As the parent of three children with specific tastes, meal planning can be a challenge at my house.
But truth be told, my kids have never been in a situation where there was no food to eat. In a land of plenty, there is space to be picky.
But in 1 Kings 17, we see that meal planning was a challenge for one mother for a far more difficult reason – one that is not unlike the situation mothers face in many parts of the world every day. In fact, from 2019 to 2020, the number of undernourished people grew by an estimated 161 million, a crisis driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the biblical text, the Lord tells the prophet Elijah there will be neither dew nor rain and a famine ensues. He sends him to a brook where he is cared for by a group of ravens who bring the prophet meat and bread every morning and evening. But eventually the brook dries up, so the Lord instructs him to go to Zarephath.
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath.
When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
Elijah said to her,
“Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
This is a meal plan I cannot fathom. This mother is forced to think of the unimaginable. A last meal.
Yet when a stranger asks her to share what little remains, how does she respond? She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.
Time and time again, in Scripture, in history, when there is a need, women show up. And God provides.
On November 1 of last year, my first day as Executive Director of Baptist World Alliance Women, we celebrated Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer. We received photos and videos from around the world. One of those messages was from a group of women in Ukraine. The emphasis for the day’s celebration – what does it mean to be a brave woman?
A poignant question and one that Ukrainian women have had to answer over the course of the last year. When we saw the rising tensions along the border between Ukraine and Russia, I joined with leaders from European Baptist Women United in reaching out to women’s ministry leaders in both countries. I was able to set up a solidarity call with the ministry leader who had shared the photos just months before. During the call, she shared with BWA Women leaders that she had family in the United States but remained committed to stay where God has called her. She said, “Whatever news we hear or whatever may come, we will serve the Lord.” She also said that bravery might change with bombs falling. Sadly, less than 24 hours later, the news around the world told the sad tale of a full-scale invasion by land and attacks by air and sea. I immediately reached out to check on her safety, and she responded, “I am safe, but I woke to the sound of artillery falling. I can feel the tremors in the building.”
Over the days that followed, we exchanged messages daily as she huddled in the church cellar for safety. When able, she and her husband, a pastor, cautiously took to the streets to bring food to church members and check on the elderly. And on that first Sunday morning, as I was preparing to worship with my church family, I received a message that some brave souls came to worship with what she described as bombs for their accompaniment. The song they were singing – the classic hymn “Count Your Blessings.”
With her home damaged beyond livability just days later, she was forced to flee westward, but the next Sunday I received a message along with photos of a Ukrainian worship service. There were only four simple words in the description: Church no matter what. Sisters, that is what it means to be a brave woman. To serve the Lord no matter what.
And bravery abounds. Shortly after the war began, I saw a picture of strollers. But the mage conveyed so much more. The photograph captured strollers that Polish moms left at the train station for Ukrainian refugees arriving with their children – most with only what they could carry. A practical source of help in an unimaginable situation.
There was a need, and women showed up. In Moldova, a women’s ministry leader wrote:
“The first flood of refugees is now settled in our homes for the rooms are filled already at public schools and church buildings. They need everything: food, clothes, personal hygiene products,etc. We have a family of four kids, oldest is eight and youngest only five months, staying with us. Their daughter lost her winter shoes. They do not have any idea where it happened, so she wears flip flops. We will buy her shoes today.”
When there is a need, women show up.
Like the widow at Zarephath, many of us might ask what can we do in the face of such great need? The answer for each of us – show up. Pour out from what little we have and what the Lord provides. In that beautiful Bible story, the oil never ran dry. But the widow had to pour out before the Lord could fill back up.
Now is a time to pour out. Now is a time to be brave and to follow the Lord to victory. And we are seeing it happen in churches where pews have made way for beds. In kitchens where women stand over hot stoves making meals for the hungry. In homes where children are given both shelter and shoes.
This November as we gather again for the Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer, I want to personally invite you to join with women around the world in an outpouring of prayer and giving. In thankfulness for all the ways the Lord has blessed us, may we pour out so that we can watch our miracle-working God provide. And with our eyes on the One who has overcome the world, may we continue to be brave women on mission – no matter what.
For Discussion and Introspection
- What can we learn from the actions of the widow in 1 Kings?
- What can we learn from our sisters in Ukraine who are serving with such bravery?
- What is an area of your life right now in which you need a victory? What steps can you take to trust God in the midst of this battle?