Coronavirus curtails newfound freedom

Inge* facilitates a development work for unemployed women in Eastern Europe. While she loves them all, one woman has touched her heart in a special way: “Sara* always did everything one hundred per cent. She couldn’t be half-hearted. After her husband died, we met at his funeral. She was very, very strong, that much was obvious, and I liked her immediately,” shared Inge. “Although sad, she was free. Unlike the other women.

“After a time, Sara joined our development work for unemployed women. She wanted to be a volunteer, to help and serve in any way possible. And she did, more and more.”

For many women, and especially for those with no husband, the women’s groups became their new 'family', a place where they felt free and not judged by others, Inge explained. Many women told her they had not experienced this kind of freedom since they were little girls.

“We live in an environment where gossip rules,” explained Sara. “Many women, like me, rarely leave their house. They stay at home always, as they cannot handle the gossip. ‘There is no future if you lose your husband,’ they say here. And if you don’t have a husband and leave the house or find work outside the home, you’ll quickly be marked a prostitute.”

However, right from the start, the number one rule in this ministry was ‘no gossip’. If it becomes known that a participant has gossiped about private issues relating to another woman in the group, the gossiping woman is banned from attending. The strict rule has proven effective: From the very first time the groups met, the women were openly sharing with each other. They cried together, laughed and encouraged each other. Like a family.

And then the coronavirus hit the country. The groups had to close; no more meetings, telephone contact only. For Inge, it was difficult to call Sara about the news: “It came as a shock to her that all the projects were closing. She had hoped… her voice cracked, she was on the verge of tears and said: ‘What will we do, only staying at home…?’”

Her new family had to be shut down, and for Sara it meant back to the house, her ‘prison’, to the boring days without her new family. Yes, it is possible to connect through the internet. Yes, they make jokes trying to keep their spirit up. But it’s sad for the women who had relied on their community.

These women had discovered something new: grace, respect and value. Many had shared: “The most important thing I learned at the training was that I have value [that] I did not know. It was very important for me.”

Nobody knows how long it will take before the women’s groups and other development projects can re-open or what the world and the local situation will be like when this is over. Please pray.

*name changed

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