In this series, Women and Men for Others, I’ve invited people I’ve met over the years to share what God has made known to them about how to use their gifts and life experiences for the good of others, truly putting their prayer into action and living the Ignatian principle of being a person for and with others. This week, Maribeth Anderson, Founder and President of Women InSpirit, Inc., shares about listening to God’s nudges in her life and how that has led her to founding and running an organization that supports and encourages women globally to become all God has called them to be.
What else could I have answered but “yes” when God called me to be present to a young mother in Ghana? After all, isn’t this what I had been praying for? For years I had asked to be shown a meaningful way in which I could give back for the blessings in my life. Locally my journey took me to lunch kitchens and Meals on Wheels, but in the silence of my prayers, I was also asking for “something creative.” As a retired Special Education teacher my sense of creativity had always been the nourishment of my soul.
In 2012, while attending a Theresians International* conference in Accra, Ghana, hosted by our Ghanaian Theresian sisters there, the Holy Spirit more than gently nudged me to reach out to the young mother who had just stood up to tell us her story. Because of her father’s increasing mental illness, Dorcas, as a teenager and the oldest of 5 siblings, had become the breadwinner for her family. By age 20, she was in love, engaged and pregnant. As is Ghanaian custom, she could marry only with the blessing of her fiancé’s family. But that blessing never came, and within weeks of this rejection, his family told her that her fiancé had died and that they wanted nothing to do with her unborn child.
After traveling 500 miles to Accra in search of a better life for her family, Dorcas found a job with a woman who wanted her to prostitute herself because “pregnant girls could good money.” Dorcas refused, but brokered a job to be this woman’s personal assistant. As it turned out, she found herself in a situation of personal slavery and escaped late one night into the bustling streets of Accra.
This is where God intervened with synchronic workings in my life. Miraculously, Dorcas found her way to the office of the recently ordained Archbishop of Accra, Charles Palmer Buckle. Now starving and seven months with child, she was being ushered out of the archbishop’s office just as his sister, Cecilia, and her Theresian friends had arrived to have lunch with him. “Please ladies, take and help this young girl. It is a woman’s issue,” he said to them. Under the care and love of these women, two months later Dorcas would deliver a healthy baby boy whom she would name Charles after the kind archbishop. She soon returned to Bolgatanga to help set up an NGO (non-governmental organization) called Dakella Youth Mothers Organization. Her mission was to educate young mothers in her village who had no sense of direction. Within the five minutes I met with Dorcas, I found myself promising to find 5 people in the USA to help support 5 of the 601 girls that were enrolled in Dakella.
Fast forward 6 years, and today I sit as President and Founder of Women InSpirit, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit educating and empowering young women globally. Our board is made up of of nine dedicated Christian women, along with our Ghanaian Theresian sisters who are “our feet on the ground.” We have served/are serving over 168 women/children ages 2-30, from nursery school, to college, to small business opportunities.
We have established “A Time to Sew Tailoring School” for girls in one of the world’s most toxic e-waste slums in Agbogbloshie, Accra (now referred to as City of God thanks to Archbishop Charles). We started Legacy Academy, an elementary school in 2017 for the children of basket weavers in Sherigu, Ghana. Today Legacy has two completed classrooms (K-2nd graders) and our goal is to continue expanding by one classroom per year, following our 150 children through high school. Eventually we hope to enroll children of families who can pay tuition for the great education we offer. Salima (pictured at her graduation) is our first graduate from tailoring school (as of this month), and will now become the teacher at our new sewing school in Bolgatanga. Classes start the first week of June. She has greatly honored us by calling her school “Women InSpirit Tailoring School.” Full circle!
Along the coast of Accra is a village called Jamestown and near the lighthouse is a place called JayNii Streetwise Foundation. I have befriended Jay and Nii, the parents of two, who have made it their life’s work to support 50 neglected children through school from the shanties nearby. We are presently in process of renovating an unused classroom at JayNii into a sewing school for girls who are elementary and junior high dropouts. We hope to have this school off the ground by August of this year.
I could not have imagined the sense of love, growth, creativity, joy and hope I would experience by saying “yes” to these beautiful women of Ghana. In retrospect it was one the easiest yes’s I have ever uttered. God certainly blesses our ministry’s work daily and with Theresian friends in 8 other countries, we remain open to what God has planned for us as we move forward. But just for today, we continue to follow Mother Teresa’s philosophy of doing small things with great love. Yes it’s a simple philosophy, but to the girls on the receiving end of our the love and support, the impact on their lives is anything but “small”. And as for their future, we hope by the grace of God we will have prepared them to say “yes” to reaching out to others in love and support as they move forward in their lives.
*About Theresians: Theresians International is a spiritual global women’s organization (over 2000 worldwide) founded in 1961 by Monsignor Elwood Voss, in Pueblo, Colorado. Initially begun for the sisters religious, the “working hands” of the Catholic faith, Theresians very quickly invited lay women to join as it became evident that all women needed the small faith communities Theresians offered. The Five Dimensions of spirituality, education, vocation, ministry and community guide monthly gatherings where women support women- reaching out with Gospel values. See the listing of Theresians International communities here.
- What is it that God is calling me to say “yes” to at this time in my life?
- How has God used my past “yeses” in ways that I could not imagine?
- 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 // Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
- Romans 11:29 // God’s irrevocable call
- John 21:15-17 // Feed my sheep
- John 13:15 // Go and do what I have done
- For ways to support Women InSpirit, visit here. Get their full contact information here. Like them on Facebook to see great pictures and more about their work.
- Read more about the toxic e-waste slum in Agbogbloshie, Accra, now referred to as the City of God, where Women InSpirit have a tailoring school.
- Watch videos of the work of Women InSpirit and the beautiful baskets created in Ghana.
- Saying Yes: Read Enact my Yes and the restlessness caused by saying “No” instead of “Yes”. Watch this 3-Minute Retreat on Saying Yes to God.
- More about people for others: Watch this video from Loyola Press explaining more about this Ignatian principle and Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who coined the term.
- Be a part of the Women and Men for Others series. Share with us about a person who is an example to you of what being a person for others means via this simple Google form. Watch for us to share submissions on social media!
Cultivating Space for God Together:
- Lake Tahoe! I’m doing two events in the beautiful Lake Tahoe area June 14-15.
- On June 29 I’m leading the SJA Parent and Alumnae Retreat on Making Hope Real at St Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge.
- I’ll be in Atlanta on August 17 for the Atlanta Catechist Conference
- Join me for a Silent Women’s Retreat August 22-25th near Baton Rouge, LA