 that she would probably laugh at the thought of inviting a comparison. There are no fields to be bought, because there is no money left. There is no husband to sing her praises, because she left him after he smashed in the cabinet door inches from her head. Her three children may rise in the morning and sing her praises – or they may rise in the middle of the night, complaining of a tummy ache or a molar cutting through. Yet she will still be up before dawn, preparing for work at a job for which she is severely overqualified.

If I had been asked 10 years ago to describe a woman I admire, or a woman I deemed valorous, a single mother barely making ends meet would not have crossed my mind. Yet it is when I look at Sarah that the meaning of Proverbs 31 becomes most clear.

A woman of valor works diligently. A woman of valor manages her money well and does not waste a cent. She provides for her family with a heart of unconditional love and sacrifices herself without hesitation. She humbles herself. She lives for others. In truth, she models the best example of valor within the whole of Christian tradition, Jesus Christ. As Jesus scorned the shame of the cross, Sarah has scorned the shame of asking for help, of taking a position so clearly beneath her, in the name of giving herself up for those whom she loves.

Sarah may not purchase fields, or plant vineyards, or clothe her family in scarlet, but she can stretch a meager grocery budget like nobody else. Her lamp does not go out at night – because after work and dinner and baths and bedtime, she finds herself sorting through paperwork for the custody lawyer she can barely afford. More than once she has spent her day off from work at the police station, collecting forms and evidence for upcoming hearings. For two years, she has fought tirelessly for her childrens' safety and well-being, enduring the frustrations of the family court system.

Sarah has plenty of reasons to be angry with God. As a teen she grieved her parents' bitter divorce; as an adult she removed her children from an abusive home, only to face scorn from her church when she did so. When she told her pastor of her intent to leave her abuser, he shamed her for breaking the sacred bond of marriage. Yet her faith in a loving God does not waver. This is not merely a faith that she clings to, nor a life raft for when times are tough. Sarah's faith is joyous. In the midst of her pain, she is victorious. I suspect she worries about money, and I know she worries about her kids. Yet underneath her worry is a quiet strength, and an assurance that God will provide and God will protect.

Like the woman of Proverbs, she laughs at the days to come. Some days it may be through tears, but still, she laughs, and she believes. 

***

Jenny Everett King is a freelance writer, police officer's wife, homeschooling mother, and youth ministry team member living in southern New Hampshire. With a background in women's health and wellness, she has a strong interest in the vital roles women play in ministry, the modern church, and social justice. She blogs at http://birthatthecrossroads.blogspot.com/.

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.

Jenny, and the other winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website  TODAY! I enourage you to  read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work. 

photo by Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 

I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)

comments

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Women of Valor: An Essay Contest and Giveaway

“A woman of valor who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.” 
- Proverbs 31:10

Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. 

One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor: women who are changing the world through daily acts of faithfulness, both in my life and around the world. 

And today I want to give you the chance to join me in this effort by participating in an essay contest. 

Write an original essay, up to 800 words, about a woman of valor in your life. It could be your mother, your sister, your wife, your best friend, your Sunday school teacher from long ago, a pastor, a mentor, a saint from centuries past, or even a woman you met for only a few minutes but whose presence changed you. Send your essay, along with your name, mailing address, short author bio, and (if you would like) a photo of the woman you have featured to contest@rachelheldevans.com byFriday, August 24 to be entered.  (Please copy the essay directly into the email, and please ensure that you have received permission from the subject and photographer if you include a photo. *Essays that fail to meet these specifications will be disqualified.*) I'll have non-exclusive, first-time rights to the winning pieces, which means winners can publish their essays elsewhere after they've appear on my blog. Essays must be original, but feel free to adapt a piece you've already written. If you don't win, I hope you will still share your essay on your blog if you have one. I'll be sure to link to some of my favorites. 

I will choose five winners whose essays will be featured on the blog each day of the week, August 27-31, 2012. 

(For inspiration, see Six Bolivian Women of Valor.) 

For this contest, I am delighted to be partnering with Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit that provides supplemental income and marketable skills for Burmese refugee artisans living in Austin, Texas. So in addition to being featured on the blog, each of the winners will receive a flower necklace—for themselves or for the woman of valor that they feature—made by a woman from Hill Country Hill Tribers using traditional hand-tatting skills.  

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The flowers are crocheted with nylon thread around an antique bronze washer and hung with a bronze chain. The necklaces are 17-inches long, and winners will be the first to receive these new additions to HCHT’s fall line, available to all August 28. Winners will be given their choice of heather gray, dark coral, or jade. (I have a red flower necklace from HCHT, and let me tell you, I get compliments on it all the time.) 

These necklaces are made by a woman of valor named Christine:

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Jessica Goudeau, Executive Director of HCHT, explains why Christine and her fellow artisans are women of valor: 

"The artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers are weavers, sewers, tatters, jewelry-makers, stay-at-home moms, grandmothers, widows, teachers, mentors, students, and survivors. They escaped persecution in their home country and fled to refugee camps in India, Thailand, and Malaysia, where they lived for months or years before receiving permission to resettle in the United States.

The Hill Triber women have staggering courage: they are learning new languages and new skills in a culture that is bewilderingly different from what they left behind in the mountains of Burma. All of the artisans are women (except one grandfather who sews bibs and Christmas ornaments) and their experiences are typical of many women around the world. For most of them, education in their villages was a luxury that was more important for the boys—often the girls had to stay home to help with children and housework rather than attending the village school. Some of the artisans are illiterate in their own languages; they can barely write their names in English, much less read bus signs or fill out Medicaid forms. A couple of the artisans are college-educated, but they’re stuck working part-time housekeeping jobs. Most of the women stay at home with their small children or grandchildren, which means they have few chances to earn money or learn English. But these women moved to a new country to do whatever it takes to help their children have education and resources they never enjoyed.

Being a part of Hill Country Hill Tribers allows them to earn money working at their own pace making items they help design. Over the last few years, these women have transformed from scared new refugees to proud and empowered designers, teachers and providers. Their English skills improve by leaps and bounds in the conversation classes. They learn basic inventory skills in group meetings. Most importantly, they maintain connections with their hill tribe cultures that might be lost otherwise. Their daughters grow up watching their mothers weave and crochet in the home like their grandmothers and great-grandmothers before them. By crafting beautiful products in their homes and gathering together often, these artisans are weaving a community in Austin that is rooted in their past and reaching toward a new future."

Learn more about Hill Country Hill Tribers, and take a look at their products, here.

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(Note: Product shots are used by permission of Charis Dishman at Charisdishmanphotography.com and the Hill Triber group shot is by Kelsi Williamson at Kelsiwilliamson.com.)

It’s an honor to be partnering with Hill Country Hill Tribers for this contest. I can’t wait to read your contributions and meet all the women of valor who have changed your lives. 

Now go write something!

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.