BEAUTY FOR ASHES
…and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
~ Isaiah 61:3 (NIV)
This scripture has special meaning to Christian women in Central Asia. Some of their “ashes” are: domestic violence, battering of women and sexual abuse, kidnapping of young girls (for marriage purposes) which is culturally accepted and (in some countries) honor killings. Trafficking and prostitution are a well-known phenomenon: many Uzbek girls find themselves in Thailand, Tajik girls in Dubai and Azeri girls in Turkey, without passports, without rights, forced into the sex industry. Central Asian women are often treated as objects of men’s desire or as the possession of men.
Poverty is everywhere in Central Asia. It adds to the heaviness of life together with serious health issues, a lack of available health care and drug and alcohol addiction. Some of the Christian women have unbelieving husbands, and rejected by relatives, become social outcasts in their villages. Others have a husband who is on the run from the authorities, is in prison for his faith or is constantly monitored by the security police. How does she deal with all the pressure and what does she feel when there is a knock on the door? Add to this all the issues related to honour and shame, and the influence of folk Islam with its occult practices and curses. There are plenty of reasons to feel overwhelmed, overburdened and depressed.
Open Doors sponsors regional conferences for these Christian women in Central Asia. The impact of the women’s conferences is like a ripple effect growing into ever widening circles. For many women who come, just to worship openly and to be able to sing loudly in a big group is already a great encouragement as many come from areas where this is not possible. During the conferences there is a lot of dancing, worship, and celebration.
Several years ago some Central Asian Christian women gained the vision for starting work among women in situations of domestic abuse, trafficking and prostitution. All that was learned at the conferences was shared at home with the women in their area. Plans and teaching resources were drawn up, local churches were challenged and equipped and a start was made with various projects that are of great value to the local community.
A pastor’s wife, who spent three years in prison where she became a Christian, shared that she wanted to start ministering to women in prisons but she didn’t know how to start. “Now I have an idea how to minister to women,” she said after having attended the conference.
As God heals the pain and releases the women from their sorrows, He sets them free into a new love for Jesus and for ministry to others, both in the church and in society. They grow as mighty trees, providing shade and covering for others; all of this for the glory of God.
RESPONSE: Today I will live in the freedom Christ brings and become a mighty shade tree of ministry.
PRAYER: Pray for these women’s conferences in Central Asia that God will bestow beauty for ashes.