Widows Deserve Relevance, Recognition, Respect and Royalty Treatment – Pastor (Mrs.) Josephine Femi-Asiwaju
Pastor (Mrs.) Josephine Ambe Femi-Asiwaju is the senior pastor of Word of Light Ministries, Lagos, where she currently leads after the passing away of her husband, Pastor Femi Asiwaju. A sought after conference speaker with the passion to see women rise up out of gender limitations. She was the Director of Planning and Strategies for Lagos State women wing of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and has hosted the annual Productive Woman Summit in Lagos since 2010 to empower, encourage and expose women to take up life challenges. During her annual Productive Women Summit 2023, themed, CRUSHED held in Lagos, 6 months after the death of her husband, she spoke with Gracious Akintayo and bare her mind on the pains and plight of widows in the church and in our society. Excerpt:
How do you feel not having your husband around you, unlike last year?
(Smiling) Somehow my feelings were mixed. During the worship I was not really getting into the mood and deep down in me I was shedding tears, because when I looked at my side, he was not there. Suddenly, the Lord spoke to me and said, that is not what you have come here for. I have a reason for your crossing and immediately, I wiped away my tears.
It was a mixed feeling in the sense that I still thank God for strengthening me enough to do this year’s conference. That’s why it was a mixed feeling. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, but God wants to use this programme to speak to some people. It is not by hanging your faith on circumstances or situations that strengthens you, but hanging your faith on God is what strengthens you. It was six months when my husband passed on and many would wonder why I started organizing such a massive programme. But, I believe, God used the programme to teach someone that, it is not about how close you’re to someone, but how long you have stayed with God. The Bible says those that know their God shall do exploit. It is only in the knowing God that you can still smile while you are still in pain. It is in knowing God and having the understanding of who God is and what He can do that can make you say, though, God you are crushing me, I am more than a conqueror and still trust in you, because I know out of this pain, there is going to be joy.
It was a mixed feeling of rejoicing that the devil was put to shame. A feeling that, God, you’re a faithful Father and comforter. A feeling of thanksgiving to be able to do what ought to be done and a feeling of, God you are honoured.
As a fresh widow of barely 6 months, how do you feel ministering to mostly older widows?
Many don’t know my story, that’s why I’m saying, this crush is a crossing and it is not just about being crushed, but crushing to another level. As a matter of fact, not every fruit you plucked is crushed. There are fruits that are sorted out and meant for crushing, only good fruits are taken out for crushing. It shows that I am good, I have been plucked out to be crushed. At the time of crushing there is a scheme, that’s when the juicing part of the fruits comes out. But without that crushing, you cannot have that juicy part coming out. I am not a widow for the first time, this will be the second husband I married that died. I remarried just six years ago, after the first one died in 2008 and started the ministry in 2009. It’s been 14 years now that the ministry started and I needed to find my footing in what God has called me to do. I told God to establish the ministry until I settled for any other man, so that even when I am married, the man will not have a reason for any problem. Before I lost the first man, I was ministering to the widows. God has spoken to me in the early 1997 that He’s calling me to bring smiles to some people and be a beacon of light, but never knew it would be this way.
Sometimes, God speaks to us, but we don’t really understand the depth of what He’s saying until reality dawns on us. When I lost my first husband, I was lost because it was some months to my fortieth birthday and I didn’t get married until after eight years. This was because God wanted me to be strong before I remarried. During these eight years, I was running the ministry before this man came into my life and he fulfilled the scripture that says, He will make your reproach to be rolled away and be forgotten. I really forgot I was once a widow, it was like going on a journey and somebody came to say, take over the seat again. There was no break as the journey continue to an extent that I forgot those 8 years I was crying and waiting because, God has told me, I will meet my Boaz at the field and it was at the place of my ministry work I actually met him as the then Lagos State PFN Vice Chairman, while I was the women Wing Director of Planning and Strategy. It was within this area and period of service that we met and God brought us together to become one.
This happened again, it did not just take me back and not just for me to be crushed, God needs me to be crushed and be pressed, so that the juice in me can come out. Without that pressing I can be crushed and it will still be there. But when you are crushed, you need to be pressed, and when you are pressed, you’ll need to serve and if I’m not serving, it will be like giving somebody a shaft, they will not get the joy of it. God needed me to pass through this pressing to present me as a finished product. Ministry to the widow as a widow seems to be my strength. Because I was a widow when I started ministering to the widows and the inspiration came from 1 Kings 17, where the widow fed Elijah and fed him from her last meal. God told me, you can take care of the widow from your last meal and by the grace of God, I have paid and maintained the widow’s rent, while still owing my landlord. I was looking for 200k and someone is looking for 20k. The mission and vision to reach out to widows came from that woman who fed Elijah and the Bible says after doing that, she never lacks. What she gave out was the small thing she had. I have seen and experienced God’s impact on me. I was running a ministry and not working as a widow, God fed me and fed people under me. I have people staying with me in my house who are not my children, I only have two biological children at that time. I have seen God’s hand and how He works. I don’t know how to buy a bag of rice, because people give and once I receive, I share it and make sure it gets to as many as can be reached and no widow goes hungry. My children are going to school and I don’t pay a dime for their schools. My first son was in a Babcock university, where he read banking and finance. I didn’t pay a dime. The school fees was footed by someone who was not even related to the father, who was just an associate and a friend and this man kept to his word, because I stood on God and said God, I will do more for you. Ministering to the widows is like saying, God out of what you have given to me, I want to share, because I want to stay in my place of farming and not feel I am in need. And that was what the woman did.
How do you fund the widows project?
The bible says for the past three and a half years this woman did not lack anything. Because, she gave. I have also sowed seeds and gave out the little I have, and to the glory of God, millions of naira have been spent on this vision. It will interest you to know that the money is not from my pocket, but friends, associates and many others have supported me with their money and materials to execute and encourage the vision to keep it going.
It’s not that I have any money somewhere that I spent or rich enough to fund the project and it’s not really about me, it is people God uses to execute the vision and I am only seeing God in everything as a collector, collecting for people and as I collect, I deliver to people who I collect on their behalf. No organization, corporate bodies or government agency have supported the vision, but individuals that God have been using for the past 14 years to support the vision.
What has life taught you?
Life has taught me to trust God, and that is the best thing. To trust God. Though I go through pain, it is not that God wants to oppress me, simply because God wants to bring something out of me.
The scripture that has really helped me to stand strong is, “All things work together for the good of those that trust in the Lord.” It helped me to understand that I am in the hand of God and in the center of His will, since He made me in His image and there’s purpose for these occurrences. I have cried to God to take away the pains and have been asking Him, what do you have for me for this pain? Because, I am so sure, all things work together for good, and I believe God will never let me down.
What advice do you have for the church and the society on the widows?
The grace and advice I have is that, we have widows who are coming to the church, unfortunately, they are not looked after and their emotions are ignored. People feel, because she’s a widow, she doesn’t have emotion. There are certain things widows look for and once they see it, they don’t bother themselves. So, when they see a widow who wants to remarry, they will be asking why did she want to remarry? Some widows decide to remarry, not because of money, but because they are looking for comfort. Some don’t want to remarry because they have their children to focus on and others around them make them comfortable. But, the church lacks comfort for the widows. There is no structure or plan in the church for the widows. They are not just to be given rice and stipend occasionally, their emotions need to be talked to and their minds need to be encouraged, because they are going through so many things they want to share with who will understand them, give them comfort and make them important.
Ordinarily, widows should be given special attention, kudos and be treated like royalty for combining the job and responsibility of a man and woman. They are silently crying and going through many pains, no one knows or cares about them and no one is there for them. Many times, they need counsel, advice or direction on some issue, but no man is easily available to call or speak with.
Moment a wife sees a widow constantly calling her husband, she begins to feel they are coming to snatch her husband. But, that is the last thing in the mind of a widow, oftentimes, she needs counsel or advice on what to do concerning an issue.
The church has a role to play in this area, to create a special place of attention for the widows rather than occasional organising of programmes to give them rice and stipend. That is not all they need, those things don’t serve their primary needs. They are looking for a place of comfort, relevance, recognition and respect for their status and like other people are moving on in life, they want people to advise and encourage them how to move on in life and not necessarily remarry.
The church and the society’s concept of who and what widows are need to be changed. In the church, development programmes are organized for the singles, men, women and business persons. But, the church will not organize a development programme for the widows on how to overcome challenges facing them, how some people are taking advantage of their status and how they can move on in life without depending on anyone or sell their body to take care of themselves and their children.
It’s so sad that many, including the church, see and stigmatize widows as unfortunate people, beggars and liabilities who should be avoided. People avoid and run away from the widows and only recognize them when they want to share food items and stipends for them. For example, like me, who is now a two star (smiles), should any man get close to me, without understanding the reason for our closeness, people will ask him, do you want to be the third leg (husband) in her life? But, that’s not fair to think all I am close to is to remarry.
It’s ungodly and inhuman to stigmatize and disrespect widows. Because their husband died, does not mean they killed their husband. Under no circumstances, will a right thinking woman desire, wish or plan to be a widow. Widows should not be left alone or stigmatized, God did not create them to be alone, but to be paired, comforted and encouraged. They should be encouraged, supported and empowered to move on in life. Even if they choose to remarry, the scripture encourages it.
Many widows are not happy moving about with that status, not because they are comfortable or chose to remain with that status. But, they are already stigmatized and disrespected. The church and the society should look at widows with deepening and compassionate eyes with care and not sympathetic. Widows are emotionally troubled and mentally tormented, they need people’s understanding and encouragement to support them from crying and stigmatization.
Four months after the passing away of my husband, I started coming out to the minister and some people are complaining, it’s too early to come out and minister. I don’t know who told them, when it’s too early to stop crying or who decides how early to stop crying? No one knows what I am going through in my closet or the encounter with God that pushes me out of the place of my crying to be a blessing to people, despite my pains. Even some Christian are still talking and complaining and never bother to know how I am managing my pains. All they are after is my appearance and how I dress.
We need a change of orientation on the way we see and treat widows. It’s not about just giving them bread and fish, but about the heart of love to recognize and respect them for their status.