Rethinking Women’s Ministry. Period.

Last winter, a thought-provoking blog post by author Sarah Bessey laid bare a few flaws of women’s ministry in the church, and it created a buzz around some of my Facebook circles.

Bessey talked about wanting to be part of something more than a safe, cutesy women’s ministry – she was “hungry for authenticity and vulnerability, not churchified life hacks from lady magazines.”

It hit a few nerves. The comments rolled in, but as a newly minted women’s ministry leader at our Christian Missionary Alliance church, I admittedly liked the conversation. It was helpful to hear women finally talk about what they wanted in a church’s women’s ministry, and what they didn’t.

Then, a few months later, I was asked to plan a women’s ministry event for our church missions festival.

*Gulp*

Suddenly, it occurred to me why women’s ministry defaults to what Bessey calls cutesy. Cutesy is easy. We know how to order cookies and lay out napkins. We are masters of coffee pots and tea baskets. Someone always knows someone who can speak in front a group, and the rest of us lean back in our chairs, legs crossed, waiting to receive some catch phrase we can scribble in our journal.

But I now knew my church had a group of women who wanted more. More what, exactly was still 6:00 am fog to me. What could we do that would tangibly be ministry? Was it possible to be true to ministry’s Greek roots and diakoneo – actually serve?

washable reusable homemade maxi pads

Because that’s the rub, isn’t it? When we spout off about not wanting cupcake tutorials and the latest and greatest Christian women’s book written anywhere south of Kansas, what we’re really saying is we want a chance to serve. 

Serve others. Each other. Anyone really, except ourselves. We already know how to do that. We know all too well how to do that. 

If we’re really following what Jesus teaches, we’re trying to die to the selfish parts of ourselves, so that we can be ready to meet the needs of others.

Real needs.

That’s where I wanted to start. So I hopped on the computer and emailed Becky and Hedi, our mission workers in Segou, Mali that I partnered with in prayer and fasting this past spring. They had an idea. Had we ever heard of homemade, washable, reusable maxi pads?

Someone had once given them a few to pass out, and they were CRAZY well-received among the women they worked with. These women didn’t have the income or the access to clean, necessary items to accommodate their biological needs.

My response had at least four or five exclamation marks.

Yes!!! Yes!!!! Yes!!!!! The Martha in me was already buying fabric, setting up sewing machines, and cutting thread. (Never mind that I myself have the sewing skills of a sea cucumber.) Here was something our group of women could actually DO together. Age didn’t matter. Skill level didn’t matter. People could cut! Layer! Coordinate! Pin! Sew! Trim! Snap!

SERVE.

The event went beautifully. I say beautifully, because there’s nothing quite like watching a skilled group of women use their talents to help someone else. What wasn’t finished that day is still showing up in the church office, and we’re guessing over a hundred pads will be the final tally. We’ll package two pads with two pairs of underwear in a ziplock bag, which will be given to fifty girls and women in the Hands of Honor and prison ministries that our mission workers head up in Segou.

Amazing. Real. Ministry.

If you’re a gal reading this post on your own phone, computer, or device, chances are you’re part of the 10% of our world’s females who have regular, affordable access to disposable feminine products. That means 90% of women DON’T have that kind of access.

But you have the means to do something about it.

You can start sewing. Or if you can’t sew, you can organize a group of women to sew and help them cut fabric. You can tell your women’s ministry leaders about this idea. My event ran off of donated fabric and people’s sewing machines set up in our church great room – simple stuff, nothing fancy. If you’re interested in partnering with Hands of Honor or want to pick my brain about setting up your own event, please comment below and I’ll connect with you!

Meanwhile, if you’re curious about just what a reusable, washable homemade maxi pad looks like, or how to make one, check out the simple instructions below. (And if you’re a real seamstress, forgive my lack of actually sewing knowledge. If you come up with a better way to do this, by all means, run with it!)

Reusable Washable Homemade Maxi Pad Sewing Instructions

Lay out the fabric

  1. Assemble your fabric. You’ll need: fleece, flannel, and waterproof PUL diaper cover material.
  1. Cut your fabric. You’ll need two different sizes – the square body of the pad, and the rectangles for absorbency. Rotary cutters are great for this, but fabric scissors work too.
    1. 6 ½ x 6 ½ inch squares
    2. 3 x 9 inch rectangles
  1. Layer your squares- Fleece on bottom, flannel on top. Turn it so it looks like a diamond, with points on top and bottom.
  1. Now layer your rectangles from one point of the square to the bottom. (There will be overlap.) Start with the waterproof rectangle, patterned side down. Add the fleece rectangle, and then lay the flannel rectangle on top.
  1. reusable-washable-homemade-maxi-pads 3 (1026x1280)If you’re a pinner, pin the rectangles to the squares. If you are prone to pinning mishap (me) skip this step.
  1. Round the top and bottom of the diamond with a fabric scissors or rotary cutter. This is optional, but does makes the pad fit nicely in the underwear.
  1. Fire up your sewing machine. Keeping all layers together, start with a zig zag stitch and work your way around the inner rectangle. Once you’ve done that, zig zag around the edges. Now do it again, around both the inner and outer pad, to reinforce the stitching.
  1. With a scissors, trim any excess outside of the zig zag stitching.
  1. reusable-washable-homemade-maxi-pads 6 (844x1280)Time for snaps! Lay out your four snap pieces: Two that look like tacks, and two that snap into one another.
  1. Using a snapper tool set, poke a hole ¼ of an inch inside the zig zag edge of the square pad on both sides. Place one snap with the closure side down, and the other side with the closure side up. (When the wings are folded beneath the underwear, the snaps should click into one another.)
  1. Press the snaps into place. The smooth side of the snap goes on the bottom of the snapper, followed by the fabric, then the top side of the snap. Squeeze strongly to secure snap. Repeat on the other side.

Voila. You’re a pad-sewing rockstar with a mission!

reusable-washable-homemade-maxi-pads 10 (808x1280)

reusable-washable-homemade-maxi-pads 11 (1081x1280)

Commonly Asked Questions re: a 40-day fast

image courtesy of yogitrition.com

image courtesy of yogitrition.com

I’ve been asked a few questions about my choice to enter a 40-day fast, so I wanted to take a second to lay it out for you. Oh, and after a quick double-check, I realized I had my dates wrong and our group is starting on Wednesday, April 8. Phew. I still have to figure out how I’m going to cook millet.

What is a 40-day fast?

The 40-day fast I’m participating in is a decision to step back from my normal, American diet and eat a diet similar to what the people in Mali, Africa eat for forty days.

Wait. I thought a fast meant NOT eating at all?

In some cases, that’s the truth. When Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days, he went completely without food. However, fasts can also be a person choosing to “eat only sparingly or of certain kinds of food, especially as a religious observance.”

Where did you get this idea?

My church is doing a study together on A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor by Chris Seay. Seay describes his book as “a passionate journey of radical faith, personal action, solidarity, and extravagant grace.” The group studying the book will meet weekly, and although I know I won’t be able to make it all the time, I’m going to try to go when I can.

hoh

Hands of Honor program participants

Why did you choose Mali

I’ve always felt called to ministry opportunities that encourage and strengthen the faith of young women. Recently, my Christian Missionary Alliance church family became partners with a program called Hands of Honor, which serves vulnerable girls in Segou, Mali.  Below is an overview that Becky, one of the program founders, emailed to me.

Hands of Honor, a literacy, skills, health, and discipleship training program, was launched last spring as a ministry to vulnerable domestic workers in the city of Segou, Mali. My colleagues and I started this outreach because of stories we heard from the girls in our prison ministry, who had arrived in Segou from rural communities to seek employment as domestic workers. They were vulnerable to abuse from their employers and naïve to the dangers of life in a big city. Each of the young women had become pregnant; out of desperation, they abandoned or killed their babies at birth. They were serving five years for this crime.

Becky went on to tell me a few of the girls’ stories. They broke my heart. As a young woman and a mother of daughters, I read their plights with dual understanding. It became clear that praying for the girls in this program was supposed to be the focus of my fast.

How is this going to make any difference?

This has a two-fold answer, and the first part is pretty practical. I’m planning to use the money I save in groceries to help the Hands of Honor program. It won’t be a lot, but it should be enough to sponsor one of the young women for a few months. I’m also planning to pray for the very specific needs that the girls have.

Then there’s me. My heart. My desire to see change come awake in my own life. This Richard Rohr quote from Simplicity does a good job summing up my thoughts as he talks about Jesus’ own forty-day fast.

“Jesus went into the wilderness, ate nothing for forty days, and made himself empty… Of course, emptiness in and of itself isn’t enough. The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up.”

As a result of that filling, I hope to find a way to alter how I live and start making a better practice of, like Seay says at the end of chapter one, “taking only what I need and sharing the rest.”

Isn’t it a little ironic that you’re choosing to fast? Malians don’t have a choice.

I struggle with this question, because I don’t want anyone to come away with the wrong idea about why I’m doing this. Yes, I’m a privileged American who can go to WalMart and buy the staples of a Malian diet without blinking.  Yes, it’s ironic that I can choose to fast. I get it.

But that irony and privilege is costing me a few things, namely, my ability to remember that I can get by with less so that other can have more.

I want this fast to break my habits and open my eyes to the excess in my life so I can start reducing it. It is more than just raising awareness – it’s choosing to act now that I am aware, and doing so in a way that directly helps someone in need.

So what are you going to eat?

Here’s my list of ten Malian staples that I’m adopting for the next forty days. After consulting with our missionaries and reading up on Mali cuisine and food stuffs, this list seems pretty accurate of the whole foods I’d find accessible at market.

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Banana/plantain
  • Mango
  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Couscous
  • White bread

Is this just a Christian version of a fad diet?

No. You won’t find me posting any before and after pictures. I don’t own a scale, I don’t know how much I weight right now, and I won’t know what I weigh when I’m done. I still plan to eat three meals a day and exercise as usual.

This fast has nothing to do with my outside appearance, but everything to do with the inside of my heart.

I’m interested and want to know more.

Fantastic! If you are local to the Chisago Lakes, MN/St. Croix Falls, WI area, the group is planning to meet on Sunday mornings from 9:45 – 10:45 am in the Alliance Church of the Valley student center auditorium.

If you’re thinking about doing this on your own, with friends, in a small group, or with your church, go check out the resources that Chris has for the book at www.chrisseay.net. So much good stuff.

If you want to join me online and interact through my blog, I’d love to have you come alongside. I’d also be happy to share more about Hands of Honor program and the girls involved. Feel free to email me for more information.