The authorities arrived to deal with the mwanamke wazimu (translated mad woman) they’d heard stories about. The sight of a disfigured woman in tattered clothes, who regularly danced and sang, had unnerved some of the other refugees in the camp.
This “mad woman” was Josephine Thogori Waithera, and she wasn’t at all what the authorities had expected.
Years prior, Josephine was happily married and pregnant with her sixth child. Late in the pregnancy, a violent seizure caused her to unconciously fall into an open cooking fire, and then many times thereafter. Josephine lives with burns over 80% of her body, and has permanent damage to her fingers and toes. Her outward beauty thus marred, Josephine’s husband left her. She found herself totally dependent upon the faithfulness of the Lord and the kindness of strangers.
Then came Kenya’s tragic 2007 elections. Post-election ethnic conflicts killed an estimated 1,300 and injured or displaced tens of thousands. Families were ripped apart as men and young boys began to disappear. Josephine’s family was sucked into that violent vortex, and her eldest son vanished without a trace.
Josephine and her remaining 5 children were among the many newly widowed or abandoned women who were forced to find refuge in government camps.
It wasn’t long before Josephine garnered her “mad woman” reputation around camp. Amidst the pervasive sadness and gloom that lingered in such a place of brokenness, Josephine’s inexplicable joy was a beacon of hope to all she encountered. Seeing such a woman—one who possessed nothing but the children she so desperately loved—dancing for joy and singing from her heart in worship of her Savior caused some to think her insane.
That’s when camp authorities were called in to investigate.
When they interviewed Josephine, she testified that the source of the joy and strength in her heart was Christ’s love. The authorities concluded she was not insane. Not only that, but because Josephine was the harbinger of a much-needed message of hope in the camp, they asked her to remain and encourage others! Josephine happily agreed and continued to dance and sing, compassionately ministering to the hearts of broken families. Three years later, in recognition of her selfless service, the government awarded the ever-jubilant Josephine with land of her very own upon which to farm and build a home!
As she was too poor to build a home, however, Josephine’s blessing sat as a hopeful reminder of what might one day be. It would have been easy for Josephine to become disappointed, even bitter, that she’d lost so much in life—family members and outward beauty—only to be denied the simple joy of a home for her and her children (something many of us take for granted).
But for the next 12 years Josephine humbly pressed on, fueled by the mere hope that one day she would own her own home. Josephine’s brilliant smile and her true worshiper’s heart caught the attention of David and Cynthia Taylor, friends of Heaven’s Family who serve as missionary pastors of the church Josephine began attending in Njoro, near her land. The Taylors told me about Josephine’s story, believing the Widows & Abandoned Women Ministry would want to help. Of course we would help her!
I visited David and Cynthia’s church in March. And there she was, the woman I’d heard so much about, arraigned in beautiful colors and adorned with a bright, joyful smile. Josephine stood out amongst the crowd—something I imagine she always does.
I marveled at how her worship seemed to minister to others around her. After the service she greeted me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and shared with me how thankful to the Lord she is, for the blessing that’s finally hers—which I was about to see. The next thing I knew, this spritely older woman was racing me down a dusty dirt road to show me her new house!
Josephine has endured so much suffering—and has come through as a shining trophy for her Savior. Others may continue to see her as a mad woman, widowed and helpless, but in reality she is now a self-sufficient woman “clothed in strength and dignity” and possessing true riches beyond measure.