In some parts of the world, a woman’s life is filled with violence, desperation, shame, abuse and mistreatment. Many women in Arab-Israel, India and Palestine live such lives and are still treated as second-class citizens. More often than not, widows, women with disabilities, the illiterate, and the elderly are treated worse than the others.
Reaching out with compassion, Bible Societies in these countries have devised Bible engagement programs that empower women. These programs introduce women to the Bible first and then open their mind to the truth that they are valuable in God’s sight and that He has a purpose in their lives. Women are also equipped with literacy skills and offered support groups to encourage them in their faith journey.
Arab-Israel: Magdalena: Empowering Galilean Women
Arab Israeli women are, in general, the most disadvantaged sector of society in the region. They are not only part of an ethno-political minority but they also live in a patriarchal community. They are expected to be silent and to hide behind their husbands. They suffer from discrimination, have less work opportunities, smaller salaries, and are less represented in highly respected jobs. Sadly, many Arab as well as Jewish women, due to lack of awareness, think that they have no value and miss out on their calling and potential.
In 2009, the Arab-Israeli Bible Society started the Magdalena project which aims to empower women and provide them a safe place to address their emotional, spiritual and psychological needs. One of the women who were helped through this program is Cawthar.
Cawthar was forced into an arranged marriage with a man who was alcoholic and abusive. She was miserable but her family couldn’t help. At one point, Cawthar thought about committing suicide. Thankfully, a neighbour invited her to a breakfast meeting organized by partners of the Arab-Israeli Bible Society. Exhausted from her situation, she opened up to the group and asked for prayers and eventually committed her life to Christ.
This displeased her family that they threatened to kill her. But Cawthar testified, “I became brave from reading the Scriptures, especially when I read ‘if God is for us then who can be against us?’ It was a promise from God and I was not afraid to talk about my faith publicly.”
Cawthar started to pray for her family, even for her husband, who was then in prison. After a while her family began to see the changes in her life; they saw that she wasn’t angry or bitter towards her husband. “When I read the Bible I see love,” says Cawthar. “I found out that God does not distinguish between men and women or young and old. I know that God loves everyone equally without discrimination. He loves me for who I am.”
Cawthar now has a new job and a new life. She continues to attend the breakfast meetings where she learns about Jesus and her true worth as a woman.
India: Empowering widows and suffering women
Did you know that there are about 40 million widows in India? That is more than the population of Canada! Daily, these women go through difficulties that emphasize their lack of worth in their society. In India, in general, when a woman loses her husband, she loses her dignity, identity and worth. Delhi psychologist Vasantha Patri described their situation as “physically alive but socially dead.” They are invisible to society.
Counted to their number are the suffering women – those who have been abandoned or abused by their husbands. They have nowhere to go, receive no support from their family and have no hope for a better life.
In a society that shuns widows and abused women, these marginalized women are finding hope and meaning in life through God’s Word. Several years ago, the Bible Society launched a Scripture engagement program focusing on the marginalized women of India. This program uses biblical truths to help women regain their self-esteem and dignity, and teach them skills that help them become productive members of society. Furthermore, the program equips these outcasts to not only live with hope, but also become hope-givers to others.
One widow testified: “Thank you very much for your concern for widows like me. As a Hindu, though I am an engineer by profession, I am nothing because I am a widow. I am considered as someone who is unlucky and therefore, my family members think that to be around me will make their life miserable. Thanks for the Bible given to me. I find that God has a special heart for people like me!”
Palestine: The Living Stones Project
Since 1999, the Living Stones Student Centre has served Palestinians in the Ramallah District, and distributed tens of thousands of Scriptures. With its café style and a garden, it has become a safe place for people looking for Bibles and seeking answers to their spiritual questions. Bibles fly off the shelves so quickly that Living Stone staff have coined the term, “Flying Distribution”!
Despite two arson attacks in the past, the centre remains very active and enjoys strong relationships with local churches. This place is also home to The Living Stones Women’s Group, a ministry that offers Bible-based training to teenage girls. It provides an avenue for teenage girls to engage with the Scriptures on a weekly basis and apply biblical principles in their lives.
Supporting this program will not only help keep the Living Stones Student Centre going, but also keep their shelves stocked with the much-sought-after Bibles.
Conversations about empowering women are now heard everywhere. This is because societies are now learning that women have much to contribute. But this only highlights what the Bible has been teaching all along: everyone, including women, have worth and value. Everyone is special in God’s sight.
Help the Canadian Bible Society and its partners continue to spread this message in Arab-Israel, India and Palestine. Here’s what your support can do:
- $35 can help provide 5 Youth Bibles for distribution at the Living Stones Student Centre in Palestine.
- $50 will provide 10 Bibles to widows in their own language in India.
- $150 will provide Scripture materials to help engage women in Arab-Israel with God’s Word.