Friends, you are in for a treat! I met Amy Bardi back in 2011. I was home on furlough from Zambia, and I heard about this amazing chick who, while studying Fashion and Merchandising at the University of SC, had been given a vision for reaching and changing the lives of vulnerable women in Zambia. That same year she had founded Clothed in Hope, an organization whose mission is to empower women in Zambia through education and economic opportunity. I highly encourage you to jump over here and read her story. In July of 2012, after graduating from college, Amy moved to Zambia all by herself, and, with a little divine intervention and a heck-of-a-lot of perseverance, saw her vision become reality! Amy and her sweet, still newly-wed husband, Wyatt, have just transitioned back to the States where they will live and continue to run Clothed in Hope. I know you will love her heart and her perspective as she shares with us today. Enjoy! ~Kerri
On September 12th of this year, we held our fourth graduation ceremony in Lusaka, Zambia, for eight brave women who successfully completed our Clothed in Hope skills-training course.
In the middle of a dusty compound in the urban capital of Zambia sits our Chikondi Community Center, our Home of HOPE for vulnerable women in the area. We offer free skills-training classes in sewing and entrepreneurship to empower and alleviate poverty in a dignifying, sustainable way. Women in our program have suffered the death of their husbands at 40 years old due to highly preventable diseases. Their babies have been murdered in the hospital due to corruption. They have been poisoned because they have AIDS and are “taking up bed space” at the clinic. They endure daily domestic abuse. They face hunger, uncertainty, harassment from landlords, and the list could go on and on. These are women IN our program, currently working through what will be and what is a life-changing path for them and their families (more info: clothedinhope.org).
I won’t even go into the situation of women who aren’t in our program, because the need is overwhelmingly devastating. Just imagine a mom selling her body nightly because her 6 babies are very hungry and she can’t pay rent from month to month. Not because she wants to, but because to her it seems there is absolutely no other option (…until she finds out about Clothed in Hope, praise Jesus).
This reality can seem a world away to those of us not in Zambia, even to me at times, especially now that I’m based back in the US to provide administrative and financial support to our amazing (diva-status) in-country staff.
But that Graduation Day in September struck a chord within me and started a burning in my heart, and not just one for the Zambian women facing seemingly impossible situations (since that fire’s been burnin’ for quite some time now).
As I sat at the front of our Chikondi Community Center yard under our Ceremony Tent (don’t ask, just roll with the Zambian cultural differences), I peered out over the 60+ women who have graduated from, are gradating from, or are currently enrolled in our skills training program that began as a dream in my college apartment in 2010.
The dance breaks were so fun. The skits presented were powerful yet hilarious (I love how much they love acting like “Mama Amy” with her accent and over-usage of “awesome”). But the real magic started happening toward the end of the ceremony.
In the middle of our dusty compound sat 8 women who have achieved much, and were dressed to the nines full of confidence and beauty. Nothing outside the walls mattered except the accomplishments of these women. Women recognized for the first time in their entire lives.
I called each woman to the Ceremony Tent to receive her diploma, a giant hug (a big deal since I’m not a hugger, but I couldn’t miss out on these hugs y’all), and a few goodies from our In-Country Staff. The reaction was contagious.
One woman, Stella, rockin’ a custom made African print dress that fit her impeccably, rose from her chair when she was called. Her hands lifted high in the air in praise to Jesus. She just froze in a moment of intimate adoration, and we were all so honored to experience that moment with her. Then as quickly as hands were raised, Stella busted a move all the way up to the tent (also cultural, but also awesome). She danced, she cheered, she laughed, she rejoiced. And when she arrived at the tent, she fell to her knees before Jesus thanking Him for what He’s done in and through her life over the past 12 months of this program, and her entire life leading up to this moment. When she rose, she threw her arms around my entire body for what could be up there for one of the best hugs of my entire life (sorry hubs).
All that, so magical. So beautiful. But the true, awe-inspiring, challenging-to-my-soul beauty began when Stella turned away from the tent to return to her seat. The entire crowd of 60+ people cheered! They shouted! They danced! They raised their hands in praise! They ran up to her and hugged her so tightly. They celebrated her with the most selfless love.
They didn’t celebrate because they knew their celebration was coming later. Some have already graduated with much smaller graduation ceremonies. Some may never graduate due to life situations calling them elsewhere. They celebrated Stella simply because they love her. When she wins, we all win. When her life is changed, we all rejoice in that.
I’m not a huge (public) crier, but tears of joy welled up multiple times that afternoon. The sheer joy these women had in the ability to celebrate each other was just breathtaking and heart-bursting.
Maybe we can write it off as another cultural thing. Everyone knows Africans (Zambians) take care of their own and are huge on community, right? Maybe it’s just how they are. But what if we look past culture to see our commonality of humanity?
That perhaps this response is Jesus-rooted instead of culturally-rooted.
I left that ceremony almost a month ago, but it hasn’t left my mind ever since.
What would it look like for me to celebrate Jesus working in and through my friends’ lives like my friends in Zambia do for each other? What would it look like for me to truly celebrate others without a tinge of jealousy or expectation or comparison?
When my best friend launches a College Women’s Connect as the women’s ministry pioneer at her church and witnesses over 40 women attend on Thursday nights, my heart cheers, but can’t my body and my voice too?! YES! PRAISE JESUS! YOU GO GIRL! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! YOU ARE SO BRAVE FOR STEPPING OUT AND I LOVE WITNESSING JESUS WORK THROUGH YOU!
When my friend returns home from a third-world country after a really rough time adopting her two beautiful girls, I can send her a nice Facebook message, showing that I care but keeping my true celebration at a distance. Or I can scour the aisles of Target for an hour in search of the perfect presents for her and her two girls to send across the country to let her know that they’re not forgotten. That they’re loved. That though the transition is hard, I am cheering for her. Jesus is cheering for her.
How did community/friendship become such that we dial down our celebrations and over-the-top reactions for each other? Maybe we’re getting older and balloons aren’t age appropriate anymore (but they totally are). Maybe social media tricks us into believing we’re connecting with someone. Or maybe social media introduces us to these nasty things called comparison and jealousy, and we don’t celebrate each other because we haven’t received that celebration ourselves. She didn’t celebrate me, so why would I celebrate her?
We could go through every scenario and probably come up with a reason as to why we don’t celebrate each other like we could. But what Jesus has been revealing to my soul over and over since that Graduation Ceremony, is that there’s simply no good reason to not celebrate accomplishments and traits in my friends and strangers. Because He celebrates over me daily. He sings and dances over my identity, apart from any progress I do or don’t make with my personal struggles. He cheers me on as His daughter, no strings attached, simply because I am His daughter and He is so proud of me as a person, apart from CiH or anything I do. His price for me invites the most glorious celebration.
Because He celebrates over me, I will celebrate over others. Maybe even in the Zambian way because that seems to be more fun.
I will hug when I don’t feel inclined to because I know the story that a stranger just told me took a lot of bravery for her to share. I will send my friend excessive emojis and too many words in all caps when she beasts a job interview. I will tell the barista that I really love her ring, because I do, and because she deserves to be celebrated.
When I open my eyes and start looking around this world, sure there’s a lot of pain. I absolutely get that. My past year and a half has been filled with more pain that I ever thought I could endure.
But I also see so much celebration and potential for celebration. So many parties, so many hugs, so many dances, so many affirming words. We, as daughters of the King, have the opportunity to be Jesus to each other with the Holy Spirit alive within us. Why not let the celebration we feel within just explode, raining glitter on all who we come in contact with? We all know that glitter is pretty dang hard to get out of much of anything. And I would be totally fine knowing that each person carries the glitter of Jesus’ celebration with them every day, no matter the challenges ahead. No matter if it’s hunger and abuse they face, or a broken relationship, or a tough financial situation, or just a bad hair day.
Let’s learn a thing or two from our dear sisters in Zambia. Enough is enough for these subtle gestures of support. Let’s go big, go bright, go loud, and go glittery in celebration of people of the world.
Click on the picture to visit Clothed in Hope. Check out the mission, the pictures, the stories, and browse the store for some fabulous pieces designed and made by CiH’s courageous women!