Women Without Roofs (WWR) is the charity I set up and run in Nepal that helps vulnerable and abandoned women there by paying for rent and medical bills. We also run a small women’s home and pay for children’s education.
Given that theological reflection occurs as we engage with the world, then this has certainly been the case with WWR. As we have tried to help the women, we have had to consider what we are trying to achieve, this has led us to formulate a biblical vision for our work. We have expressed this by stating that these vulnerable, damaged and abused women should experience from us all the fruit of the spirit and in turn show those to the people around them. Our vision for them is not limited to seeing them become productive members of society, contributing to the local economy, as other secular NGOs might envision, and which we have nothing against, but to meet their deeper needs through the fruits of the spirit. We hope to see them renewed through Gods love, and a by-product of this may be that they become economically independent, but this is not the sole focus of our work. Given that we have cash flow and rely on donations and carry out our work through the giving of grants, we can easily be distracted from these spiritual aims, but our prayer is that we are not. Through regular meetings we reflect on how WWR is doing, each of the trustees in the UK and board members in Nepal is a Christian and we pray for God to guide us in our work. None of us view our task as theological, but in reality it is.
Photo: Fruit grown at our women’s home, a metaphor for the growth we want to see in the lives of the women we help.
Though none of us have articulated it explicitly, we do see our work as part of Mission Dei and in particular as part of God’s desire to redeem fallen humanity and to usher in His Kingdom. All of our staff and board/trustees have a sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves, but I have no idea if the women we help, most of whom are Christian but illiterate, see WWR as fulfilling Missio Dei. Many of them pray and thank God for WWR, so I hope they see themselves as part of a bigger work of God. Some of them have referred other women to us for help – I pray that they see themselves as ‘agents of the Kingdom’ when they do this, and have some notion that they are acting incarnationally, in other words being Jesus to their friends. Our current ambition is to see our staff and women take on more and more responsibility for the work of WWR.
A Board meeting in Nepal. Our board consists of local staff and church pastors
WWR is not considered a church. The women meet together and pray at all WWR gatherings but each of them are part of regular Saturday (the day of rest in Nepal) churches as well. This is the same for the trustees and board members too; WWR is not a substitute for church, but it is an important community for all of us that are involved.
For the trustees and board members, WWR is outward looking, and we do not benefit ourselves from WWR (other than through job satisfaction and meals together!), but for the women who receive the benefits, WWR is not an outward expression of Mission Dei, unless they are able to witness to what God has done in their life through WWR. When they are able to do this though, their witness is contextualised – they speak the same language, look the same, and come from the same background as those around them.
Fellowship around the fire
While evangelism and conversion occur because of WWR’s work, and we are delighted when they do, they are not a primary aim, and in fact we are limited by our governing documents so that no money can be spent on evangelism. These documents are in turn limited by the political environment in Nepal, which currently outlaws conversion. (In theory we could buy a bible for a woman if she were unable to afford one, but we couldn’t pay for leaflets/evangelistic meetings etc.)
Together with other organisations that WWR has worked with, both in Nepal, and fundraising in the UK, we have experienced the diversity and teamwork element of Mission Dei. WWR was birthed from a previous leprosy NGO that continues to operate. God is at work in many ways, raising up Nepalis to tackle the enormous mental health challenges in Nepal, and through British churches with a calling to the world. It has been a privilege to see God’s creative nature in all these groups and to partner with them.
In summary, WWR is one aspect of Missio Dei and the Kingdom of God. It is attempting to be incarnatonal but is not able to fulfil these roles alone and needs other churches, Christians and organisations to join in with. Thankfully God is able to bring about unity so that through these different groups his Missio Dei is achieved and the Kingdom of God is advanced.