When countries begin closing their borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Larissa faced a tough decision: to stay or go. She stayed.
“When the virus spread to Africa, I had the choice to leave for Canada, but I am thankful that I chose to remain in Zambia,” Larissa explained. “God has used my team in a really special way to continue reaching out to ladies in Zambia and other locations across Africa.”
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, almost everything in Zambia, where Larissa works to empower and equip women, came to standstill as lockdowns restricted movement and wearing a face mask became mandatory while interacting with people. Instead of Larissa and her team being restricted, however, they found an opportunity to express love to others by sewing affordable face masks. “Our vision didn’t change—we still wanted to empower women—but our focus for this time had to change,” commented Larissa.
Sewing as many as 7,000 masks within a few weeks, the effort provided not only a reprieve for people who faced the stark choice of whether to spend their meagre earnings on expensive masks or face a jail term for not wearing one but also an income stream for the women training as tailors who are often the breadwinners of their family.
“As often in developing countries, the life of a woman is not easy,” observed Larissa. “Women are often uneducated and illiterate and therefore struggle to generate any form of income.
“Our vision is to see women empowered, freed from physical and spiritual oppression and become vibrant followers of Jesus.”
Equipping and empowering
Larissa was born into a Christian family in Canada. From a tender age, she knew she wanted to be involved in missions but did not know how exactly how. A missions trip to Switzerland to work with women who were trafficked and involved in prostitution opened her eyes to injustice. Hearing the women’s stories impacted Larissa deeply and gave birth to a passion for helping and empowering women. “I had never experienced such, and it was very heartbreaking,” she remembered. Two years later, Larissa moved to Zambia to work with marginalised women, equipping them with skills to improve their economic condition while also showing them the love of Christ.
Though the work started in Zambia, Larissa and her team have trained local leaders, thus allowing the work to spread to other countries in Africa. As the Women’s Empowerment Co-ordinator, Larissa works to equip, empower and provide coordination to women’s ministries around Africa, in countries like Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo and north Africa.
Training in the areas of sewing, micro-businesses, beading and cookery gives the women practical skills they can use to earn money and provide for their family. Women are also encouraged to get involved in self-help groups, where they work on personal development and encounter the light of the gospel.
“Without a beacon of hope spread, these ladies grow up exploited and multiplying the cycle of poverty and oppression,” Larissa said.
Before the new coronavirus, Larissa organised a training for Fulani disciples and church planters in the Sahel. “Life for women in this region is so difficult, but I am motivated by the fact that God’s eyes are on the oppressed,” shared Larissa. “God’s concern for the poor and impoverished is what should compel us to look beyond our lives and respond in whatever area God places in us.”
God can use you
Five years ago, Larissa found herself afflicted by weakness and pain throughout her body. Returning to Canada she discovered she had spinal nerve damage and needed major surgery.
“The experience completely changed me,” Larissa disclosed. “I felt like God gave me a weakness in my body so He could do the work through me.”
Larissa felt her illness connected her to the challenges of women in Africa. “Those who were connected to me kept praying,” she remembered. “I had seen myself as someone who was empowering them but that time, some of [the ladies from the ministry] became a real pillar of support.”
Encouraged by the love of the women who prayed and supported her, Larissa returned to Zambia with new vigour and determination despite her body being weaker. “It doesn’t matter what I can do but rather what God can do through me,” Larissa said.