By David Wiebe
Drawing from his visits with Mennonite Brethren churches around the world, ICOMB executive director David Wiebe offers insights on faith.
How do they do that? Several women were holding an aluminum pot they had made for sale in the local markets. I thought such things were only available from retail stores, bought from factories. Apparently not.
It was 2003, shortly after the conclusion of the Second Congo War that embroiled Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and seven of its nine neighboring countries. The ravages of war were apparent through destroyed communities, lost lives and a massive influx of people into Kinshasa, the capital city.
Together with several Canadians, I visited Kikwit, DRC. We spent four wonderful days with local church people, visiting agricultural projects and new church plants. It included a day of seminars—which we visitors facilitated but spent more time listening to the people than speaking.
One seminar was for women, about their contribution to church life through the work of their hands. These women exercised entrepreneurial gifts, born of necessity from poverty and an unemployment rate of 95 percent (in “traditional” jobs). To earn a little cash, they made soap, bottled detergent, shampoo and perfume and somehow made aluminum pots—all for sale in local markets.
It reminded me of the “ode to women” in Proverbs 31:10–31.
The role of wise women
The ode is set in the historical context of repopulated Judah, perhaps two or three centuries before Christ. Many men were conscripted by foreign overlords to work in large public works or serve in their armies. Who would run the farm or the family business? Who could uphold the convictions and culture of the people of God? It would be the household women, the “valorous woman” in verse 10, a translation preferred by Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis.
The women would have to be valorous, bravely leading and taking care of business in a fragile economy, under uncertain political circumstances.
Proverbs 31 uses the word “hand” seven times, indicating how practical and wise these women had to be to survive. Wisdom (Hebrew hochma), the focus of Proverbs, really meant “good with your hands” in Jewish culture.
My newfound Congolese friends demonstrated this kind of wisdom.
Not that they weren’t tempted to feel like they had to do it all. One woman said rather sharply with her husband sitting beside her, “The women do all the work. We look after the children. We cook. We make these products to sell. And what do our husbands do? Nothing! They just sit around and talk!”
Proverbs 31 doesn’t imply that women are now supposed to do it all. Rather, it honors the vital role of valorous women who shape the culture of the people of God.
Creating business opportunities and studying the Bible
Over time, something wonderful has occurred among the Mennonites of Congo. As women gather to create business opportunities, they study the Bible and pray. Over time, the best speakers have “bubbled up” and have been given spiritual authority. Some are recognized as capable leaders and preachers.
This organic approach has led to many women taking pastoral roles in the Mennonite Brethren churches of DR Congo. In Kinshasa, where some 50 MB churches exist, perhaps one quarter of the pastors are women. I saw the full impact in 2012 when ICOMB sponsored a pastors training event on the International Confession of Faith. Many in attendance were women.
In the last century, MB women from North America were ordained to mission work in DR Congo to provide essential health services, education, evangelism and church planting. Feminism didn’t call these women to mission—God and the church did.
Today, the same two forces, God and the church in mission-expansion, are calling women to lead alongside men in the Congolese MB churches.
About 75 percent of Mennonite Brethren members live in contexts similar to that of the third-century BC Jews to whom Proverbs 31 was written—in fragile economies, political uncertainty and suppression of religious rights. It will take valorous women, and men, to lead our global church into the mission of God.
Photo provided by David Wiebe: Several women from DR Congo display a handmade aluminum pot.
Did you know?
- The Communauté des Églises des Frères Mennonites au Congo (CEFMC) is the name of the Mennonite Brethren Church in DR Congo. Girard Mambakila is the CEFMC president.
- Membership is more than 100,000 people in 468 “built” churches and more than 1,000 “cell” churches
- Many pastors do not own a Bible. One walks four hours to visit a friend who owns a Bible, copies by hand the text he plans to preach on and prepares his sermon for Sunday on the return.
- Many elderly pastors and widows of pastors rely on pensions set up by missionaries who are no longer there.
- Approximately eight churches associated with CEFMC can be found in Bukavu, Eastern Congo. They have experienced trials of fear and miracles of protection amid the violence plaguing the area.
- A team of 12 Congolese Mennonites is writing a new curriculum to teach Anabaptist convictions and values in the schools operated by our churches. Almost 75,000 students attend grades 1 to 12 in 335 schools. ICOMB supports this project financially. All the “brain power” is Congolese.
- CEFMC missionary efforts reach the Batwa in central-north DR Congo, the region around Bukavu, and Durban, South Africa.
This article is part of the CL Archives. Articles published between August 2017 and July 2008 were posted on a previous website and are archived here for your convenience. We have also posted occasional articles published prior to 2008 as part of the archive. To report a problem with the archived article, please contact the CL editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.