As women, the challenge began with a serpent’s seemingly innocent question: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
Translation: “Eve, if God really loved you, why would he withhold something good from you? Do you have any real value to God?”
While secular culture has doubled down on its message of human freedom and self-determination, ironically, at no point in human history have women been under more pressure to fit into a box. The list of categories you see in online profiles exemplify this: Single. Married. Divorced. Widowed. Mother. Other boxes ask us to define by race. Ethnicity. Sexuality. Profession. And on and on. The labels are endless and place increasing pressures on women to fit in – to “check the right boxes.” Under this onslaught, it’s easy to seek validation and self-worth everywhere except where we should be looking – to Jesus.
Today is International Women’s Day, and as we celebrate the accomplishments of women across the world, it’s important to remember that our value doesn’t come from others’ opinions or valuations of us. Our primary identity as women is found in the love of Jesus Christ, which is so great, Paul prayed we’d have the power to understand it in Ephesians 3:17-18:
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Eve may have had her doubts in the Garden, but Jesus’s death on the cross answered the question once and for all. We are loved beyond the scope of human knowledge.
“Once you believe you are fully and completely loved, you don’t have to numb yourself or look for quick fixes in order to drive the pain away. You can stay fully alive to your desires and longings,” said Ruthie Delk, in the popular Becoming devotional.
The extraordinary women behind many of Cross International’s projects live out this belief out every day in their outreaches to girls and women facing unthinkable circumstances. In Guatemala, a country still limping its way out of the carnage of a four-decade civil war, two women are killed there every day. The country ranks third in the killings worldwide, according to the United Nations.
On the outskirts of Guatemala City, Donie Hernandez runs Casa Bernabe, an orphanage for abandoned and abused children who are victims of the violence that plagues the country. When Donie arrived in Guatemala 27 years ago, she knew it was where God had called her to be but she doubted her ability to serve. She didn’t speak the language or even know how to ride the bus, she remembers with a laugh.
“Early on, I had a week when I was feeling incredibly discouraged. I kept thinking, ‘Who do you think you are coming down here? How can you possibly do this?’ That’s when God stepped in and told me, ‘You never could do it. I will.’ Then I found complete peace.
Today, Donie has developed Casa Bernabé into a large-scale, organized and loving home with two schools that give 160 orphaned, abandoned and neglected children a supportive environment to grow up in. The biggest issue facing the girls and young women in her ministry is identity, she said.
“They don’t know who they are or recognize the power they have. They don’t believe they can succeed. We counter this every day with encouragement and love and reminding them that in Christ, they can do all things. For the girls who come from especially traumatic backgrounds, it may take years for them to believe this but we’re committed,” she said. “Our job is to raise up disciples.”
Casa Bernabé has watched many of their girls graduate from high school and become members of the staff. After graduation, girls are encouraged to continue their studies at the university level. A trio of sisters who arrived at the orphanage as children exemplify the transformative power of the Gospel in their lives. Vilma went to culinary school and is now the home’s chef. She also serves as a house mom and mentors younger girls at the orphanage. Her sister, Nora, is in medical school; and Carmen, the youngest, is in college. Another graduate, Marisol, age 22, said when she arrived at age 12, she had no dreams.
“I am happy now. I have learned so much about God. I have Christ in my heart and I no longer feel alone.”