Today’s post contains remarks prepared by Rev. Jacqueline Ngoy Mwayuma for the panel “African Women and Mission” at the Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference. Rev. Mwayuma is administrative assistant to Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Episcopal Area. Rev. Mwayuma’s remarks are translated from French.
Introduction and History
In debates about "feminism," too often one confronts abstract and simplified theses. It is worth the trouble of going to the field to see how things went yesterday and go today. Despite their marginalization, African women are creators and actors in several sectors: social, economic, political, religious and cultural. A woman’s identity is more determined by roles in the secular social that limit her rather than by her understanding and acceptance as a child of God who can exercise ministry in the world.
Most of the statistics available today report the presence of three women among every five missionaries, all countries considered together. That is to say, that the role of women in the mission is far from negligible. However, it has not always been so, as a quick historical glimpse highlights.
During the post-Reformation period, Christian missionaries emphasized the family. Women going out in mission had, as their primary responsibility, to care for their homes and to support their husbands in prayer (1 Corinthians 14.33 -36).
The difficulties faced by women in the mission of the church in Africa start with the fact that the acceptance of the missionary woman was not easy in the society where she worked.
Within African society, in a traditional approach, women could neither teach men nor exercise any authority over man. Another more current approach states that the woman could teach, but she was not allowed to occupy a position of authority.
The woman was poorly perceived by those around her, which points to discrimination on the part of men. Women encountered serious depression in the face of cultural arrangements where women in primitive society were considered second class.
On the one hand, knowing that a leader is necessary and that one has the gifts for assuming this function, but that the leadership role has not been offered because one is a woman, led to a lot of frustrations.
On the other hand, accepting such a position in a cultural situation where the woman did not usually occupy a place of leadership can cause strong tensions that will often be very difficult to manage. A woman assigned to a leadership position in mission can easily be judged badly, even by her own colleagues. If she makes an error, it will be judged more severely than a male colleague occupying the same position. If under her direction certain aspects of the work are not as satisfactory as expected, the fact that she is a woman will often be blamed, sometimes quite wrongly.
After several decades, the missionary movement had a great impact in Africa, where women played a large role in this mission, in accordance with the opinion that men and women are equal according to Galatians 3:28.
Men and women, youth and adults, rich and poor, all have understood their baptism as the basis for service in the Christian ministry. Historically, the Methodist movement has given women the opportunity to assert their callings to their duties and to ensure roles of ecclesial leadership for them.
Thus, The United Methodist Church in Africa involves women in all activities – evangelical, spiritual, material, financial and social. Therefore, in Africa, women perform all the same functions as a man; they are actively involved in the functions with which they have been entrusted, according to their gifts.
Over time, the opinion that men and women are equal in the church is spreading more and more nowadays, especially within the major denominations: Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran, and others. This is how John Wesley, the organizer of the Methodist movement, used the biblical foundation to encourage all people.
The church is aware of the importance of the contribution of women to its mission in Africa, which would be less dynamic, less ready to welcome education and generous service without them. They have helped the African church to clarify the understanding of proper service due the power of evangelism. This is particularly true from the point of view of dedication, self-giving, welcoming, listening, concrete attention to people small and large, rich and poor. It is a perspective capable of helping people to challenge certain mental patterns, prejudices or ways of understanding and to organize ecclesial life.
The challenge today in Africa is to give many more places to women in the management of ecclesial affairs. The voice of women continuing the mission must be heard in the same way as the voice of men, because the church is not for men only but also women, especially in Africa where our churches are 70% filled with women.
Mady Vaillant, “Les femmes dans la mission,” Fac-Réflexion 49 (1999), 24-36.
Ruth A. Tucker, “A Historical Overview of Women in Ministry,” Theology News and Notes (Fuller Theological Seminary, March 1995), quoted by Dr. Saphir Athyal.
E. M. Braekman, Histoire du Protestantisme au Congo, (Bruxelles: Librairie des Eclaireurs Unionistes, 1961).
Delia Halverson, Kabamba Kiboko, M. Lynn Scott, and Laceye Warner, Women Called to the Ministry: A Six-Session Study for The United Methodist Church, (Washington, DC: General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, The United Methodist Church, 2015).
Leevy Frivet, “Femmes pasteurs et femmes de pasteurs: Porte-voix des femmes,” Gender Links (March 30, 2013), https://genderlinks.org.za/classification/themes/femmes-pasteurs-et-femmes-de-pasteurs-porte-voix-des-femmes-2013-03-30/
The United Methodist Church, Le Quotidien du Défenseur Chrétien, Vol. 2: Ministères Globaux (Nashville, TN: [n.d.]).