By Hannah Lythe
Kari Miller left for Kampala, Uganda in May 2007 hoping to love the poor. She encountered Dorcas Widows Ministry and found a way to love. She has since become incredibly involved in the ministry, starting a school sponsorship program within the ministry, allowing Uganda widows to earn an income through a beaded jewelry business and other various components that has continued to build a community for the Dorcas Widows. Here she tells us more about her personal relationships with the women and the spiritual and relational growth they find together.
How has your relationship with the widows changed over time?
When I first met these widows, I was so guarded. I wondered if it was even possible to have real friendships with women so completely different from me. What does an HIV positive woman in abject poverty have in common with a healthy woman from the wealthiest country on the planet? With a prejudice I didnt even know I had, I doubted that real friendships would ever be possible.
So, I was loving towards them. I was kind. I listened and prayed with them. I gave them money when I thought it was appropriate. I even expected them to share their deep places with me, but I never let them into mine. I answered their attempts to know me with vague responses turning the questions back toward them. I was so sincereI really thought I was loving them and protecting myself. After all, the prejudice inside me told me that if I revealed too much they would press me for money.
Slowly, God began to open my eyes to the prejudice that had a choke hold on my heart. All of a sudden I saw how grotesque it was. The barriers I thought I set up to protect myself were actually blocking the love I so desperately wanted to experience. As I moved among the women, I saw them sitting in doorways together engaged in deep conversation.
I saw them entering each others homes to clean the infected wounds of the dying. These women seemed so close, so deeply connected. It was then that I realized that the love they had for each other was always just out of my reach.
It was then that I decided to stop being a helper and start being a friend. Instead of vague answers, I shared my real thoughts. When they talked about the pain in their life, I also talked about mine. When they reminisced about their husband, I listened and laughed with them about the good times that had been. When my phone rang, I no longer braced myself for a call for help, but instead smiled as I saw the name of a friend flashing on the screen. More often than not, the ladies call just to say hello or to ask me how Im doing.
I now have several friends that call just to encourage me or to say that they are praying for me. The walls of my heart have now come down and I have laid myself open before these women and they have lain themselves open before me. They are not the people I am helping; they are my friends.
Have you seen a level of intimacy grow between you and the women?
They are the people I call when I am in physical or emotional crisis. They are spiritual companions on my journey of faith. There is a depth to our relationship that wasnt there before. There is a love that is growing, that is intimate and real.
I have now developed many intimate friendships with women who are nothing like me. They are black and I am white. They are Acholi and I am American. They are incredibly poor and I am wealthy. They are sick and I am well. Yet these women hold a piece of my heart and I hold a piece of theirs. Our journeys are now intertwined. They dont depend on me–we depend on each other. They arent calling me begging for help; I am calling them offering to stand with them in their place of need. I am not making appointments to talk to the widows; I am going to visit my friends in their homes.
I do not love towards them anymore; instead I just love them. We are learning to intimately know each other. We show each other our strengths and weaknesses. We speak the truth to one another even when its hard. We encourage each other to trust that God is big enough to meet the needs we have. Most of all, we just like spending time together.
What have you learned from these women?
Love. I have learned to love and be loved, not that I have attained perfection in it far from it, but I am a greater lover than I was before. I have opened my heart and my soul to these women and they have opened theirs to me. We make sacrifices for each other, putting our own needs and worries behind us so we can give fully to the one in the most pain.
Now when I see a need, I dont give out of my excess, but instead, I give it all. When one of us is sick, we stop what we are doing and we go to them. We pray with each other in our deepest need and our deepest pain. I have learned that you cant love towards someone; you can only love with someone. You cant love without intimacywithout sharing your honest self. Ive learned that love is about showing your weakness to another person, so that they can love you back. Receiving love is just as important as giving it. Ive learned that where there is love, Jesus is there in powerful ways that I sometimes cant even explain. Jesus said that the greatest of these is love and I have learned that He was telling the truth. For when you have love, you also have deep peace, joy and contentment.
How have their lives been affected spiritually?
The great thing about Jesus is that we have an opportunity to develop intimacy with Him. Each of our love relationships with Him will be unique full of our own intimate secrets, pains and joys. Like a wife talking about her husband, we will share with others about the love we have for one another, but we will not reveal the deepest intimacy between us. It is somehow too special, too tender to share with any other person than our lover. Each of my widow friends has a unique love relationship with Jesus. Each lady has seen her heavenly husband do miraculous things for her and her children. When I look into their eyes as they discuss the love and faithfulness of God, I can sense that there is a greater intimacy between themselves and their Savior than I will ever be privileged to know.
All I can say is that becoming a widow in a country where poverty is as common as seeing the sun rise every day either throws you into the arms of Jesus or into total despair and, often times, both. Some of my widow friends were lost in despair and alcoholism before being rescued by our Savior, while others have deepened their love relationship with Jesus as the grief washed over them. Even while all of them are in deep poverty and while most are suffering from HIV and other related illnesses, they still see a God that is goodthat is kindthat is powerfulthat is compassionatethat is a healerthat is a providerthat is an encouragerand most of all that is a lover.
For more information on the Dorcas Widows Ministry and how you can get involved, visit www.dorcaswidows.org or email Kari ([email protected])
Hannah Lythe recently returned from a nine month long trip to Pretoria, South Africa as a First Year Missionary. She worked in an a Children’s Home for HIV/AIDS infected and affected children. She currently attends Boston College as an English and Theology double major. Through this, she hopes to pursue a life of advocacy working towards the spread of God’s love amongst the suffering.