*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
It wasn’t unusual for me to receive hugs from people I didn’t know. Nigerians are warm, friendly people. But this particular hug is one I pull often from my bank of memories. I arrived at the campus of the seminary where my husband served as president and pastor of the local church. A lady grabbed me in a bear hug, jumping up and down in excitement. I responded as politely as I could, though I didn’t quite recognize her face. As she explained our connection, her face lit up with joy and tears streamed down my own.
Hannatu* was a widow. When her husband died, rather than receiving help from Paul’s family, they came to collect her possessions and force her from her home. And because she had no means of supporting her children, her husband’s family took them from her as well. She was now homeless with only a few articles of clothing and paltry household items. Though her husband had formerly cared her for, she now had to fend for herself. No longer having the status of “wife,” she was reduced to the shame of “outcast.” In the months after Paul’s death, she found a bit of work and shared a tiny room with roommates. She used communal bathing facilities and cooked insufficient meals over an open fire utilized by several families. Though her circumstances were not unusual for her culture, the longing for her husband and children was more than she could bear.
Hannatu received a notice that our seminary and church were hosting a Widow’s Conference free of charge. Along with nearly 500 other widows (some as young as 18 years old), she received three days of warm meals, a mat to sleep on, a physical, and an eye exam. An attorney explained her legal rights. She received personal prayer and counseling, and she heard the Word of God. She was given a Bible and enough cloth to make a lovely new outfit. Already a Christ-follower, Hannatu was greatly encouraged, and was strengthened by fellowship with other ladies in circumstances similar to hers.
During the conference, Hannatu attended a microenterprise workshop. She learned how to bake a type of bread a bit different from what was readily available in her community. And she received the ingredients to bake the first batch. Upon arriving home, Hannatu baked her bread and quickly sold it for a profit. Her new business began to thrive and she expanded her inventory. With each sale, her quality of living improved. She was no longer living hand to mouth. She was able to rent better accommodations. She was no longer depressed and discouraged.
The day Hannatu embraced me so joyously, she had good reason. Because of her newly improved circumstances, she now had sufficient funds to raise her children and send them to school. Though Paul was still absent, she was once again part of a family unit and was empowered to embrace her role as mother.