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Our Faith, Like Margaret’s

There are days when my faith, my belief in a creator who loves and guides me, wanes. I don’t like to admit this but I am endowed, so it seems, with a more than adequate dose of skepticism and doubt about many things spiritual. From Margaret, however, I have just drunk a cup of pure, nourishing water on the journey of faith.

MCC Nigeria works with Home Makers by giving a small ($5,000) annual grant. Margaret Ahmed is the energy, the organizing, creative and visionary force behind Home Makers. She leads this small initiative staffed solely by volunteers to teach rural women skills that will help them start and successfully run small businesses.

She founded Home Makers after observing the plight of so many women who want to help provide for their families but have little education or tangible opportunities to do so. Home Makers trains women one Saturday a month throughout nine states in Nigeria.

Margaret and her volunteers teach women how to make bread, doughnuts, laundry soap, hair and body creams, along with how to tie and dye fabric and fashion bead jewelry. Women who exhibit skill, commitment and trustworthiness are given small loans. More than 90 percent are repaid. Home Makers teaches women the basics in bookkeeping and holds seminars on other issues facing women who raise families and operate small businesses at the same time. Home Makers works.

I attend the trainings about once a year, and I love seeing the look of total concentration as women learn to mix simple ingredients for body cream or hearing their astonished exclamations when Margaret opens the simple steel drum oven to reveal beautifully browned, steaming bread.

Margaret writes impact stories as part of her regular progress reports, and they are filled with testimonies of real women who moved from desperation and poverty to hope as they improved the lives of their families by these small businesses.

Many women report making a $20-30 a month profit. While not much by our standards, this extra income makes a huge difference in the kind of food mothers can afford to buy and in the quality of schools their children can attend.

But unknown to many, Margaret sacrifices to serve with Home Makers. A skilled, educated woman who has proven herself in successful businesses, she does not take a steady salary from individual donations that, along with the extra trainings she conducts for church groups all over Nigeria, keep Home Makers afloat. Recently, donations have decreased, evidence of the economic crisis taking root in Nigeria too.

In addition, a major church denomination has been wooing Margaret to take a full-time position with them to develop and run their brand new Women’s Skills Training Center. To do so would mean a steady salary. The job looked like a perfect fit for Margaret, except that it would clearly distract her from her already full-time work of running Home Makers and ministering to the rural women whom she believes need her most.

Margaret shared this job offer at a recent advisory committee meeting which I attended. You could tell she was struggling with the offer, stating that "All work is God’s work, right?"

After that meeting I impulsively wrote Margaret an e-mail. I shared my respect for her and how she and her husband have chosen a very trusting, simple lifestyle so that they could serve Christ.

I asked her though, what she honestly heard God was calling her do. I was troubled that the work of Home Makers, so valuable, would not continue if Margaret’s focus and energy were taken by the demands of full-time work with a major church organization. But as I pounded out this email, I had nothing tangible to offer Margaret. In these economic times, MCC could not increase their grant to Home Makers.

A few days later Margaret replied, stating that she knew God wanted her to move forward with training and encouraging rural women and that she had decided to trust God (again) with her life. However, she noted, she had no money to pay for their daughter’s school fees, but that she would trust God about that too.

Well, I felt awful. I had encouraged Margaret to go deep and sort out what God was saying to her, but I had had no idea that the sacrifice might be her own daughters’ education. My immediate impulse was to send her personal money, but I refrained, knowing this can be problematic in its own way.

I had to sit with my discomfort and frustration not just with my relative wealth but living in an oil-rich country so neglectful of its citizens. Those with integrity and service born out of love for God often struggle while corruption means others line their pockets and deny Nigerians basic services and rights.

But during the next several weeks I received several cell phone texts or emails from Margaret. "I am in Nassarawa State doing a training for 48 women. I have a peace and joy (about my decision). Greet your family."

Then an e-mail: "My girls are back to school and our house is stocked with enough food to last a year." Women attending her workshops had donated the food and given her a love offering allowing her to return her girls in school. A little later Margaret came in to thank me for writing that email of concern. I was speechless. What Margaret taught me deserves far greater gratitude.

While intellectually struggling and scared, Margaret still trusted the call of God for her life. She chose to stay the course; she knows at a deep level it is clearly marked for her. She is quietly continuing her unique calling with dignity and joy. She trusts God to provide the food on her table, the rent, her daughters’ school fees. She trusts God for everything and she believes in abundance flowing - that somehow there will always be enough to go ‘round.

I think of Margaret now on days when I wonder why I am in Nigeria and how it is that God called me here. Or when my writing seems dull and useless. Or when the office tasks seem chaotic and unfocused. Or when I worry about our future after MCC or road risks or another violent crisis being triggered.

Along with other friends, both here and in North America, who share their gut-wrenching concerns right along with their deep belief that the Spirit of Life leads and loves them, Margaret helps keep me on course. She helps me trust that—even while sometimes and necessarily questioning and doubting—I am doing what I am uniquely asked to do, right here, right now.

Brenda Hartman-Souder, Jos, Nigeria, serves as co-representative of Mennonite Central Committee Nigeria and, along with spouse Mark, as parent of Valerie and Greg.