Some news stories are so horrific that you just can’t let them go. One in particular has stayed with me—The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia–women drugged, stolen from their homes in the night, raped, then returned to their beds. And this is just one of the many struggles facing the women in the Mennonite colonies in Bolivia.
These are women without a voice, considered more property than people. Because of a language barrier (they speak Low German in a Spanish speaking country) and the control the men in the colony exert, they have limited access to health care or even to basic health information. Can you imagine not understanding the impact simple hand washing can have on your health and the health of your children? Can you imagine watching your sick child suffer and having no understanding of how to help them?
As a mother, a wife, a woman my heart aches for them, which is why I want to share Irene Marsch’s story, in her own words, with you. Can one person make a difference? Read on and find out.
“Health Talks with Nurse Irene”
By Irene Marsch
Where did it all start?
I call it: “A big God, taking Irene size steps.” It’s a way of remembering that God is walking with me.
After my husband’s passing, I hurt. I felt very alone. I was searching. It seemed like everyone else around me knew what the role of a widow was. But I was confused. I felt lost and I asked, Lord what now?
In my search, I signed up for the Women Alive Conference in Toronto. Weeks before the conference, I woke one night and the first thought that came to mind was, “For such a time as this.” I remember thinking, it was from the book of Esther and then I went back to sleep. My first thought waking up that morning was again, “For such a time as this.” I went about making breakfast and again the words rang in my head, “For such a time as this.”
In my walk with the Lord, I have come to learn, that when I get three nudges, I drop what I’m doing and go. Make that phone call. Write that note or lookup that Bible verse. And that is what I did. I read the account of Uncle Mordecai telling his niece Esther that this was a special time and God had a special purpose in sending her to the king’s palace. God called Queen Esther to step out, to step up, and to speak out on behalf of her people. I brushed it away and said, “There is just nothing royal about widowhood!” And I left it at that.
When I finally got to go to the conference, the guest speaker stood before us and revealed her theme verse? I couldn’t believe it. The verse from Esther. “For such a time as this.” To say the least, I was crushed. In my mind I shouted, “Can I not get away from this Bible verse?”
Apparently not. By the afternoon I was participating in a brief exercise on seeking God’s will through a simple questionnaire.
Who am I? Well, Irene a widow, I answered.
What are your gifts? Nursing, caregiver, organizer.
What is unique about you? I speak Low German, some Spanish, German, English.
It was into this noise of questions, that I remembered the Low German Ministry at FLN. (Family Life Network) I came home from the conference, trying very hard to push it all out of my mind, but that did not work. I finally said, “Okay, I will dust off my resume!” After receiving some much needed help with my resume, I sent it off to FLN. This was the beginning of “Health Talks with Nurse Irene”.
There are many more moments of “A big God, taking Irene size steps” that have given me affirmation along the way. A week or so before I left for Bolivia, Claude Pratte saw me at church, probably sensing my apprehension, he said, “You will see that God, has gone ahead of you.” A day or two after my arrival in Bolivia I received an invitation to be part of the Women of Hope office in the Santa Cruz market area. Claude’s words, “You will see God has gone ahead of you,” made it easy for me to say yes. I thanked the Lord once again for being a big God, taking Irene size steps .
Every week I spent two to three days at this office, two days at the Women’s Shelter, and reserved one day for Women’s Ministry in the Mennonite Colonies. It was during the last week, before returning to Canada, that one lady approached me and said, “Can you come to our colony and do one of those Health Talks. I don’t know what to say to you. There could be two or 102 women.”
I had a hard time deciding, but then I was able to say, “Yes Lord, I will go for the sake of two.” When we got there, there were closer to a 102 women. Once again, a big God taking Irene size steps. I encouraged the ladies to stop me and ask question, but no one did, because they were so shy. So I offered to have a few one-on-one conversations and immediately a long line-up formed. The sun was going down and we needed to get out of the colony. It was during these last minutes that a couple of ladies came and asked, if I would record my talk on hormones and send it to them, so that they could give it to other ladies. I’d never considered recording my talks until that moment. After that conversation I approached FLN with the idea of making CDs to send to the woman. They offered me a radio program as well as the opportunity to make the requested CDs.
I spent six months in Bolivia on my missions assignment with the E-Free Mission. It was a very good and very necessary experience for me to learn firsthand about the health needs in Bolivia.
I’m pleased to say that the CD on hormones and one on STDs have been completed. The second CD, the one on STDs, I found very difficult to do—such a forbidden topic. On this CD I covered eight of the most common STD Health Issues. Each track has some scripture verses on marriage. I share a few thoughts or tell a short story out of my marriage to Roland and a short prayer. I know these people love to learn from personal stories.
Another, A big God, taking Irene size steps is the morning I was invited by FLN to talk about whether I would consider another year of “Health Talks with Nurse Irene” on the radio. In my mind, I was ready to listen and decide later, until I had my morning devotions and read the following verse: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8) I was shocked by the direct words and the timing. The second phrase, “I know that you have little strength,” touched me deeply. God knows my weakness and he given me an open door.
Yes, there is much work ahead, but a Big God, continues to take Irene size steps. It is affirming, humbling and even scary, how the Lord is there just at the right time—like when it was time to pay for the cost of making the CDs at FLN and our church came through and took care of that cost. And when I received four invitations into the Colonies for Health Talk Sessions on my Follow-up visit and an invitation to use the same office in the Santa Cruz Market area, where I’LL have a chance to meet women from remote and closed Mennonite Colonies.
In spite of our weakness, God chooses to do his work through us. May it be an encouragement to all of us, that A Big God is taking our size steps, to be at our side in our everyday life! Thank you.
On May 14 Irene leaves for Bolivia with 600 CDs in tow!