Today’s post contains remarks prepared by Mrs. Betty Spiwe Katiyo for the panel “African Women and Mission” at the Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference. Mrs. Katiyo is an active laywoman in the West Zimbabwe Annual Conference.
What stories of United Methodist history and mission history are important for your own personal sense of religious and spiritual formation?
Let me start by quoting an excerpt from Glory E. Dharmaraj, Concepts of Mission (New York: Women’s Division, General Board of Global Ministries, 2005).
What is “Mission”? “Mission is the goal and the purpose of God for us.”
What are “Missions”? “Missions are the human objectives by which we respond to God’s love for us.”
Reflecting on the above definitions, my personal sense of religious and spiritual formation is strengthened in our missions as the United Methodist body. Knowing that from the time of the Acts of the Apostles (when the likes of Priscilla started mission work) to John Wesley (who together with his brother Charles established missional and philanthropic enterprises to promote social change in society) forming the church, embarking on “missions,” and then leading up to The United Methodist Church mission as per the Book of Discipline paragraph 120, which reads “The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” These are timelines in which we see the “missions” undertaken by humans and by His grace keep growing globally as a testament of His “Mission” for us.
What is the role of African women in those stories?
African women’s missions are as diverse as the continent, and my fellow panelists will attest to that in sharing their missions and experiences.
It is important at this point to highlight that prior to colonization and the coming of the gospel to Africa, we had our own way of carrying out missions within our societies with women very much involved.
To highlight the role of African women in these stories, I would like to share the story of the pioneer of the Methodist women’s group in Zimbabwe, Mbuya (Granny) Lydia Chimonyo, nee Duri, who was born in 1894. She was at risk of a forced marriage to a married man and ran away to Old Mutare Mission for refuge among the missionaries. She worked for missionaries as a helper and the missionaries’ wives took her under their wings to teach and mentor her spiritually and life lessons. In 1914 she got married to Obedia Chimonyo, a pastor/teacher who was attending theological training with other male pastors. It is believed that the foreign missionaries set them up and officiated the nuptials.
Lydia formed a group of local pastors’ wives whose husbands were in theological training. The purpose of this group was to pray for their husbands’ missions. They identified a meeting place at a nearby mountain named Chiremba at Old Mutare Mission under a special tree called Chin’ando, where they met and prayed as early as 4.00am. This was the birth of Rumuko (“early morning prayer before morning chores”). They continued meeting as a group of pastors’ wives and also with the missionary wives who mentored them in various disciplines of womanhood and life in general. They later started wider outreach to include other women for these prayers and meetings. Till today Rumuko has been vibrant, and men and children have joined in making it a family ritual. People meet in homes, sanctuaries or any place of choice. Chin’ando shrine has become a place where people visit regularly for prayer and inspiration.
Women’s clubs were also formed then to teach and do a number of things like adult literacy, cooking, baking, crocheting, nutritional gardens, sustainable farming, poultry, keeping rabbits (coined “butcher in the backyards”), leadership empowerment and many more. These programs are still going on, and many more have been incorporated to suit the current times, e.g. lessons on climatic change.
How can the church globally tell stories of mission history that give more weight to the experiences of African women?
To give more weight to the experiences of African women in mission history, the church should actively capture, document and globally share the African women’s stories in church literature. It would also be worth noting, researching and archiving historical African mission stories.
To enhance existing exchange programs locally, regionally and internationally so that there is first-hand experiences and appreciation to their experiences.
What contributions do you see African women making to the United Methodist mission today?
There is no mission in Africa without women. In Africa, women make up about 70% of the church, which makes them the strength and vitality of the African church and society. Their major contribution to the mission starts with nurturing their children into spiritual environments. This provides a base for the continuity and growth of the church, as missions are passed down from generation to generation.
Other contributions towards the missions are prayer, evangelism, assisting the needy, empowering women in various disciplines (club formations, cooking, business development, home economics, education, etc.), leadership development and mentorship.
What resources have they drawn upon in making these contributions?
They draw upon resources that include:
- Great leadership skills of the regional and local woman coordinators of UMW
- The use of clergy women as resource persons
- Personal experiences
- Funding, both local and international
- Networking with other women groups and women in government offices
- Professional experts (local, regional and international)
What has hindered their contributions?
- Limited economic resources
- Limited physical access to remote areas
- Patriarchy, which inhibits some women from pursuing active roles in mission work
- Lack of self-esteem and self confidence
And what has helped?
- Improvement in the mobility and access to information through the internet has opened a gateway to information that would otherwise not be readily available.
- Open doors in government programs have expanded access to subject matter experts.
- Church programs and meetings help stimulate participation and exposure.
- The Global Ministries missionaries program has helped with human and expertise resources.
Mission has historically included many activities: evangelism, health, education, social justice, development, etc. As you think to the future of the United Methodist mission, what components of mission do you hope will continue?
All of them are critical, especially social justice and inter-generational transmission of skills and experiences. There is a need to thoroughly document the various programs and archive them for future generations.
Economic empowerment, especially with the failing economies and several catastrophes and wars, is needed for self-reliance and sustenance.
Consistent monitoring and evaluation of mission programs for effectiveness is also needed.
What do you think the relationship between these components should be?
The relationship of these components should continue to be intertwined, as they are all threads that bind our society. We need to identify synergies, with clear and effective goals to adequately implement our missions.
How do you think African women will lead in carrying out these components of Gods mission?
They will lead in carrying out these components through their dedication and deep understanding of the church’s mission and how it relates to the different components. In addition, due to the growth of the church in Africa partly because of women’s evangelism, I see African women playing a pivotal role in assisting the church at large and being a point of reference for evangelism and mission work in the global community.
God has used the church through Christ to save persons, heal relationships, transform social structures, and spread scriptural holiness. African women have created a safe space where the church is a place of refuge and a place of purpose. Mbuya Lydia’s “missions” started under a tree, and now Rumuko (Communal Sun Rise Prayers) is practiced in homes and churches all over Zimbabwe, becoming a major source of evangelism up to date as witnessed when they hold their annual conventions and souls are won to Christ. The women’s clubs they started have progressed into various mission activities within the church. This is a testament of the power of African women missions.
I close with a quote from Glory E. Dharmaraj: “God’s mission outlives individual or denominational missions; it does not end.”