Today’s post contains remarks prepared by Rev. Laura Wanza Nyamai for the panel “African Women and Mission” at the Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference. Rev. Nyamai is Director of Connectional Ministries for The United Methodist Church in Kenya.
What stories of United Methodist history and mission history are important for your own personal sense of religious and spiritual formation? What is the role of African women in those stories? How can the church globally tell stories of mission and mission history that give more weight to the experiences of African women?
In 1968, The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church united. Full clergy status for women was included in the plan of union. Since then, an increasing number of women have been admitted to the ordained ministry, appointed to the district superintendency, elected to positions of denominational leadership, and consecrated as bishops. In 1980, Marjorie Matthews was the first woman elected to the Church’s episcopacy
The Church globally can tell stories of mission and mission history through celebrations and events like these, music concerts, medical camps, road shows, gathering together to sing and tell stories while we celebrate the legacy of the African Women who made significant contributions to The United Methodist Church. Through such initiative, we can learn more and get inspired. I pray to be that woman that will be celebrated in 100 years to come.
We appreciate the fact that these stories from the past are relevant today and will remain relevant forever.
What contributions do you see African women making to United Methodist mission today? What resources have they drawn upon in making these contributions? What has hindered their contributions, and what has helped?
African women are contributing tremendously to United Methodist mission today through their skills and talents. This has resulted in an increased number of the clergy women than before. According to United Methodist News, before 2004 in some conferences in Africa women were not allowed to join pastoral ministry, but today we have the first female bishop in Africa, Bishop Joaquina F. Nhanala. Clergy women continue to develop their leadership capabilities as highlighted by the African United Methodist Clergywomen Leadership Development Conference held in July 2018 at Africa University, Zimbabwe, which I was privileged to attend. Besides being clergy, women have contributed as missionaries serving not only in their own African countries but also in other countries.
Efforts are being continuously made to improve the state of communities through addressing various problems faced by people. In countries like Kenya, despite the Embargo, women have been at the forefront challenging domestic violence. We have been empowered with the Word of God, and we have also become activists in our own capacity. We are in the front line fighting for the rights of the children. We are also doing an operation called “Mama Linda Toto” (meaning “Mama, protect children”), a registered organisation where we advocate for children's rights, education, health and social status. In Liberia, United Methodist Women also protested against the abuse of women and girls. It can be noted that African women continue to challenge various forms of social injustice as part of the ministry.
Women make use of the existing resource systems to be able to make valuable contributions. Firstly, they are guided by the Holy Spirit in making these tremendous contributions. More so, the skills they have are important assets in mission. We have a lot of women equipped and educated in areas of education, social justice, health and development who are using their skills to improve the wellbeing of various communities. With good education, evangelism will be very easy to spread. One can never go to war without proper weapons. Our weapon is to learn and understand the Word of God. Women are so much aware of and alert to the hardships and challenges that people go through. This is because God has made our hands for war that we can even bend an iron bar (Prov. 18:23). This means that we can do almost anything and endure any circumstance.
We also use our skills, experience and talents to demonstrate God’s love and mercy in furthering the kingdom of God. This made me to be in a position to freely showcase my music talent, and I have recorded several gospel music albums to date, with songs that are transforming lives. For instance, my royalties go to a special programme that I have founded of starting off school for vulnerable children. More so, music has brought communities together and has also been a key to happiness that transcends above material issues of every-day life.
Even though people are not coming to church as they used to, music is still the key to bringing people together.
Mission has historically included many activities: evangelism, health, education, social justice, development, etc. As you think to the future of United Methodist mission, what components of mission do you hope will continue? What do you think the relationship between these components should be? How do you think African women will lead in carrying out these components of God’s mission?
The church is aimed at ensuring people’s complete state of wellbeing. Thus, despite focusing on the spiritual aspects, mission now involves health, education, social justice and development. This approach enables people to effectively contribute in mission while assisting vulnerable members of the community. The United Methodist mission needs to continue with components such as evangelism, health, education, social justice and development. These components are the backbone of most societies. Thus, they must complement each other in representing the spreading of God’s love. If we look at our focus areas, notably engaging in ministry with the poor, improving global health, developing principled Christian leaders and creating new and renewed congregations, it can be noted that they are cross cutting from spiritual and social issues to health issues; hence, they must continue to complement each other.
African women play an important role in African communities, and their contributions are being accepted more as they continue to showcase their talents. Women can lead by occupying various leadership roles and be part of the mission in various components. For example, we have women playing pivotal roles in the health field the likes of Olusimbo Ige from Nigeria, who was the director of Global Health at Global Ministries.
Besides leading from the top, with all these components of God's mission, anybody would borrow from African women. The world is under the impression that we are so poor and weak, yet we are so rich and strong.
Today the family of a widow is much stronger than a family of a widower. It is to us women children cry to. Hear them, Mama, they cry for food, proper education, they cry that you end corruption, you end domestic violence, they cry for protection, Mama. Diseases should no longer kill our children. Let us ARISE and SHINE, for the glory of God has come. A woman's voice is louder than anything. Let's move from social boundaries and become inclusive. Women are known to be knowledgeable of what is happening in their communities; thus, they can use this to identify people in need of spiritual, health and academic support, then use their resourcefulness to link these people with the resources they might need, thereby bringing more people to Christ.