IF: Gathering Mother & Child ProjectHope Through Healing Hands was delighted to be a sponsor for the IF: Gathering in Austin, Texas in February. IF exists to gather, equip, and unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose. IF organizes monthly dinners hosted by women in their communities, a daily Bible study, and encourages women using their unique callings to make a difference at home and across the world. This annual gathering included about 2,500 women in Austin as well as thousands across the U.S. who watched a live stream broadcast in their homes or churches.

The two-day IF: Gathering was filled with speakers, panel discussions, worship, and thought-provoking conversation among attendees. Speakers at the IF: Gathering included leading voices from the faith community such as Jennie Allen, Christine Caine, Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, Shauna Niequist, and Lynne Hybels.

Women were encouraged to claim and use their gifts and talents.  As Lynne Hybels, whose ministry focuses on under-resourced communities, noted, “Women are disproportionately affected by the world’s problems and need to be disproportionately engaged on the solution side.”

Hope Through Healing Hands sponsored a luncheon for IF: Gathering attendees on Saturday, February 7. We were thrilled to host more than 200 attendees who came to learn more about the critical global health issues of mothers and children.

Humanitarian photographer Esther Havens opened the lunch by telling us about the baby in the photograph that serves as the cover of our upcoming book, The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope. Havens returned to Rwanda to find that the baby is a thriving 8-year old little girl who is now in school with her siblings.

After Esther spoke, the attendees had time to speak with one another as they ate a delicious lunch. Each table was provided with questions to begin conversations about maternal and child health, such as “Have you ever traveled to a developing country? If so, share a little bit about your trip, your thoughts and observations.” Or “In North America, often we take for granted our knowledge and access to tools that help us make educated decision for ourselves and our families—things like family planning, prenatal and postnatal care. How have these things enriched you and your family?” These questions set the tone for a provocative dialogue.

After the time for discussion, Hope Through Healing Hands Executive Director, Jenny Dyer, gave some background information about the Faith-based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. Francie Likis, a nurse-midwife and Faith Outreach Consultant for Hope Through Healing Hands, talked about global differences in maternal and child health and survival.

Almost 289,000 women die every year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth; 99% of these women are in developing nations, and 80% of these deaths are in developing nations. More than 6.3 million children under the age of 5 die annually, mostly from preventable, treatable diseases such as malaria and diarrhea.

IF: Gathering Advocacy CardsFrancie pointed out that just during the IF: Gathering’s 2-hour lunch break, 60 women and more than 1,500 children had died. People of faith cannot stand by and do nothing about this. The good news is that many deaths can be prevented with healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. Contraception, including natural family planning, can save millions of lives by helping women time and space their pregnancies.

Jenny closed the lunch by talking about ways the attendees can make a difference for mothers and babies around the world. These include praying, raising awareness, and speaking up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Women were offered the opportunity to begin advocacy by signing cards for their Senators and Representatives asking them to support and protect U.S. programs for maternal, newborn, and child health and international family planning. We collected more than 200 cards, which are being delivered in person to Congressional Representatives and Senators in Washington, D.C.

We are grateful so many women were willing to use their voices to uplift and empower some of the most vulnerable women around the world for healthier, happier families and lives.