On Tuesday I lead a workshop for women in a village near Busia on the Kenyan-Uganda border. When the program was arranged, I tried to explain: wait, I don’t want to lead a workshop, I want to hear from the women. But it was no use, I would lead a day workshop for the women of the region.
I designed the workshop in a way that would allow them to share their songs and stories with me. I started with a group reflection and study of the story of Deborah. I wanted to teach them my favorite way to interpret scripture: Read the scripture, feel into the scripture, and then respond out of the scripture. We read the amazing story of Judge/Prophet/Warrior Deborah (If you haven’t read it or it’s been a while, check out Judges 4:1-24). The 20 women and I broke up into small groups and then answered questions about the way the characters may have felt in their circumstance. Then I had them answer questions about what we have to learn from each character. It was a simple Bible study, but you could tell that the women hadn’t done something quite like this. Once they understood that I wanted to discuss questions and then share with the group… the lesson worked well.
I shared the way that I respond out of this Scripture based on the last five weeks of my life. Basically it went something like this: Deborah is called the Mother of Israel in her victory song because she saw Israel’s oppression, hurt, and lack of leadership. Therefore, what it means to be mother is to listen to God and be able to lead and provide for your family. In traditional women’s roles, we have been viewed as “property” and that we should be “managed.” Some people say that God wants it that way, but God sees us as beloved and able to be faithful leaders for God. We can be mothers and women like Deborah and Jael.
During my group meetings it is almost always a man who is translating for me. This was significant for me in this meeting because I felt like he was accepting my message and helping me to empower these women.
I wanted to hear their songs and stories! So I talked about the song that was written about Deborah and her story of faith. I invited them to share their songs and stories of faith. Like the small groups, it took them a little while to feel free to share, but once they began they were open to share their lives with me. They shared for over an hour. Some sang worship songs in their language and songs learned in English, others talked about their marriages, issues of poverty and sickness, struggling for education, having faith in God, and being healed. The Ugandan church has a rich history of testimony and the women need no help or training in how to share the way God has been, is, and will work in their lives!
We took a break and then spent some time interpreting Gen 1:27, being created in the image of God. I focused on having them ask questions trying to discover more about this passage to “feel into” the text. This turned into a discussion of what it means to be created in the image of God. I was amazed by their interpretations: they talked about treating everyone fairly because of God’s image, they talked about being made like God, and having God inside of us. To respond out of the text I asked them to think about how women gain their worth. We discussed beauty, marriage, and children and then how our worth should be built on the foundation of the image of God.
I emphasized the fact that women are able to interpret Scripture through the Holy Spirit and that you can use this process to interpret the Bible in your life. This is not always something that women believe about themselves… but it is important for them to know that God has given them the ability to interpret Scripture. —I did the “image of God” lesson on Thursday with a woman’s group and when I was finished explaining the process, one of the women asked what she should do if she cannot read. I had never considered her question and told her to interpret Scripture with a group of women. Have one read the passage and everyone answers questions in community.
After the workshop, the woman leader who was interpreting for the women’s stories and the image of God lesson asked me how she can share this with her women’s group and if there were more examples. I told her all she needs to do is be open to the Holy Spirit, keep reading, trying to relate to the text and characters, and then relate the text to her life. But I am not satisfied with my answer and this question has not left me since she asked it.
There are women’s groups that meet at church every week and there are no women’s Bible studies or curriculum— or none that I have seen or heard (and I have asked). Churches are lucky to have Bibles, they are extremely fortunate to have hymnals, and curriculum is expensive to print and produce.
What if there were a relevant and culturally sensitive theological curriculum to address the theology of women’s issues and development in Uganda?!
Who would write such a thing? I cannot pretend to take on a task like this as an American woman; however, maybe I could help co-write something that could be adapted, reviewed, and edited by a Ugandan woman theologian.
There are no ordained women in the East African Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. But there are women Priests in the Church of Uganda (Anglican Church). Today I met with Rev. Joy Isabirye, one of five women to serve in the Busoga diocese. She is a professor of Old Testament, working on her PhD in ethics in Nairobi, and in her third year of ordained ministry. She is Rose’s mentor and we went to visit her yesterday. She answered my never-ending questions with an open heart! I wish I could type out our whole conversation! She encouraged me greatly and explained her theological views on polygamy, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, traditional women’s roles, and many other topics. She also directed me to talk with Rev. Dr. Olivia Nassaka, Dean of Mukono Christian University, about my work. She focuses on theology and women’s issues. Hopefully I will meet with her this week. I’ll keep you posted on developments.