Sisters in Service, Part 1
About the Guest
On the broadcast today, Michele Rickett, the founder and president of Sisters in Service, a ministry that informs, mobilizes and equips advocates to reach women and children in the least Christian regions, tells Dennis Rainey more about her ministry and about some of the women who are standing for Christ in their homelands despite persecution. Hear how you can get involved in the "March 4 Moms" taking place May 12.
Michele RickettMichelle Rickett is founder and president of She Is Safe (formerly known as Sisters In Service), an international ministry mobilizing advocates to equip women against poverty, oppression, exploitation and spiritual darkness in the world's hardest places through practical grassroots projects. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, she is also coauthor (with husband Daniel) of a Bible study course that graduates mentors called Ordinary Women (Wine Press, 2001) and a contributing author to A Celebration of Wom...more
Michele Rickett tells more about about some of the women who are standing for Christ in their homelands despite persecution.
Sisters in Service, Part 1
Michelle: This woman was destitute in every way that a woman could be destitute. She had punished herself for 15 years for leaving her children with a crazy man, and she came into my home for the weekend and stayed seven months, and it was during that time that I was able to do for her what somebody had done for me – open the door of their home to me and shown me the Gospel, the love of God in the face of a woman.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 3rd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. The woman that Michelle Rickett met, the stranger who she led to Christ, was the mother who had abandoned her 15 years before. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. Anybody who has heard the story of Joseph in the Bible knows about the circumstances in Joseph's life that were miserable circumstances and yet God was behind the scenes in all of that, and there is the great line at the end of Genesis where Joseph looks at his brothers who had sold him into slavery and left him for dead, and he says "You meant it for evil but God meant it for good," and we're going to hear a story like that on today's program.
Dennis: We are, we are, Bob, and I'm just glad there is that but – but God can and does use our woundedness for His good. Michelle Rickett joins us on FamilyLife Today. Michelle is the CEO, founder, and president of Sisters in Service, which is an innovative ministry that reaches out to women all around the world and here in the United States, especially moms, isn't that right? You're trying to protect women in this country who are struggling today, is that right, Michelle?
Michelle: Our primary mission is among the unreached women and children, but I preach all the time to women to have a heart for overseas, but we start with the lady across the pew and the lady across the street and around the world. So most of our work is done overseas, but I never want to ignore the fact that there are hurting moms right here in the United States as well.
Bob: Well, that's what spawned the event that's going to take place next weekend on the day before Mother's Day when you've got moms in Atlanta and in other cities, right?
Michelle: That's right.
Bob: Who are going to on a Walk for Moms the day before Mother's Day.
Michelle: That's right. My desire for the women of my church is how can we begin to demonstrate to the world the things that we are for? We are for motherhood. We really believe that moms are important. In our country, though, right now, 59 percent of all children are born to single moms. One-third of all mothers in the United States are single right now. There are 1.4 million born to single moms; 40 percent of those moms are in their 20s; and half of those live in poverty.
So we want to, as Christian women, rise up, flow out of our churches, and say, "We care for these moms, we pray for you, we want God to bless you, and we are going to help you." It's a sponsored walk, so we're raising the awareness of what Christians do about some of the troubles in the world.
Bob: We've got a link on our website at FamilyLife.com where folks can get more information about this event, what you're doing, find out more, and maybe even participate in their own neighborhood with other moms or other women in your church.
Just go to FamilyLife.com, and there's a red button in the middle of the home page that says "Go" on it, and if you click that button, you'll find a link to the site where you can get more information about the upcoming Walk for Moms on the day before Mother's Day.
Dennis: And Michelle has also co-authored a book called "Daughters of Hope," and it's really stories of courageous women in other cultures. It's back to the core mission of Sisters in Service, which, ultimately, Michelle was really born out of your own experience as you grew up in a trouble home.
You had a mother who abandoned you as a 12-year-old girl, you had a dad who was an alcoholic and was physically abusive, emotionally abusive, sexually abusive, and as I think about your story, and as you reflect back on your years growing up in your family, did you realize your family was different than other families? That your home was not normal?
Michelle: In some respects, yes. I have a younger brother. We were embarrassed by our situation, and when my mother wasn't home, my parents would fight a lot, they were rage-aholics, and would throw furniture out in the front yard.
So we would run outside. We were toddlers in footie pajamas, and we would run outside and retrieve pieces of furniture before our friends would wake up, so we were embarrassed by that. We knew that there were some families in the neighborhood that would not allow us to play with their children, and we knew that it because our parents were wild people.
But, on the other hand, when I would tell my daddy that I didn't like the things he was doing to me, he would say, "Oh, this is what daddies do with their little girls. All daddies do this. They don't talk about it, but this is what they do."
Dennis: And as you experienced that, I mean, how'd you process that, as a little girl? I mean, did you lose hope?
Michelle: I almost lost my mind. I spent most of my childhood in hiding. I would hide – we had woods behind our home, I would hide there. We also had a dense little grape arbor. Nobody knew it was hollow but me, and I would crawl inside of that thing and sit there through the summer, the Georgia heat, and I would have on layers and layers of clothes. I was trying to separate myself from the world, and I just would daydream about folding up like a little black box and disappearing. I didn't necessarily want a big showy death, I just didn't want to be around anymore, didn't want to be seen.
I can remember hiding in a closet and then be very quiet, and I'd be all right, and, all of a sudden, I would gasp for air. I had tried to make myself so quiet that I ceased to breathe. And so I was – all of a sudden, I had to take in some air.
So I knew something was going wrong with the way I was thinking, and when I was 12 years old, I went to my mother and said, "I think I am going to lose my mind, and they're going to come and take me away, and no one will know it wasn't my fault. I need you to protect me from the things that Daddy is doing."
She knew that he was mean and physically abusive. She didn't know what else was going on until I told her, and when I did that, she packed her belongings and disappeared from my life. I didn't hear from her again for 15 years.
Dennis: That was her response to your plea for protection.
Michelle: That's right.
Dennis: What do you figure is behind that?
Michelle: Well, like I said, I heard from her again in 15 years. My husband and I, our little children, were preparing to go to Africa as missionaries, and I get a phone call from a stranger who says, "Michelle, this is your mother. I think we should talk. I'd love to come and visit you, but I can't afford to, would you send me a bus ticket?" And I said, "Of course, I want to see you."
Dennis: Had you searched for her?
Michelle: I really hadn't. I didn't think she wanted anything to do with me, and I was hurt.
Dennis: So you had grown up through the adolescent years with the ultimate rejection of abandonment by your mother.
Dennis: And the worse thing you imagined occurred. I mean, she physically left, which meant you were more at the mercy of your father than ever before.
Michelle: And he grew worse and worse, of course. Alcoholics don't stay the same. He slid more into depression, more alcoholic dementia, and eventually he died when he was 43 years old. He looked like he was 80, and it was just alcohol abuse. He was killing himself with alcohol.
Bob: Did he ever repent, apologize, any of that?
Michelle: No. When I was – my last year of high school I did mention to a cheerleader girlfriend – she said some little quip like, "It must be nice not to have a mom around to tell you what to do all the time." We were wearing miniskirts, and her mother was always on her case about that, and I said, "Well, you know, I wish my mother was around, because it would be better for me. My daddy and I don't get along," and she said, "Well, what does he do?"
And I was totally unprepared for the question, and I just crumbled and made a colossal understatement and said, "He tries to touch me sometimes," and she said, you know, "This is illegal. He can't do that to you. He should be arrested for that." She said, "I'm going to tell my mother right away." I said, "Please don't. My daddy has shown me a gun. He told me he'll kill me if I tell anyone, and he will kill you and your whole family."
You know, I had this image of my daddy larger than life. He could do anybody in. And so I made her swear that she would never tell anyone. But she couldn't take it. The next week I was called into the counselor's office at my high school, and this woman was just trembling. She said, "I do not know how to deal with what's going on in your family, but I will tell you this, you're going home over my dead body if this stuff is true." And that very day I was rescued by somebody who was stronger than my daddy; somebody who knew the legal system, and she took me to an attorney and to a doctor and we got everything verified, and so I was emancipated at 17 years old.
Bob: Fifteen years later, when you were headed toward Africa, and you were married and had two daughters of your own, you'd come to Christ, you'd married a godly husband, and you got the phone call, and your mother said, "Can you send me the bus money," did you meet? Did you get together?
Michelle: We actually did. She came for the weekend. What's interesting is I showed up at the bus station at the appointed time – no Mom, and I went back home. I thought, "My family is so flaky." You know, I didn't expect anything, and I got a call, and it was her. She said, "Well, I'm here, don't you care?"
I said, "Oh, it's been such a long time, I bet I don't recognize you." And she said, "Well, you will. I have bleached blond hair, and my front teeth are knocked out." I thought, "I'll be there as soon as I can." I got back there, and this woman was destitute in every way that a woman could be destitute. She had punished herself for 15 years for leaving her children with a crazy man. And she came into my home for the weekend and stayed seven months, and it was during that time that I was able to do for her what somebody had done for me – open the door of their home to me and shown me the Gospel, the love of God in the face of a woman.
This is not the time, when you're trying to decide, "Can I forgive this person?" I am so thankful that many years before that, I had been mentored by a godly Titus 2 woman, and one of the things she said to me is, "Michelle, for you to grow on up in your faith, you've got to come to a point where you forgive your parents whether they ever come back into your life or not, so that you can be free of holding them responsible. Jesus will deal with them, that's not your job."
And so I did the hard work many years before of forgiveness. I thought I had, but you really don't know until you're face-to-face with the offender, and there she was, and it was so easy because I had seen it done for me. Somebody just opened their heart to me and said, "Come on in. Let's talk about this." We had these great conversations around my kitchen table, you know, "Please tell me what you were thinking when I told you about Daddy, and you just left me there?"
And she said, "Michelle, I lost my mind. On the one hand, I couldn't possibly believe it was true, on the other hand, I knew it was possible, and I just had to get as far away as I possibly could.
Dennis: She just couldn't handle it.
Michelle: She just could not handle it. It's like trying to get a drink out of an empty well. And she told me her story at my kitchen table, things about her that I did not know. The beginning of my life, this woman was married to someone, a professional ball player, and he was gone all the time, and she ended up meeting a sailor who turned out was my dad, and got pregnant for me, and thought, "Oh, what am I going to do? My husband is going to come home and realize I'm pregnant, and it can't be his child," and so she called her mother from whom she had been estranged all of her life and said, "Mom, what am I going to do?" She said, "You live near Mexico. We're going to Tijuana, you'll just have an abortion, he'll never know."
My mother and my grandmother are sitting in a café awaiting her turn to see an abortionist, and my grandmother says, "You know, you might be farther along than you think. I'll bet there are girls buried under this café who have had an abortion this late in term." So my mom said, "Well, what am I supposed to do?" She said, "Well, here, write on this napkin – 'Dear One, I love you very much. If you'll come and take care of me and our baby, I will divorce my first husband and marry you.'"
I didn't know any of this information. I did not know that she had been abandoned as a child. It helped me to understand. It didn't justify anything, but it helps, I think, if we get the bigger picture and realize, "This is what sin does in the world. It breaks up families, and it leaves you without the reservoir to take care of your own children and your own family and your own marriage."
Bob: The ministry that God's given you today to women all around the world who are disenfranchised, who are persecuted, who are second-class citizens. When did it dawn on you that even that horrendous background was a part of God's preparation for how He wanted to minister through you?"
Michelle: It began for me in a small way. When I realized that God had done so much renewing work in me and for most of my years as a Christian I was a very shy, very withdrawn person. I was still trying to do this internal work of who am I as a person? I met a woman who just went through the tragedy of a sexual abuse situation from a boyfriend, and it was almost like the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You know, I would like to use you if you'd just get over yourself," which I thought was kind of rude at the moment, but I realized He wanted to use the terrible things that had happened to me to say to other women that, "Yes, this is a terrible thing, but God can restore your life, and He has done that a little bit in me, and let's see what He can do in your life as well."
Well, it dawned on me, even later, as I learned about the plight of women and girls everywhere – two-thirds of the world's illiterates are women, 70 percent of the poor are women and their children, 80 percent of all refugees are women and children. Every year, 2 million girls undergo a mutilating circumcision that involves gouging and stitching without antiseptic and anesthesia, and a full quarter of these die of shock and infection.
According to the World Health Organization, there are 1 million missing girls in the world. Now, these are not the girls who were buried alive, these are not the girls who are left to starve to death. These are girls whose births were registered somewhere …
Dennis: And they just disappear.
Michelle: We believe they have been sold into some kind of industry, maybe rug-making, but more and more are being sold into the sex slave trade industry demanding younger and younger girls. This information, as I was researching, it just send shock waves through my system as I began to recall what it feels like to be abused and abandoned by people who are supposed to take care of you and, suddenly, then it dawned on me, "Oh, Lord Jesus, You are redeeming the very things that the enemy meant to destroy me with from before I was born," but Jesus said, "Oh, no, you watch what I can do with what's left over here," and He just boiled it down to nothing, and I now know that through the things I suffered, God was forging a heart of tenderness to be at His business in a very troubled, sin-infected world.
Bob: Now, I wonder, Dennis, how many people who have been through very difficult, tragic circumstances in their lives, and I don't want to minimize that, and I don't want to lack compassion for that, but I wonder how many of those people fail to realize that a part of the healing is the redemption of that – it's putting that to work in service for others. It's taking your scars and offering those to God and how He takes that and uses that to build His kingdom.
Dennis: My friend, Dan Jarrell, who is a pastor in Anchorage, Alaska, talks about taking those wounds and giving them to God and letting Him turn them into holy scars, which really represents two things. First of all, God finishing the healing process in the wound, which is what you've talked about.
But then, secondly, after the healing process has firmed up and the heart and the soul and the body have begun to be rejuvenated, yes, there will be a scar, a memory, a place that reminds us that all was once not well, but he talks about it becoming a holy scar set apart by God for His use.
And as you were talking, Michelle, I couldn't help but think about a couple of passages of Scripture – 2 Corinthians 1 – "Comforting others with the comfort with which you have been comforted." And when you do that, when you do bring comfort to other people out of your own loss, there is a real sense in which that redemption you're talking about, that's when the left foot and the right foot, as you talked about, are operating together, and that's the faith walk that we have.
And the other passage I thought about, and I don't say this – it can be so quoted in a trite way that I don't, in any way, want to be flip about quoting Romans 8:28 – "That all things do work together to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose." He wants to take those wounds and turn them into holy scars. He wants to take the victim and turn them into a warrior, a warrior on behalf of others, and that's what you wrote about in your book, "Daughters of Hope."
You're talking about your own life of how those holy scars now are being used by God to touch other women who desperately need hope in the midst of dramatic circumstances.
Bob: Well, and I have to wonder how many of the women and the men, for that matter, who will be participating in the Walk for Moms that's taking place the day before Mother's Day will be walking wounded. You know, at some level, we're all walking wounded, but I wonder how many of them will do what you have done with scars from the past and turn those into a motivation to reach out and to help and to serve and to love others.
I guess there's still time for churches or for individuals to participate in this Walk for Moms. We've got a link on our website at FamilyLife.com to the Walk for Moms website so that people can get more information, if you want to organize this with your small group or do something with your church or just do it as an individual.
Go to FamilyLife.com and click the red button that says "Go" that you'll see in the middle of the screen. That will take you to an area of the site where you'll find additional information about our broadcast and about resources that are available as well as the link to the Walk for Moms website.
You can also find information about Michelle's book, "Daughters of Hope," which we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I have to tell you, I took this book home and gave it to my wife, and she dove right in, and then it was sitting on her desk, and my daughter saw it, and Amy has lived in Vietnam and Cambodia and has seen some of what you describe in your book, and she asked about it.
It's a compelling compilation of powerful stories about God's grace in the lives of women in very difficult situations, and I think it will provide motivation for churches and for women's groups, others, to get involved in reaching out and serving our Christian sisters around the world.
Again, there is more information about Michelle's book on our website. You can order a copy from us by going to FamilyLife.com and clicking that red "Go" button you see in the middle of the screen, and there is also information about the Walk for Moms coming up on the Saturday before Mother's Day – that's Saturday, May 12, and you can also get more information from us by calling 1-800-FLTODAY. Someone on our team can pass the information along to you. That's 1-800-358-6329, or, as I said, go to FamilyLife.com and click that red "Go" button.
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Well, tomorrow we are going to hear more about the work of Sisters in Service in helping women all around the world, and we'll hear more about the upcoming Walk for Moms that will be taking place a week from Saturday, the Saturday before Mother's Day. That's coming up tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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