is a cross-cultural communicator with a message that empowers her
international audience to discover and claim their God-gifted
destiny. She is also the founder of
an organization committed to rebuilding nations through
Her experience of living in Thailand for 25 years where she founded
and directed a Girl’s Home
for girls at risk of being sold into prostitution has given her a
unique foundation for her seminars and conferences that she conducts
around the world.
Faulkner is the author of four books, “I’m
a Woman!”— addressing
issues of self-esteem and the Asian woman; and
Soul on Sojourn—Gaining an
Eternal Perspective through the Losses of Life
(contracted by Multnomah but unpublished),
Living Beyond the Possible
by Wayne Myers and Mary Dunham Faulkner, Evangeline Press, 2003; and
for Tough Times.
She is now partnering with the Rwanda
government in Central Africa in building a Women’s Resource Center
for the families of the victims of the tragic genocide of 1994.
Besides her partnership with the women of Rwanda, Mary also conducts
leadership conferences and seminars in southeast Asia, Africa, South
America and Eastern Europe.
Two years ago, an article about Mary
appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Our planned Kenya trip prompted a
search through old emails, and this one containing that article was
rediscovered. You can read it here. Enjoy.
Sisters in Healing
Saturday, February 26, 2005
By KATHARINE GOODLOE / The Dallas Morning News
Mary Dunham Faulkner has devoted her life to helping 'broken women'
all over the world. She's also been one herself.
Mary Dunham Faulkner sits behind her angular wooden desk in Dallas,
unleashing the pictures one at a time.
“Here is a picture of her and a woman in Kigali, Rwanda.” The woman is
dressed in orange, smiling. “She is raising 11 children orphaned by the
genocide," Mary says.
Mary Dunham Faulkner has devoted her life to helping broken women throughout
the world through the Jireh Project.
Another picture: a woman, 17 years old, dressed in blue.
"She was taken into a camp as a sex slave," Mary says. "She was raped every
Another: A family. A mother, a father, two sons and two daughters.
"He lost his mother and father," Mary says, touching the picture, pointing
toward the man. "They were beheaded."
In the pictures, they are smiling.
But the past lurks just behind the whites of their teeth.
How could it not, Mary says.
A decade ago, the tiny African nation of Rwanda was ravaged by a genocide
that left almost 1 million dead in 90 days.
How could it not?
The stories came late to Mary, well after the Hutu majority attempted to
eradicate the minority Tutsi. But it was not too late to help.
As a woman devoted to rebuilding other women – some emotionally fractured as
she was, many broken in far worse ways and some perhaps beyond repair – Mary had
but one question.
How could she not?
That question tugged at Mary long before Rwanda. It started before she
ministered to women from a Dallas church, and before she launched a nonprofit
organization to heal women around the globe.
of Bukavu, Congo, attending a Leah's Sister's conference.
It started back when she lived in Thailand – back when she considered herself
Mary was 17 in 1965 and married to Dan Dunham for three months before she
followed him to Bangkok and then to Songkhla, a sliver of city along Thailand's
coastal southern tip. They worked at a Finnish mission in a life Mary considered
"a great romantic adventure."
But after five years, Mary questioned if it was the life she wanted.
She struggled with the country's tonal language. She and Dan had a young
daughter, Evangeline, but Mary went years without seeing her parents or her 10
siblings. She wondered if this was the life she was supposed to lead.
It wasn't until they moved again, to Chiang Mai in the country's mountainous
north, that Mary began noticing. Girls – some 12, others perhaps 14 – were
disappearing from nearby villages as the country's sex trade boomed in the
Propelled both by curiosity and compassion, Mary began following them to the
concrete storefront brothels.
How did you get here, she would ask the girls between shifts. Why?
Each told her the same story: A man came to her family, offered money and
promised she would work as a waitress. She never did.
"Some people didn't know what was happening to their daughters," Mary says.
"Others knew but thought it was OK to sacrifice one to feed the others."
How could they, she thought.
How could they not?
"To me, that was the beginning of discovering who I am," Mary says. "I
couldn't do anything huge, but I knew I could do something. I could take five
girls, or 10, or 20. And this can be home. And this can be life. And I can love
Here is a picture of the first girls' home: a rigid concrete building with
wooden shutters. A small porch protrudes from its second story.
Another picture: a girl, inside. She is sewing a hat, learning.
Mary and Dan built the home on the outskirts of Chiang Mai in 1975, amid
farmland. They named it Baan Mai – literally, she says, "new home" – and hoped
the distance would keep neighbors from asking about the 20 young girls, many
former prostitutes, who slept in the dormitory there.
Mary recruited teachers to help the girls learn marketable skills to ply in
nearby villages. The dressmaking students tailored outfits for nearby women, and
other girls wove scrap cloth into rugs to sell at market.
The funds helped support the house, which in turn supported the girls, Mary
As the girls learned skills and left, Mary began to visit nearby villages and
talk with families who could no longer afford their daughters.
Send them to us, Mary would say, not to the men who come to buy them.
The villages responded.
"They welcomed that home," says Krisna Jittiwutikarn, 54, an accountant in
Chiang Mai who worked with Mary and spoke by phone. "They knew that if you have
girls with problems, that home is for those girls."
Mary began speaking to groups in Bangkok and Burma, telling other women how
to achieve what they wanted. She helped start a second girls' home in nearby
She set out to raise her and Dan's children well.
She wrote a book on how to be a good wife.
And for almost 15 more years, she was.
The pictures from 1990 were buried away long ago.
Mary and Dan moved to Saginaw, Texas, that year, when their son Darin started
school at Messiah College outside of Harrisburg, Pa.
Saginaw was close to a major airport – in case Darin needed them – and not
far from Mary's parents in San Antonio. Their daughter, Evangeline, had moved to
Irving years earlier, and Mary wanted to be nearby to ease the children's shift
from Thailand to America.
Mary and Dan moved into a brand-new house in a brand-new subdivision, along
with their youngest son, Joshua.
But they brought with them problems.
Tension between Mary and Dan had escalated for years, Mary says, but she
didn't know why.
It came down to one conversation: Dan was leaving her. He was going
back to Thailand. And there was no room for her to follow.
"My life was shattered," Mary says.
Her deeply religious family considered divorce "something to be avoided at
all costs," says her brother, Amos Dodge, 56, a pastor in McLean, Va. She had
married young and placed her faith in living what she considered a "good life,"
being loyal to her husband and raising moral children.
Now all of that was gone.
"Her brokenness was deep, it was to the core," Mr. Dodge says. "As a pastor,
I counsel people through divorce, through tragedies and death. That's what I do.
But I don't know if I ever saw anyone hurt deeper than Mary."
The bank foreclosed on Mary's new home. She and Joshua moved into a run-down
Irving apartment, where neighbors sold drugs and Mary felt trapped. She worked
answering phones at American Airlines, where she would move up to management,
but the changed life began to suffocate her.
"I could not find anything familiar in my life," Mary says. "From waking up
in the morning to going to bed at night, there was nothing familiar on my
Raised in a missionary family by parents who traveled to China and Tibet
doing, as they said, "the Lord's work," Mary's faith was deep. But as she
struggled to build a life in Texas, she could no longer find answers in the
"I am now among the fraternity of broken women," Mary remembers thinking. "I
didn't even realize how much people were hurting until I went through that."
She rotated among congregations and discovered a tiny church in Dallas where,
Mary says, "You didn't have to pretend to have it all together to be a
She relied heavily on prayer.
As she talked to her older brother, David, Mary said she felt like "a
cross-eyed Leah," whose husband "ran off with the beautiful Rachel." But David
had a different interpretation of the biblical story of Jacob's wives.
"Jesus was descended from Leah," he told her. "Not Rachel."
"It was like an epiphany to me," Mary says. "It was OK to be broken."
Mary channeled her thoughts into an eight-page, bimonthly newsletter she
called Leah's Sisters. She handed it out at her doctor's office, to
co-workers and to nearby churches, building a small subscription list.
When she was invited to speak at a church one Sunday, Mary took it as a good
When Ann Murchison, widow of Cowboys founder Clint Murchison Jr., asked Mary
to write her life's story, it was a better sign – it was a way to put bread on
the table without being trapped in a suit, or in a life where she didn't belong.
She left American in 1995, the same year she moved into a worn-out cottage in
Irving and began rebuilding the home. Three years later, she and Ms. Murchison
were asked to speak at a women's conference in Kenya.
Mary's luggage was stolen at the airport, though, and she slinked into the
back row of a school building in Kenya, hoping that no one would notice her or
her rumpled clothing.
But amid the buoyant singing, Mary remembered her childhood dreams of
She lifted her head to look around the room. She saw the women lifting their
voices. She felt the connection.
"That was the beginning of my new life," Mary says. "I have sisters like me
all over the world. Husbands do leave. Children do die. Cancer does happen. And
I realized I wanted to get to the women who are hurting."
How could she not?
The question came back to Mary at a dinner party in Dallas, hosted by Ms.
Murchison, where she met a Rwandan minister named Celestin Musekura. A doctoral
student at Dallas Theological Seminary, Mr. Musekura also leads an African
But when he talked about his country's past, Mary didn't understand.
"I was totally unaware," Mary says. "When they said 'Rwanda,' they had to
give me an education."
Soon, Mary began reading books on the genocide and educating herself. She
watched any movies she could and constantly searched the Internet. She talked
with a couple who escaped Rwanda during the killings.
She wondered if she could do more.
By then, Leah's Sisters had grown from a newsletter to a nonprofit
organization, giving computers to classrooms in Third World countries. But there
was so much else to do, Mary thought.
In April 2000, she went to Rwanda with Mr. Musekura's wife, Bernadette
Bankundiye. Mary became certain: It was not too late to help.
"I remember talking with her about the trip," Mr. Musekura says. "She told me
the way these women worshipped, despite their losses, and the love they have for
God, despite the pain they have. ... They connected through those things."
To Mary, it cemented a mission.
"The orphans are still there," she says. "The women who lost their husbands
and livelihoods, they're still there. Even 10 years later, there is still great
need in Rwanda."
A picture: the women's center in Kigali, still under construction. Its brick
walls begin to rise from stone floors. Daylight peeks through the windows. The
architect stands inside, fuzzy.
Another: the building's outside. Wooden poles hold up brick surfaces. The red
roof is nearly complete.
When Mary first visited Rwanda, she talked with residents about building a
Would you want it? she asked. What could it do?
It could help rebuild the region's women, they decided.
"They were the obvious people left to take care of babies that were
orphaned," Mary says. "The men were gone. There were no breadwinners. Women were
the obvious solution to Rwanda."
the killings, many women were raped and infected with HIV, says Jeanne Gakuba,
vice mayor in charge of gender and women's promotion in Kigali. Now those same
women are left to head their families, many without the benefit of education or
"The main thing to know about Rwanda is that a lot of women here are leaders
of families," says Ms. Gakuba, who spoke by phone from Kigali. "They need a lot
of things just to afford education, to get money for rent, for food. ... They
have a big problem with AIDS, but they are still alive."
The Jireh Project's first phase, a long, brick building filled with
classrooms, is to be dedicated in April, the same month the killings began in
1994. Next, Mary plans to create a dormitory and then cultivate the center's
Although the Jireh Project will include a daily chapel, as the girls'
homes in Thailand did, Mary says attendance isn't required. "If your faith isn't
strong enough to be attractive enough to draw someone in," Mary says, "being
legalistic about it isn't the answer."
Her work is more than a religious mission, she says.
"These women are rebuilding self-images, and dreams, and a future, and a
country," Mary says, "But they're in Burma. They're in Thailand. They're in
South America – incredibly strong women who have had to rebuild."
As Leah's Sisters grew and the Jireh Project began to rise,
Mary also worked to rebuild her own life.
In April 2000, she remarried, to a man named Joe Faulkner, whom she met at
that tiny church in Dallas and befriended years earlier.
"Joe has never held me back in any way," she says. "When I say, 'I'm going to
the Congo, and I'll be 50 miles from the rebel fighting,' he says 'You go; this
is who you are.' "
This year, Mary, 57, is invited to speak with women in China, Romania,
Thailand, Kenya, the Ukraine and Burma (also now known as Myanmar). She's also
the director of women's ministries at Hillcrest Church in Dallas, where she
works with women whom she says are broken in different ways than those she helps
But before Mary can continue building more centers in other countries – as
she vows to do – she plans to return to an old home.
The Baan Mai is being demolished now, as its foundation crumbles. But Mary is
intent on rebuilding it on the same patchwork of flat, treed land the original
home stood on.
"I thought I had lost this," she says, touching a picture of that first
girls' home. "It was one of the greatest losses of my life."
"I can't tell you how wonderful it is," she says, "to live through all the
garbage and the brokenness and the death, and to see the new come out better
than the old."
Here is a picture: Mary, standing with the mayor of Kigali, Rwanda. He
Here is another: a woman in Kigali – a banker. Here is another – a doctor.
Then a professor. Then a judge. All smile.
Another: Mary, learning an African dance.
She is smiling. In each picture, everyone is smiling.
The past lurks just behind the whites of their teeth. But perhaps
possibilities are there, too.
How could they not?
Leah's Sisters is a largely faith-based, nonprofit organization with
two paid officers and a network of volunteers. Its office is moving from McLean,
Va., to Dallas.
The $1 million Jireh Project is organized by Leah's Sisters and
financed by both Americans and Rwandans. The name comes from the phrase "Jehovah
jireh," meaning "God will provide."
is a look at its three planned phases:
First phase: a brick building filled with classrooms, costing
Second phase: a dormitory for women from outlying villages, and from
the nearby nations of Congo and Burundi
Third phase: cultivating the 50 acres the Rwandan government donated
for the center's site, creating a poultry farm and teaching women to grow crops.
For more information, visit
www.thejirehproject.com , or call 214-886-1093