Originally from Canada, Larissa Wiens now lives in Zambia leading projects supported by The Freedom Challenge. As part of our new blog series looking at the lives of inspirational women leaders around the world, Larissa shares what she loves about her life in Zambia and what inspires her
1. Why and how did you start working in Africa?
Since I was a young girl, I have always had a heart for missions. God developed a strong desire within me to make a difference in the world; I wanted to make an impact beyond just my home area in Canada. I knew God was calling me to ‘go’, but where?
As the time for me to graduate from grade 12 drew closer, I had somehow lost a bit of that vision and urgency to go out into missions. Instead, my plans were to go to college and play volleyball –one of my greatest passions growing up. I was accepted on the team and preparing to go.
Yet just a few weeks before my graduation, I had a great uneasiness about this. God was reminding me of the commitment I had made to him some years back to serve him with my life in missions. I realized that it was not a bad thing to go to college to play volleyball, but it was not where God was leading me at that time. Even though it was difficult, I made the decision to cancel those plans and go wherever God was calling me. I prayed and waited for a few months before receiving the direction to join Operation Mobilization (Freedom Challenge is part of OM) and move to Zurich, Switzerland. It was here that I was first exposed to the sad realities of human trafficking and sex labor. During my year in Zurich I spent time reaching out to the most marginalized of society, including ladies who had been trafficked into Switzerland and forced into prostitution.
After my year in Switzerland God moved me to Africa, where I have been ever since.
2. What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I lead Tabitha Skills development, a sewing and discipleship project supported by The Freedom Challenge, and I lead Freedom Challenge Africa.
I love empowering others; that could include helping a woman who was previously marginalized set on a path to freedom, or equipping my team members, family, home church, etc. to take a stand against the injustices around us.
It is so incredible to spend time with a woman who was once completely without hope (because she was not able to even provide food for her children or find a little money to send them to school) and then facilitate transformation in her life through spiritual discipleship, mentoring, business training and sewing training and then see the smile on her face once she has found her hope and identity in Christ and is beginning to live self-sustainably! I also find great joy in the way that God continues to transform my own life along this journey. It is not always an easy journey, but no matter what challenges I have passed through I have always experienced God building me up and speaking in new ways, and for that I am so thankful.
3. What’s the hardest part of your work here?
My past few years living in Zambia have been some of the most blessed times I have ever had, yet also some of the most challenging. I have had the privilege of living on the edge of Makwati, a large compound ravished with challenges such as prostitution, abandoned children, excessive beer drinking, lack of education and unemployment. Although it may sound like a horrible place to live, it has become a special home to me. It is also one of the biggest challenges to always see the poverty and difficult living situations of the women and children around me. It takes a lot of strength to remain compassionate and loving, and not become overwhelmed with the scope of the problem and just become numb to it.
4. How are women’s lives being changed through this project?
The following is just one testimony of how Tabitha, a combination of discipleship and sewing, is changing lives:
"I joined Tabitha three years ago. My family and I were struggling to survive, as my husband is in a wheel chair. We had sold nearly everything we had including our typewriter and bicycle, just to get enough money for a small house. Providing food for our children was increasingly difficult. Because of my husbands condition, many people laughed at us and even vandalized our home. This caused us much trouble and we even had to move.
I thank the Lord for Tabitha, and the tailoring training I received. I am now able to make enough money to help my family survive! I am also thankful to say that all four of my children have finished school. My daughter and me both just got baptized...God is doing amazing things in my life.”
5. What are your hopes for the future?
My hope for the future is to develop a Christian boarding school that accommodates single and double orphans in Zambia, in order that they may be empowered with a good education and given the opportunity to stand on their own two feet and live a sustainable life. I dream of being able to support many orphans to school, as well as also give them the opportunity to go to university.
My dream is also to continue to do all that I can to empower and develop marginalized women in Africa, that one day I will see many African women who have been set free and are going out into difficult places in order to reach out to their own people!