CBP: Your new book, Daughters of Hope, is such an incredible, moving book.
Kay: It’s so important for us as Christians to know we’re part of a family. We get to where we think that our little way of life is Christianity. We think that we can help and encourage our brothers and sisters, but they have so much to teach us. I think that’s what we don’t realize.
CBP: How did you become a Christian, Kay?
Kay: I grew up in a Christian family, and have always been exposed to Christianity. When I was 12 years old, one summer I decided I was going to be really good and make up for all my past sins by reading through the Bible that summer. I worked my way through Exodus, Chronicles, and got to the prophets. I got to Micah 6, where it says, “Where shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with lambs of a year old?” Then the answer comes, “You have shown me, O Man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of me? But to justly, and to love mercy, and walk humbly with my God.” And that changed my whole mind about what it meant to know God. I didn’t have to work and earn and struggle to make retribution for my sins. And that was the turning point in my young life, and made me look again at what it meant to truly be a believer.
CBP: How did you come to do this project, interviewing Christian women in different countries?
Kay: I’ll tell you a long answer to that. I love to read about history, and I had read about Marie Antoinette. There was one little portion of her story that talked about how she wasn’t the cruel person we thought she was. She really had a lot of care for the poor, she just had now way of identifying with them. She and the court were feasting one time, they had so much food that the tables were sagging. And when they finished eating, there was still tons of food left. She said, “Louis, let’s spread these leftovers on the street so the poor people can eat them.” So they did that. And of course the people of Paris were starving, and they came scowling and crawling and just licking the food off of the streets. She and Louis stood in the window looking down, and she said, “How they must love us. We are so good to the peasants.” Down on the streets they were saying, “We hate them. We will kill them when we have the chance.” And I thought, they were clueless.
It was right at that time that we had 9-11. I went to church that Sunday, and one of the elders who is a well-known doctor in town stood up asking prayer for the families. He said, “How could this have happened in our country? We are so good to the people of the world. You would think they would love us.” And I thought, Oh my goodness. We are Marie Antoinette. We have no clue.
And I thought right then that I would go and sit at the feet of our brothers and sisters around the world and hear what they had to say. Not tell them. Not speak. I want to know, I don’t want to be clueless. That was the first idea for the book.
When I went to India on the first part of my travels, I said, “I want to hear your stories.” The woman looked at me and said, “You mean you’re not going to stand up and teach us?” I told her I wanted to hear her stories. She said “No one from the West listens to us. Everybody teaches us. You came from America to listen to me?” I didn’t teach, I learned from our sisters and brothers.
CBP: How did you choose which countries to go to?
Kay: I wanted to go to places where it was most challenging to be a Christian. I’ve done a lot of work with Partners International and am on the board of Sisters in Service. I wanted to go where they could put me in touch with people. I wanted to go to India and China because they are emerging to be world powers very rapidly. Those are places that I need to go.
And North Africa is the seat of the Islamic militants, and I wanted to go there. I had my dream list, and I asked them where they could arrange for me to go. There were certain places that I actually went and never knew if I was going to meat with anybody, because it’s so hard to talk with Christians there. They were putting their lives on the line to meet with me.
I told in the book of a woman who was covered up, and I asked why. She said, “I don’t want you to be able to identify me so that if you’re stopped you cannot describe me. My life is at risk.” It was amazing to me that people would be willing to speak to me even though they knew the risk. In China, a couple of the women were arrested after talking with me, because one of the women with them was a spy who turned them in. It was a hard and sad situation, yet they were very candid and open.
CBP: I was surprised at how much leadership the women take on in their local ministries. I would have assumed that because of the cultures they would have been subservient. Yet you tell of women who teach in Mongolia.
Kay: Yes. In fact, I met with a husband and wife in China, and the wife was the preacher. And he was the administrator. I asked why, and he said that she was the gifted preacher. This was interesting to me, even in North Africa. They would say “When we are outside the church, we walk behind the man. When we are in the church, we are governed by the overriding rule of scripture which says in Christ, there is no male nor female, there is no bond nor free, there is neither Jew nor Gentile. We are all one in Christ. Why is that a hard concept to you Americans?” It was surprising to me. And we experienced it around the world.
CBP: You gave statistics of the percentage of women versus men believers.
Kay: In some of the countries, such as China, there are more women than men. But that wasn’t always true everywhere. It was much more difficult in Islamic countries for women to become Christians than men, because if the man made the decision to become Christian then his family automatically followed him. If a woman decided to become a Christian, then she was kicked out and lost everything. She lost her family, her children, and in some countries was hunted down by her family to be killed. Especially in Egypt, Christian that convert from Islam live a shadowy existence in the underground because they are hunted.
CBP: It sounds like Christianity has a great appeal to Islamic women. Why is that?
Kay: There’s a huge appeal to Islamic women. One wife to a man. I’m not saying that Islamic men don’t love their wives, I’m sure there are many that do. But in the Christian families, there is a real concern for the good of that wife. It’s not like if you do anything to embarrass me I’ll get rid of you. Instead, if you do something to me, we’ll work it out. It’s a whole different concept than is in an Islamic marriage. There is also the sense of having worth that the women don’t have. They are taught that they are not valuable in the eyes of Allah. Having value is a whole new thing in Christianity.
The problem is there is huge risk as well, especially family. And family is everything there; we can’t even begin to grasp what it is for them. They are cut off from everything. No safety net, no connection to anything. It is hard for them. I talked to some people who said they knew that Jesus was God’s Son, that He is the Savior, that the Christian God is the true God. But they cannot because the price they have to pay is too much.
CBP: Have you heard from readers of Daughters of Hope?
Kay: I’ve gotten really touching letters from people, and have been invited to speak at women’s retreats. That’s what is so encouraging to me. Usually women’s retreats are light, and this subject is not light. I’ve had women who have said, “We have spent enough time on fun, but we live in a global society. We realize that the scripture says ‘To whom much has been given, much is required.’ We want some substance and want to know what we can do to make a difference for eternity.” That has been the most touching.
It has also opened up the door to speaking to secular groups, such as Rotary clubs, officers’ wives at military bases. I tell them it is not just advocacy for women, but it has a Christian message. And they say it’s ok. I’m able to share the gospel with these secular groups, which I never would have thought of happening.
CBP: Was it hard to come back after all that you saw?
Kay: The biggest change for me is that I see myself now as a member of the global family of Christ. I have emails from people in Burma, in India, and they’re my family. I’ve been back to India twice, and will go back this year for another project. When I was there, I would hold hands with the untouchable women and say, “We are sisters.” It was amazing to them to know.
What has been frustrating to me is to see the complacency of the Christian community here. How so many Christians in this country want to be comfortable and happy. And if we’re not, something’s wrong. Why isn’t God blessing me? What did I do wrong? We don’t have the perspective that they have. These people say, “This world is not my home, heaven is what I was made for.” We don’t have that same concept, and we would be so much richer if we did. We should instead say, “What are we doing to impact the world?”