This week's post is written by a good friend of ZOE...Jennifer Adkins. (You may recognize Jenn because she appears in the ZOE video.) Jennifer has been a consultant, research analyst, ombudsperson and an instructor.
As much as she enjoyed participating in all of these roles, she was excited to leave them to go back to school full-time for a PhD., specializing in Race and Ethnic Relations.
Jennifer and her family love living in British Columbia because it’s like a giant playground, open year-round.
She is a gift to us as we work to educate ourselves around the issues of vulnerable women.
by Jennifer Adkins
It’s a dark and rainy December and I’m rushing around feeling pretty overwhelmed.
I try to remember if there was ever a time that I really enjoyed clothes shopping.
Shopping for a Christmas banquet dress, at the last minute, is not my idea of a good time – I had only days before my husband’s work Christmas party and I couldn’t find a thing to wear.
But with my own work, studies, kids, and life in general, who has time to shop for a party dress?
I rush out into the parking lot of the mall frustrated and late.
Just as I approach my vehicle, I see a young woman, with an umbrella, pushing a large stroller with a clear plastic rain resistant covering over it.
She had asked another woman for something and was refused.
She turned in my direction.
I knew what was coming – or so I thought - I’ve heard them all before but had never seen a woman with a child asking for help on the street in Canada.
As this woman came to me, I asked how I could help her.
She told me her story - she was divorced from her husband who was abusive, recently lost her job, had two young kids who she was supporting on her own, and was now at the verge of losing her home.
She expected that she would have to move and find cheaper accommodations but she didn’t want to up-heave her children right before Christmas.
She had a hard time looking for work because when she got interviews, she had no one to care for her daughter who wasn’t school age yet.
There was no money to afford the day care that she used to be able to pay for.
Her story tore me apart inside.
Here I sit, whining about not being able to find a suitable dress for a party and this courageous woman is explaining to me that she will do anything – including beg on the streets, to feed her kids and keep them sheltered.
She had bussed for hours to get to a church that was supposed to be providing bread to people in need, but when she reached the church, she was told it was the wrong day.
We spoke for a long time.
Fretting about me getting soaked in the rain, she quickly moved her umbrella to shelter me as she absorbed the rain instead.
What on earth makes me more worthy of being sheltered and dry?
I had the honour of doing what I could to help her.
As we were saying good-bye, she sobbed, telling me that she had been begging God for days to help her, but he wouldn’t do anything until now.
I told her that sometimes those of us who he’s telling to participate in his work are a bit ‘thick in the head’ and in the heart. I explained that God is working on every one of us, especially those of us that call ourselves Christians.
This woman and many others are marginalized.
Marginalized means that they are pushed to the edges of society.
Marginalized people fail at or are prevented from fully participating in society.
Our society doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, it often functions to benefit and privilege those who need the least help.
This creates a gap between those who have money, protection, power, education, authority and those who do not – leaving those without, excluded and incapable of participating or contributing politically, socially, or economically in the world around them.
They lack access to goods and services, which further increases their chances of living with discrimination, poverty, hardship, and abuse.
People are marginalized based on their skin colour, sex, language spoken, disability, income, and many other characteristics.
Some people have overlapping characteristics, called intersections, which place them deeper into a place of inferiority.
Although I could be and have been marginalized based on the colour of my skin and my sex, other privileges like education and my middle class socioeconomic status, benefit me by opening doors that are closed to many others.
We often go through life turning a blind eye to marginalized individuals.
We basically make them invisible so that we don’t have to think about the inequality that they experience daily.
Now, why did I actually SEE this woman and take the time to listen to her story?
Because I could relate to her.
I saw a mom of two young kids who experienced hard circumstances and ended up in a bad situation.
I could be in the same situation with a twist of events.
This fact opened my eyes and caught my attention.
Now if she had been someone that I had nothing in common with and I couldn’t relate to…if she came from another part of the world… I would likely have turned a blind eye.
When considering people in other parts of the world living in very different societies than ours, we often cannot relate to their lives, making it easy to tune out their cries and turn a blind eye toward their needs.
Jesus is painfully aware of inequalities that exist in both North America and around the world.
He showed us by example how we are expected to love others, regardless of how much we relate to them.
It’s no coincidence that he spent time showing love to and helping the marginalized of his day – women, prostitutes, foreigners, tax collectors, those with disabilities, etc.
So, I have to ask you, what marginalized group have you turned a blind eye to and what do you intend to do about it?
Personally, I know that I have a lot of work to do in this area, and it’ll begin with opening my eyes and my heart.