05 Feb Street Hope Graduation
– By Molly Stillman
I didn’t even recognize her. I’d met her three years ago when she was first joining the Street Hope program, but this day, I didn’t recognize her.
She was radiant, full of joy, and there was a smile across her face that exuded a peace that surpasses all understanding. This woman, who just three years ago felt lost and without hope. I remember taking her portrait in January of 2017 and there was a sadness in her eyes. When I took her portrait today, it was as if I was taking a portrait of an entirely different person. She is now a woman on fire for the Gospel. She is leading other women in her community towards a life of restoration and transformation.
Her name is Grace, one of the most recent graduates of the Street Hope program.
I’ve had the incredible honor and privilege of playing a small part of the Street Hope team for the past three years. For those that may not be aware, Street Hope is a ministry of newhope church where women who are overcoming human trafficking and survival prostitution are brought into the program and offered hope and empowerment through vocational skills training, discipleship, and Christian community, all in the name of Jesus.
Each woman is identified and reached, and then is taught important skills and begins a journey of healing and restoration – all with the ultimate goal of being “released” back into the community to lead and flourish. The Street Hope program is the epitome of newhope’s mission of Reach, Teach, and Release.
This program walks that out in a very real, life-changing, and often life-saving way. It is led primarily by two amazing women in Kenya, Susan Mwangi and Ruth Syombua. Ruth and Susan truly guide and shepherd each woman that enters the program and daily point them to Christ.
On January 4, 2020, we had the joy of celebrating the success of the 11 women currently in the Street Hope program and releasing five of those 11 women who qualified for graduation. The entire weekend was something special. It began on Friday night as we performed a sacred and special foot-washing ceremony for each graduating woman. For the past three years, these women have worked and labored and learned and grown in so many ways and it was an opportunity to serve them in an intimate way. During this time, we also presented each woman with a graduation cap and stole to commemorate the special occasion.
The following day, we journeyed from Kiganjo up to a beautiful retreat center in Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park just outside of Thika, Kenya for the graduation. What made the day so special was not just that we were celebrating the Street Hope women, but also that each woman brought her family and close friends.
Each Street Hope woman was adorned in matching black, white, red, and yellow kitenge fabric skirts (which they made!), beautiful handmade jewelry (which they made!), and the graduates wore their hats and stoles. From start to finish, the day was filled with abundant laughter, hugs, smiles, happy tears, dancing and singing.
The graduation ceremony had beautiful worship led by the newhope Kenya worship team, and even a few worship songs performed by the Street Hope women. There were powerful moments of sharing God’s Word, prayer, and a testimony from Street Hope graduate Alice, aka: “Mama Michael” that had everyone in tears. When each Street Hope woman came forward to receive her certificate, there was so much rejoicing.
It was truly a day of celebration.
But one of the most powerful moments of the day, in my opinion, came after the ceremony. I offered to take portraits of each Street Hope participant and their families and I thought that maybe I might have a tough time getting everyone excited about this.
I couldn’t be more wrong.
Each Street Hope woman and her family and friends RUSHED to find me to get their pictures taken together. This was an opportunity that I know most of them had not had before and I did not take for granted for a minute that these images would be treasured for years and years to come.
Even as I was doing all I could to get everyone in the portrait to laugh and smile, there I was behind the camera in tears. Think about it – how often do we need to bribe our own families here in the United States to take a family portrait? It can be the most stressful time ever! And yet, these families were beyond excited to have the chance to take a professional photo together.
Having a front-row seat to this kind of life transformation is a gift. The Street Hope ministry, while still in many ways is just beginning, I believe with every fiber of my being is showing that the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to see what God does next.