No one can imagine the pain that follows the death of a spouse until they have experienced it. Suffice it to say that the only way to describe that pain is that it is, indeed, unimaginable. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, the indescribable pain of the loss lingers long after you expect it to.
Two Scripture verses have been a comfort to me as I have experienced the pain of which we speak. One is from the Old Testament; the other from the New.
“A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation.”
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
A Biblical perspective on widowhood is essential for Christians everywhere. As followers of Jesus, we have a sacred responsibility to care for and comfort widows. This is especially true in some Asian nations where widows are treated as outcasts.
In some of the poorest regions of these countries, widows are a burden. In times past, they would be burnt alive while their husbands’ bodies were cremated. Today, many widows are made to leave their families and forced to beg in the streets. Some are sent away by their husbands’ families who want to prevent them from inheriting money or property. Despite legislation aimed at protecting widows, regressive customs are difficult to overcome.
The treatment of women in general and widows, in particular, is nothing new. Even during his earthly ministry, Jesus condemned the Jewish scribes and Pharisees for devouring widow’s houses (see Mark 12:38-40). Mistreatment of widows is common, especially in developing countries and in places where Christian compassion is nonexistent.
One source observed that widows in India have a “pronoun problem.” The estimated 40 million women widows in the country go from being called “she” to “it” when they lose their husbands.
Mohini Giri, a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee, says that “Widowhood is a state of social death,” and women are forced to live with “many restrictions which affect them both physically and psychologically.” In many cases, they are forbidden from working or associating with mainstream society.
Widows are trapped in an emotional prison because of the bad luck they are thought to bring. According to Hopegivers, a faith-based non-profit organization, widows are “easily set aside, much like you would toss out an old chair. But that is not God’s way. All lives have value, regardless of age, gender, or circumstances. He has a plan and purpose for every person – and that plan and purpose exist until death.”
These are some of the reasons why one of the major ministries of GFA-supported Sisters of Compassion is caring for widows throughout widowhood.
With hearts that ache for hurting widows, Sisters of Compassion honor them by sharing the love of Jesus, providing clothing and other basic essentials, teaching them income-generating skills, and providing them with the tools necessary to use those skills.
Sisters of Compassion are specially trained women missionaries with a deep burden of showing Christ’s love by physically serving the needy, underprivileged and poor. After completing Bible college—and sometimes several years of ministry—they go through an advanced six-month course of study, learning about leprosy care, family counseling, hygiene education and other practical ministries.
Before these women missionaries re-enter the field, they don a uniform of humility. Made of handspun fabric, the traditional saris they wear mirror the clothing once worn by the lowliest servants in Asia, immediately showing everyone that the women missionaries have come without any agenda but to love others. Although it looks foreign to Western eyes, their uniform has a special and easily recognized meaning in Asia. Over the years, women from many Christian denominations have taken on this uniform to demonstrate a desire to serve the needy without thought of personal gain.
In places where traditional women missionaries face persecution, Sisters of Compassion are welcomed as trustworthy counselors and friends of the community. With this acceptance, they freely share Christ’s love where they otherwise couldn’t even set foot.
Sisters of Compassion are eagerly welcomed as caregivers, counselors, teachers and friends. Without the uniform, they would be greeted with speculation.
The Sisters of Compassion are a select group of women missionaries who have chosen to participate in extra training and to spend three years working among the widows, orphans, lepers and others living in abject poverty and in need of the love and care that others are withholding from them simply by ignoring them.
Demonstrating compassion is, in and of itself, the calling of every believer. However, it is the miracles the Lord does through our compassion that best demonstrate His care.
Perhaps the best way to understand the plight of widows in Asia and the impact of Sisters of Compassion is to watch this short excerpt from the acclaimed movie, “Veil of Tears.” Our prayer is that it will touch and break your heart and stir you to pray for this special ministry supported by GFA. Please take just five minutes to let the Lord open your eyes to the need and to the sacrificial and caring work of the Sisters of Compassion among the widows.
For more on the plight of widows and widowhood, go here.
For more on Sisters of Compassion go here.
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