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A Day in the Life... Sharon Thomas (My Normal is Someone's Crazy!)

My Normal is Someone’s Crazy!

My regular day starts much like everyone else's - to the sound of the alarm clock! I get up, walk around the house and turn off the outside lights, plug in the fans, turn on the internet box, turn the house alarm system off and make cup of tea and read my bible. I like to have a little time alone before the activity of the day consumes me.

I then get my set of keys and unlock the doors and bars. every window and door has bars. I go for a walk around the outside of the house to make sure the guard dogs were not poisoned during the night. I check the cistern and make sure we will have water to shower and clean with that day. I check the pump that takes the water from ground level to the roof holding tank and make sure it is working properly, this is important because when the power goes off- which it does everyday at some point- there needs to be water. I then check to make sure the guard dogs have water and are fed. I also look around the yard for any fruit that may be ready to be picked- mangos, avocados, cherries, oranges or coconuts-it is nice to find a little blessing to start the day.

It is hard to believe that we have been living in the Dominican Republic for 12 years. We arrived with 3 small children and now two of them have returned to Canada for university. Most people think of beaches and resorts when they think of the Dominican but we are located in a small town where there is no tourism. We are one of the very few foreigners that live here. I like it that way, the real culture, in a normal community without the “vacation-here for pleasure” mind set that destroys so many communities and families close to the resorts.

Each day brings something new- the routine is there is no routine. You just never know what the day will bring. In the morning I home school my daughter. I am not a homeschool mom by choice- but there isn’t another option for her here- up to grade six she attended a Spanish school and was an honours student. But when we were in Canada on furlough she went to public school and they put her in an ESL class. So now we are working with her to bring her English up to grade level so she can complete her high school courses in English.

Our house has a steady stream of people coming and going each day as office staff arrive for instructions, pastors pass by with requests for prayer or materials for ministry. If it is Monday, Freddy the shoe shine boy, my daughter’s childhood friend, stops by for a meal and something to drink as he looks for work in the area.

Once lunch time comes everything stops from 12 to 2 pm. At first this drove me crazy to have this long break in the middle of the day. But now we enjoy the large mid day meal of rice, beans and chicken. It is normally very hot and humid so it is too hot to continue to work during these hours. Once the hottest time of the day has passed we spend the remainder of the day in one of many ways. Sometimes we visit pastors in their homes, or we check on the construction of the homes being built for needy families, or preparing for a conference or seminary that is coming up. Other times we prepare for a team to arrive from Canada.

But for me I love to plan ministry activities for the pastor’s wives and women pastors. Often times they live in very remote areas with very little resources and support. Each month there is something going on! I hold either bible study, a fun girls night with great food and games, or an outreach in their community. One pastor, Marianne, who pastors a little church in the hills outside Nagua, is a great example of the exceptional women of the Dominican Republic. Her church was holding services under a piece of tin outside her house. We came along side her and built a church building and she ran with this new ministry tool. She was holding retreats and activities in her community and it has been forever changed. We saw her one day in the market and she ran over to us-beaming with joy- 30 new people were coming to church now because of the miracle of the new building!!! She now attends our Bible Seminary and continues to reach her community for Christ! Simple tools put in the hands of pastors to help them complete their vision!

We often enjoy a Canadian supper of something that reminds us of home, pizza, tacos or pork chops and potatoes. In the evenings there is very little to do outside of ministry. We are usually visiting a local church or involved a unity service. When there isn’t one -you are at home. There is nothing open at night here outside of restaurants and bars. So we often spend time working on administration for the ministry, or creating family times. We can’t leave our home empty so we can not just decide to go out at any time. If we do need to go out we have to have an armed guard come to watch the house. Two days after arrived back from our furlough our daughter Courtney was outside with her friends, catching up after being away for two months. The we heard a shot right out side our house. We ran to see what was happening. We opened our gate to find our neighbour struggling to take a rifle from a older drunk man who had shot himself in the foot. The children of the neighbourhood had run and hid, except one little boy who was frozen in fear in the middle of the street. Parents came out, the man was taken to the hospital and we all returned to our homes realizing it was only God’s protection that a child was not harmed. So each day we gather together and pray as a family- for God’s continued provision and protection.

Some Relevant Statistics: 

Approximately 30,000 children and adolescent are involved in the sex industry. Two thirds of those are girls. The main reason for entering prostitution is to support themselves, their children or their family.

Teenage pregnancy within the Dominican Republic is high with 13.3% of fifteen to nineteen year olds becoming mothers and 403 babies born to girls under fifteen in 2003. With little opportunities to earn money, girls enter prostitution.

According to a study by Dominican Today, out of 3,400 women, approximately 44% have been victims of domestic violence, with domestic violence defined as both physical and nonphysical abuse.

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3 Easy Ways to Celebrate International Women's Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day!

This is the day when the world pauses to recognize the great strides made towards women's equality around the world. It is also the day to remember how much farther still there is to go. We are blessed in Canada with many freedoms that our global sisters can only imagine. With that blessing comes great responsibility.

The UN and individual nations choose yearly themes. 

This year, Canada’s theme is:

Women’s Empowerment Leads to Equality. 

The UN theme is:

Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality.

Canada believes that “women who are empowered are better equipped to fulfill their potential and contribute their best so society.” They believe that empowerment means having tools that allow women to make better choices. This includes education, community involvement, financial independence, living free from violence, and knowing governmental rights. Having all these things, Canada believes, enriches society.

Did you notice that the four key areas of ZOE's involvement (education, health, economic empowerment, human and sex trafficking) is in line with Canada's goals? We love that! 

You see... God values women. 

In a world where misogynistic attitudes run rampant, women need to hear the truth! The gospel at its very core speaks to the value, worth and dignity of the daughters. Women are image bearers of God and this message is one that vulnerable women need to hear and see demonstrated.

Do you have a passion for women to understand their worth and identity? Do you long to help women thrive? Do you want to see "wrongs" made right? We do, and because we do, we offer opportunities all around the world so that one day women everywhere will only have reasons to celebrate on International Women’s Day!

Here are three easy ways to Celebrate International Women's Day this year!

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A Day in the Life... A Taste of Trujillo - Kim Hodgkiss

A Taste of Trujillo

by Kim Hodgkiss

Four years ago I came to the small coastal community of Trujillo (Tru-HEE-yo), Honduras as a volunteer English teacher. I learned to adapt to the climate, the culture, the food, a new language, a lack of basic services, a myriad of bugs, and many types of isolation. Through it all, God confirmed my calling to share my life and faith with others.

Two years ago I became the director of the residential Training Centre for teenage girls who cannot afford to attend high school. Once a week the students bus in from rural communities outside of Trujillo, travelling from 1-4 hours each way, and stay with us from Monday to Friday. Our two-year program includes vocational training in sewing, including pattern making; cooking, including nutrition and hygiene; computer and business skills, and English. In addition, we teach the Bible and Christian values; many of our girls come to know Jesus personally and grow in their faith during their time with us. It is amazing to see them blossom before our eyes!

Left: Girls at the Training Centre - changed for this life and eternity! 

Right: Teens learn marketable skills and Christian values.

As an added benefit, our graduates receive treadle sewing machines to take home to their villages as a potential source of income. For those who are academically inclined, we offer scholarship. Past grads have helped support themselves through sewing and have gone on to study in careers such as Tourism, Business, or Computer Technology.

Despite our weekly schedule at the Centre, no day is ever the same. Seemingly mundane tasks can take a turn, circumstances change at a moment's notice, and one always has to be ready to bend. I often joke about how daily life in Trujillo is an adventure. As an example, here I outline "A Day in the Life" - what I did yesterday - to give you a taste of Trujillo.

6:00 am

- Throw in a load of laundry even through it is raining and I can't hang it to dry. For the past several weekends we haven't had running water and have no tanks for storage at the house, so i need to take advantage of having both electricity and water at the same time.

6:45 am

- Meet with Juan, our new watchman and groundskeeper. Juan has a passion for yard work and is undertaking a big clean up on our beachfront property as well as regular maintenance at the Centre. He and Berta moved in last month and it is a blessing to have them on the team!

7:15 am

- Breakfast at the Centre, touch base with our housemothers, Rosa and Lidia.

7:45 am

- Share devotional Heb 11:1 "Faith is being sure of what we hope for." Recount the faith of George Mueller, evangelist and orphanage director who cared for over 10,000 orphans in the late 1800s while never asking for support from anyone but God. Also tell the story of the villagers plagued with drought who gathered at the church to plead with God for rain, and only one small boy had the faith to bring an umbrella. Help us Lord to demonstrate our faith as well!

8:15 am

- Teach English class to 2nd years, 1st years continue pattern making and sewing.

9:00 am

- Part way through our class, Cablevision comes to install a new system.

10:00 am

- Search in vain for a spark plug for the weed eater. Pray the old one into action again. Bring Juan gas for the lawnmower. Most of the streets in town are dug up, and mud is flowing in the rain. The construction isn't marked, so I end up circling around and backing up for blocks when the roads end in a chasm or a pile of broken cement.

10:45 am

- Return to the Centre, sign the birthday cards for three of the girls, wrap their gifts of soap, shampoo, lotion, etc.

11:15 am

- Up to the bank - can I make it in time? Nope, not enough time to get through the line.

Noon

- Come back for the birthday party - celebrating three who were born this month. For many of our girls it will be the only birthday celebration they have.

Top: Core staff bonding time - back: Rosa, Dilma; front: Lidia, Santiaga, me.

Bottom: Celebrating birthdays on the beach! For most of the girls, this will be their only celebration. 

2:00 pm

- Computer teacher taught extra classes the day before, so we're free to take the cupcakes to the beach (it's still sprinkling off and on). We visit a local restaurant, and the girls squeal with delight on the water slide and enjoy the lounge chairs while the teachers relax around the covered tables.

3:30 pm

- The girls practice their dances while I head back to the bank for the mid month pay. I remember the pharmacy and pick up drops for the dog's eye infection. Prepare the bus fares for this morning.

4:30 pm

- Give English test to the first years while the second years make supper.

5:30 pm

- Enjoy supper of refried beans, grated white cheese, flour tortillas and a slice of avocado. Mmm!

I've come to love the traditional meal of beans and tortillas!

6:00 pm

- Review the dances and select the best ones to perform.

6:30 pm

- Mark the tests and record the grades. Meet with a scholarship student and review her grades too.

7:00 pm

- Youth group - the girls perform three songs.

The girls ministering in dance at the youth group.

9:00 pm

- Arrive home. Give Juan the medicine for the dog, retrieve my laundry, and hang it all indoors over chairs and railings and set the fans to dry it.

9:30 pm

- Prep for tomorrow, and relax!

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2015 ZOE Highlights and Looking Forward to 2016!

Happy New Year from ZOE!

What a year 2015 was...and it all happened so fast!

We thought it would be good to review the 2015 highlights, as we look forward to 2016.

What happened in 2015?  Here are some highlights:

  • In January,a group of 200 hundred students from University Christian Ministry in British Columbia raised over $3000 for ZOE!  It was invested with Monique Shaw, as she ministers to women in the sex industry in Kolkata, India.  Incredible!
  • In February, we took a group of 11 women from various parts of Canada on our first ever Short Term Mission to the Dominican Republic where we worked with female leaders in the church and community.  What a life changing experience. 
  • Over the year, we partnered on four different Women's Leadership events across Canada...in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Langley and Calgary.  There is a growing interest and hunger for women to be empowered in their communities in Canada, as well as abroad.
  • We believe in women!  And so we provided scholarships for female students in India, Ukraine and Kenya.
  • In April, we visited Zambia and connected with Steve Bowler, who works to alleviate the suffering of rape victims in Malawi.
  • In June, we toured the Yangon Bakehouse and saw first hand the ZOE investment of the industrial kitchen that benefits the skills training program for women in Myanmar.  That was a highlight!
  • In August, we launched ZOE Leadership.  God is as it work in our world and we believe that all are invited to participate with Him in it.  We want to help women see the part they can play and rise up with courage and confidence.  We have had ZOE leadership groups from BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec! Interested? MORE INFO HERE
  • This fall we saw local groups engage like never before...using what is in their hand to bring awareness of the needs of women worldwide and then raise funds to invest in ZOE.  It was very exciting!  
  • In December, we did the "Advent Challenge"...which encouraged women to engage in women's issues as we prepared for Christmas.  We hope that it was a blessing to you.  

All in one year...whew.

What is next in 2016?

  • We will continue to build our ZOE partnerships and give Canadians tangible opportunities to be informed and strategically engage with global women's issues. ZOE PROJECT PARTNERS
  • We will promote the IDENTITY course through ZOE Leadership...and launch the second course called TOGETHER.
  • We are excited to translate the IDENTITY course into FRENCH!  Want to help with this?  DONATE HERE
  • A "ZOE Toolkit" is in development...so that local leaders can easily engage and educate those around them in their community.

Leanne McAlister

It is going to be good!

Are you in?

Leanne and the National ZOE Team

P.S. Amazing things are on the other side of COURAGE...what are you waiting for?

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The 2015 ZOE Christmas Challenge is ON!

Yesterday, I sat in Starbucks working on "all things ZOE" to the sound of Christmas music! I am so not ready...

True confessions:  I am the girl who doesn't play Christmas music until December 1st and the tree doesn't go up until at least the 10th.

So the sound of Christmas music on November 12th was shocking and served as a "wake up call" to get organized!  I sent out a Facebook message to my kids (on behalf of Mrs. Claus...my alter-ego during December) so that she can started.

So how are your Christmas plans shaping up?

We would love for you to include ZOE in your Christmas Preparations. This year we, together, will "Give the Gift of Empowerment!"

What is Empowerment?

Empowerment means giving someone what they need to succeed...it can include knowledge, tools, resources, networks, encouragement and even permission!  

Empowerment is at the heart of Sharon Thomas’ work with female leaders in the Dominican Republic. This Christmas we are partnering with Sharon to strategically empower and support women in that nation.  We are delighted that $120 will support one woman in her leadership journey in the DR in 2016.  What an incredible investment! 

Are you up for the challenge?

  • Which women are you going to gather with between now and Christmas?  Is there a potluck?  A Christmas tea?  A cookie exchange?  How could you together sponsor a woman in her leadership development?
  • Instead of buying more “stuff”(really don’t we all have enough?), maybe your family could sponsor a woman.
  • How about an Advent Challenge? 
    • Could you set aside $30 per week for the four weeks of Advent?  This is the cost of a meal…or an outfit.  This could be a practice to remind yourself about true priorities through the season.

What will you do?

Tweet us…using the hashtag #ZOEChallenge and let's together "get this done!"

DONATE HERE

Happy Planning! - Leanne

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Haitians call me "Mama Boss" - A Day in the Life of Brigitte

We are pleased to begin a fun series on the ZOE blog that we are calling "A Day in the Life."  Have you every wondered what an average day looks like for our ZOE Partners?  We have.  

Over the next few months we will be invited into the everyday lives of ordinary women doing extraordinary things.  We begin today with Brigitte, who lives and serves in Haiti. Have a read...

by Brigitte

Haitians call me “Manman boss.” The reason is likely because I am passionate about children and I can get by doing many things. This has been a passion of mine since I was 9 years old. At that time I was touched by God in a moment of prayer. Since that day I have felt a burden for poor and unloved children. It was 30 years later that I experienced God’s plan for my life.

In 2013 I came to live in Port-au-Prince with my family. My husband is a pastor and I am supporting families of young children. We are also train young Christian leaders. We have a heart to help them develop their gifts and talents for God, so that they are transformed and have an impact in their country. I also work with the children of the church “La Forteresse” (The Fortress). I teach the Bible to 150-200 children under the age of 6. I love to console them and pray with them so that they can receive Jesus in their heart and so that Jesus will be their best friend.

I also set up a project called “Manman Se La Vi.” A few afternoons a week, along with Stephanie, I visit pregnant women and new mothers in their homes to help them thrive in their new role as mothers. My plan for the next year is to hire a doctor and regularly offer workshops for parents on all matters affecting motherhood. All this is done by integrating the Word of God and sharing the love of Jesus; This is the purpose of our mission.

However, I must tell you that I never thought I would be able to drive a truck, especially not in the streets of Port-au-Prince! I also never thought I would be able to repair a faucet, run a generator, or understand the function of an inverter. Or even to learn another language, be able to barter at a market selling vegetables, or accept living in another culture, but yet I have!

I learned to do things that I thought I was incapable to learn! Have you ever experienced a situation like this? I thought myself incapable, but because God put on my heart to do things for the people of Haiti, He gave me the ability to do so. Is it easy? No, it is very difficult! But is it worth it? Yes, without any hesitation! The every day life as a global worker is certainly a series of adventures, but I would encourage you to believe that “I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.” Let God prove that you can do more than you ever thought possible.

In a few days, my children will move back to Canada. This is a difficult reality that still drives me in my personal limits, but again I believe that God’s grace will be with us since “all things work together for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).

You wonder why I continue? Because my heart burns for Haiti. I want Jesus’ love to be near to the children like a “p’tit nounours” (little teddy). I want His love to fill Christelle, who is an orphan waiting to be accepted and loved, and for Sherbie, who has a servant heart, and Mona, who is a young woman with a beautiful heart. Despite these girls’ rather sad histories, to God they are pearls of great value.

Brigitte

Further with Jesus, Highest thanks to God

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The Incredible Difference a Pad Can Make!

Menstrual kits being distributed in South Sudan

One of our ZOE Partners, Transformation Textiles recently shared incredible pictures from a recent project they are involved with in the 'no Go Zone' region of the Nuba mountains in South Sudan.  Through Persecution Project 2000 Dignity Kits were distributed in the area.  Those distributing the kits said that many of the women wept when they received them

Dignity Kits - Complete with washing bucket

It is hard for us to imagine, but...

How would you manage your period if you did not have access to sanitary supplies?

To what lengths would you go to avoid shame every month?

  • In East Africa, 80% of women lack access to pads (This amounts to 60M women)
  • 43% are under 15 years old (25.8M)
  • 1 in 10 adolescent girls miss school during menses
  • 60% of girls drop out of secondary school – twice the rate of boys – and are half as likely to be employed as adults.

Who knew that reusable menstrual pads could make such a difference in a woman's life?

Want to do something to help?  Donate HERE!

Educational Opportunities

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If only I can get educated, I will surely be the president.

“If only I can get educated, I will surely be the president.”

 - A teenage girl in rural Malawi

“There is no more valuable investment than in a girls’ education.”

 - Ban Ki Moon, secretary-general,  United Nations

Yesterday many of us sent our children back to school.  (Was it just me or could you hear the collective sigh of relief from coast to coast to coast?)   In some parts of the world, too many girls stayed home because school was not an option. 

According to a Global Economy and Development Paper distributed by the U.N.,

"Educating a girl is one of the best investments her family, community, and country can make. We know that a good quality education can be life-changing for girls, boys, young women, and men, helping them develop to their full potential and putting them on a path for success in their life. We also know that educating a girl in particular can kick-start a virtuous circle of development. More educated girls, for example, marry later, have healthier children, earn more money that they invest back into their families and communities, and play more active roles in leading their communities and countries." Read the full paper HERE.   (Highly recommended, particularly if you are a research nerd.)

While there have been great strides made in recent decades to increase access to education for girls, there continues to be "hot spots" where the significant hurdles remain.

What we can we do?  Here are two ideas:

1. Value Education

In my travels I am always struck by how deeply valued education is around the world.  When it is costly, girls and women make huge sacrifices in order to access it.  By contrast, we take it for granted...treating it as a given (because it kind of is) and by not always putting our best work forward.  I think we have so much to learn from our global sisters.  Make education a priority in your life and in the lives of your daughters.  Encourage the women around you to take advantage of the incredible opportunities to learn and grow.  Be their greatest cheerleaders as they stretch themselves in learning.  Education can open doors that are spectacular! 

2. Invest in the Education of Global Women

Through ZOE Scholarships you can invest in the education of women TODAY!  We provide partial scholarships to high capacity women who are proven change agents in their communities. 

Donate HERE.

Keep growing!

Leanne

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What Difference Empowerment Makes!

ZOE partners with Kim Hodgkiss in Tujillo, Honduras, where she runs a vocational training school and discipleship program for vulnerable young women.  Recently we heard from Kim as she reported on how some of the participants (past and present) are doing.  It is amazing to put names and faces to the incredible work that Kim is involved in.  Here are some highlights!

After a recent visit to a working farm, fifteen year old Nora, who will be graduating from the program this year was inspired saying she would love to do this kind of work in the future.  With her love of animals and the outdoors and her physical strength, she is a natural!  Her classmate Hilda is interested in studying agriculture and animal husbandry.

What a delight it was to see these girls light up as they glimpsed future possibilities!

Angelica

After graduation, Angelica went on to pursue a three year Hotel and Tourism course.   Through the years she has been making and altering clothes on the sewing machine she received upon her graduation from Kim's program.  This is allowing her to pay for her schooling costs.

One the scholarship students, Sandra, who is studying Small Business Administration is supporting herself with work in a small cafe in the city.  She is essentially managing the cafe: cooking, serving, receiving cash and ordering supplies.  She hopes to use what she is learning to open her own business in the future!

What a difference empowerment makes!  Interested in helping?  Donate HERE.

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This is How I Lead - Linda Veldhuizen

This Is How I Lead is a series on the ZOE Blog.  We love learning from others...so we have asked some good questions of great female leaders across the globe.  We hope it will inspire you in your own leadership!  If you have some questions for these women, post it in the comments section. 

This week we feature Linda Vedhuizen.  We recently visited with Linda while we were in Asia.  Linda is the Director of Noah's Ark Ministries, located in Banaue, Ifugao, Philippines. She has been in the Philippines for the past 25 years and founded Noah's Ark Ministries, which runs a temporary Home for Children for orphaned, abandoned, malnourished, special needs and educationally disadvantaged children. Through this ministry the children are given a chance for a brighter future and have an opportunity to come into a relationship with God. Noah's Ark Ministries also provides educational scholarships to students, many of them young women. 

Linda is a hero to us! 

Who are you?  

I am Linda Veldhuizen working as a Global Worker for the PAOC.

 

Where do you minister?

I minister in a remote town nestled in the mountains of the northern Philippines.

 

How long have you worked with vulnerable women?

I have been working with vulnerable women in particular young people for the past 25 years.

 

Using three words, how would you describe your leadership style?

Passionate, Servant, Example

 

How do you go about empowering women in your context?

I am empowering women by providing a high school and college education for children who live in Noah’s Ark Home for Children.  These youth are from broken and very poor families.  Without our help they would not be able to complete even their high school education.  I believe education empowers women to be able to get a better job and to provide for their future families and end the cycle of poverty.

I am also empowering our staff in Noah’s Ark home by giving them a job and encouraging them through the personal difficulties they are facing.

 

Who has been your greatest influence in your development as a leader?  (Dead or Alive)

One of the greatest influence in developing my personal leadership is Rev. Gaye Norrie who has been a great influence in my life since I was 18 years old.

 

What specific ways have you worked to develop your skills?

I read books but mostly I develop my skills working through everyday situations that arise.  I have learned by making mistakes and developing what works in this culture.

 

What is the greatest need you see in women around you?

Most of the women I know here have a great desire to work hard and to provide for their families.  The problem they are facing is that there are no jobs and they do not have the capital to start their own business etc.  They seem stuck in the circle of poverty.

 

If someone wanted to get involved, what could they do to help?

They could help by maybe sponsoring a woman here to start a business.

If you are interested in helping Linda through ZOE Projects...donate here.

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