By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT—Barbara Davis barely made it to bed when the blaring loudspeakers broadcasted the ritual 4:30 a.m. Muslim prayers. Soon, it would be time to wake up and prepare to lead the two groups of women who were relying on her to teach them how have a better life.
Davis, a missions director at New Song Bible Fellowship Church in Bowie, Md., has devoted her last six months in Alexandria, Egypt, where she has led vocational training, support and care for Sudanese refugees and disenfranchised Egyptian women.
Working under the leadership of El Saray Evangelical Church, a church fully sanctioned by the Egyptian government, Davis rents out space at the church’s Fairhaven School for mentally challenged children.
There, with a secure place to operate her growing ministry, she is able to house short-term mission teams who minister weeks at a time to nearly 30 Sudanese refugee women and over 30 Egyptian women who come for the free training.
Through the nonprofit Project Destiny, Davis designed a course of study that will enable these women to excel spiritually and practically in their lives.
The first phase of the nine-month program focused on rebuilding the women spiritually and emotionally. Counselors joined Davis in teaching the women how to cope with the difficulties surrounding them. The women learned about conflict resolution, effective communication, and how to seek God’s will and make decisions in their lives.
“I was amazed at how afraid these women were to make decisions on their own,” shared Davis, a former systems engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She explained that most women rely on their fathers or husbands to lead them.
In contrast, Davis pointed to the strong women in the Bible, such as Esther, Abigail, Ruth, Deborah and Miriam, who were great examples of women who followed God.
Davis, herself, was also a great example of a woman who followed God, even to the point of living alone in the city that once was home to famed ancient queen, Cleopatra.
Most days, she was very comfortable in her newfound role. Nonetheless, there were days when Davis wondered if she had enough strength to keep the program going.
“It was my 21st day in Egypt, and I was sitting by the [Mediterranean] Sea, praying for God to help me,” she related. As she cried, she felt a breakthrough, much like Daniel did in Daniel 10:12-13, when an angel revealed himself 21 days after the overwhelmed Daniel had prayed.
Despite her weariness, Davis knew that God had called her to this task in the unfamiliar territory. Though she previously had traveled and ministered all over the world, she knew that God had called her to concentrate her efforts now in Egypt.
It was time to train these women, whom she believed God had special plans to use for the advancement of His Kingdom.
As a gift for finishing the first phase of the program, Davis took the class of Egyptian women to see the Pyramids of Giza. Though they lived only a few hours away from the ancient tombs, these women never had the opportunity to visit them. They were ecstatic at the historic sites before them.
But the Sudanese refugees, who had escaped the ongoing life-and-death conflict in their home country, celebrated an entirely different way.
They ate Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“These women never had the resources to go to a restaurant like that, to eat something that they didn’t have to prepare,” Davis shared, explaining that she also shared financial bonuses with the women so that the Sudanese’s gifts matched that of the Egyptians.
But for both groups, the gifts were much deeper. Something was happening in their spirits. They were seeing a renewed hope for their futures.
Project Destiny’s second phase, currently underway, focuses on redefining the women for the workplace.
Already, several teams from throughout Maryland and Delaware and even North Carolina have come to teach the women how to start and manage their own businesses, and in particular, how to do cosmetology, make jewelry, do computer work and other practical job skills.
In early February, Michele Martuszewski from New Hope Community Church in Baltimore, Md., taught the ladies how to perform beauty treatments, specifically facials and manicures.
Before even teaching the women how to care for others, she quickly noted that the women were soaking in all the beauty treatments for themselves.
“They were giddy and laughing at the idea that it was okay to take care of themselves, instead of working so hard just to nurture others,” Martuszewski said.
Agnes Elliott, a refugee from Sudan, agreed, “I am so happy today because I see everyone has made such a difference in my heart and my face.”
Many of the Sudanese refugees were in Egypt alone with their children, while their husbands were still in Sudan trying to make money to support their families. Others, like Agnes, don’t hear from their husbands again.
Jane, alone with four children, struggles to make ends meet by caring for Egyptian children and cleaning Egyptian homes. “But the salary is not enough,” she shared.
For many of the women, just finding each other and building a support system has made a world of difference.
It was obvious that after all these months of focus, the women were growing stronger and were grasping a hold of God’s promise “of a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11) that was right before them.
The ultimate goal is to reconnect the women to the community as fully engaged Egyptian citizens and not as refugees and disenfranchised women, Davis shared. Many are developing business plans for the sale of products they make. Others are being connected with potential employers.
By April 22, the official graduation date for the Project Destiny program, the women will have developed personal training plans and goals for their future. Many women will serve as mentors to other women, sharing the insights they have learned in this process.
To learn more, visit online at www.practicallivinginstitute.org or contact Davis at (301) 794-0211, [email protected].