Today’s post contains the second of two parts of remarks prepared by Rev. Mariama Seray B. Bockari for the panel “African Women and Mission” at the Methodist Mission Bicentennial Conference. Rev. Bockari is a District Superintendent in the Sierra Leone Annual Conference.
Missions in Africa
In 1875, a woman by the name of Lizzie Hoffman influenced the forwarding of the Women’s Missionary Association of the United Brethren Church. After spending one night in prayer, she was convinced that the women of the church should be organized for special mission work.
After the Association was formed, Sierra Leone was the first country in Africa to which missionaries were sent. Then to some other parts of Africa. The expansion of the missionary movement was part of the growing conception of Christian responsibility for the regeneration of African people.
The anti-slavery issue and the humanitarian conscience also played a vital role in stimulating mission work. In included the opening up of Africa to forces of change, namely commerce (i.e., the slave trade), Christianity, civilization and colonization.
The achievement of the purpose of these Christian missions came with some cost. Several missionaries died due to the unfriendly tropical climate. Again in West Africa, the effort to go beyond the coast to reach those inland with the gospel coincided with the southwards expansion of Islam, which posed some threat to the expansion of the work of Christian evangelizing mission. Initially the missionaries had little success because the people received the message with indifference. But as these missionaries continued to practice life in communities, speak truth and show love and compassion, the succeeded. Their cross-cultural ministry offers a unique view of God’s redeeming work in some of the hardest places in Africa.
African Women Missionaries
I am personally blessed by the good example of African women missionaries who labored and continue to toil for the extension of God’s work in Africa.
But as they did, they were faced with challenges. There is socio-economic development, yet there are still alarming levels of poverty leading to other challenging situations and teachings. These include the mushrooming of prosperity gospel churches and movements, human trafficking, modern day slavery and information and communication technologies. These developments progressed or hindered African women in mission.
But despite the challenges, women continue to labour for the gospel, serving as volunteers, giving their time and monies to meet the needs int eh world.
Women’s mission is important in the church so much that, without its organization, the work of the church would not have had such strong support both spiritually and financially.
African women have served the church in the past, and today women are still serving not only in their own country but also cross-culturally in education, the health sector, caring for the home, promoting programmes on HIV/AIDS, conducting seminars and workshops for women and youths in a way of preparing them to become leaders in the future.
Today, African women are sent across the continent on mission work. For instance, Dr. Catherine Mudime is a United Methodist regional missionary working with women, youth and children. She lives in Yaoundé in Cameroon.
Elmira I. Sellu is a United Methodist African woman regional missionary working with women and children. She served in Kenya and someother countries in Africa. She is a Sierra Leonean.
Finda Quiwa is a United Methodist African woman regional missionary working with young people in sub-Saharan Africa. She lives in Sierra Leone. This is to name but a few.
These women and many other African women missionaries have worked hard and continue to work hard and have left a legacy for others to inherit.
The impact of the work of African women on my personal life and ministry
Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20 says “Go ye into the world and made disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things. For lo, I will be with you always to the end of the age.” This was the Great Commission by Jesus, who came to seek and to save the lost, and he calls his church to join in. It was this call that I responded to, a call which prepared me for what I am today.
I am coming from a predominantly Muslim family (the Fullah tribe). I used to go to the mosque for prayers, and on the feat of Idul Adah and Idul Fithr. I would join others to go to the field for prayers. But it came to a time when my eldest son fell ill, and he would convulse five or six times a day. I had no alternative but to consult an herbalist by then. One day, whilst on my way from the herbalist’s place, I met with an evangelist who introduced me to Jesus. At first, I was reluctant to accept the message, but the little boy was convinced, and by invitation he started going to church, and by the grace of God, he received his healing. It was at this point that I made up my mind to follow the God that healed my son.
After my conversion, I served the church as an evangelist. Then I opted for the ordained ministry. Like scripture says, God delights in the beautiful feet that carry good news to the ends of the earth and among his people. My heart burned with passion for those who have not yet received the gospel. I reached the unreached and engaged vulnerable women in counseling and teaching them to be self-reliant and self-sustainable. Through the support of the women’s regional missionary Mrs. Elmira I. Sellu, the former women’s coordinator, I formed a women’s group and introduced them to backyard gardening. The sales from the produce was used to support themselves and their families, especially for paying fees for their children at school.
As an ordained clergy woman, I was elected president of the clergy women association. We plan programmes and engage in gara tie dying, tailoring and running a piggery. The proceeds, when put together, are used to support needy children in our communities. I want to thank God for giving me the privilege of being sent. Praise the Lord.
Let me conclude this presentation by saying that our God who called men and women to mission in the past is still calling us today. He is ready to use any woman who is completely obedient to His call. He always gives us grace for purposeful living. He is the same God yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
Remember, we are created to serve and bring hope to a dying world. Can we seize the opportunity of this gathering which is not yet the “day” when fire shall reveal our work to know what sort of material with which we have built, to humble ourselves and make an honest assessment of our calling so far? Each of us must sincerely respond to the question, “To whom have you answered your calling?” so that we will avoid the unfortunate response of the Master to some, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of inequity.” I pray that the light of the gospel will brighten our need to remain steadfast, unmovable, knowing that your labor in the hard is not in vain. May God give us all, especially the women folk, a definite and external encounter as we continue on our missions.