Her Earthly Father Said No but Her Heavenly Father Says Yes!

By Eric D. Lema With Kyle Davidson
Photos by Eric D. Lema

Shut your mouth! Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. Never contradict a man. Take care of the house by cooking and doing all of the chores.

Oh ... and furthering your education? Forget about it! You’ll be married soon. Your father has already made the arrangement. A woman’s place is in serving her husband, having babies and taking care of the family.

Never mind that you’re not even 18 years old.

Such is life for many young women living in Tanzania today.

That’s the reality Joyce was facing at age 17. And it’s the reality that has already befallen three of her older sisters, who were married off by their father before they turned 18 and after they dropped out of secondary school because he refused to pay for their education.

Like most men in rural Tanzania, Joyce’s father views secondary education for girls as a waste of money and time. Women aren’t really allowed to contribute to local business. They don’t own anything. They are seen as property. And even if furthering their education were fruitful, what benefit would it be to a father when his daughters will marry off into other families?

Educating girls in rural Tanzania is not a priority for most because women are still viewed as inferior to men. But in the areas where Compassion partners with the local church to serve, things are slowly changing.

And it’s a good thing for Joyce.

Joyce has always loved school. She knew early on that to have a better life — one free from the systemic generational poverty in her community — she would need to finish school, despite her father’s plans.

Avoiding her father proved easy enough. He spent most of his time in another province where he had taken a third wife. (It’s acceptable for a man in parts of Tanzania to have multiple wives while a woman may only have one husband.) But paying the school fees when her mother had no income and her father refused to pay was much more difficult.

That’s when Compassion and Joyce’s sponsor stepped in. They covered her costs and supported her with extra tutoring. They even stood up for her when Joyce’s father showed up with a man from another village whom she didn’t know. Her father was going to force her to be married. The center staff told him that if he didn’t abandon his plan, then they would call the police and have him arrested. He relented but practically disowned Joyce in the process and berated her mother for allowing Joyce to continue with school.

Joyce has had many obstacles, but with the support of her mother and the help of Compassion, her sponsor and the local church, she’s overcome them.

Today, Joyce is 19 and attending college. She’s part of only 4% of young women in rural Tanzania who do. She’s studying community development in hopes of educating people on the value of treating women equally and promoting their education. Compassion and her sponsor are covering the cost for her to attend.

Compassion, Joyce’s local church and her sponsor believe to be true what God believes about Joyce and all women: that they are equal in their dignity and free to choose for themselves how to best utilize the gifts God has given them to make a positive difference in the world. Education, plus holistic development, is the best way to cultivate those gifts.

We praise God for how He provided for Joyce and for how He’s moving on behalf of girls in the regions where Compassion serves.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. — Isaiah 1:17, NIV