This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Women of the Bible set examples in East Africa

MUSOMA, Tanzania — Infertility, single parenting, poverty, the raising and teaching of children, life with an unbelieving or unfaithful husband and maintaining faith in desperate times: These issues confront East African women daily.

Women study Theological Education by Extension at the Mennonite Church in Rukungiri, Uganda. — Joe Bontrager/EMM
Women study Theological Education by Extension at the Mennonite Church in Rukungiri, Uganda. — Joe Bontrager/EMM

As Eastern Mennonite Missions worker Gloria Bontrager interacted with East African women, she wanted to address these issues from a biblical perspective. She developed two courses, Women of the Bible and Women in the Work of God, based on women of the Bible who were examples of faith while facing these issues.

East African culture identifies strongly with Bible culture. Women see themselves struggling with similar problems, so they can put themselves into the stories and learn from them.

These courses give a history of women’s participation in God’s work throughout the Old and New Testaments and challenge the church to respond to the task of God’s kingdom today.

Bontrager and her husband, Joe, serve with EMM in Kenya and Tanzania, working with churches and coordinating Theological Education by Extension teaching. They have observed that in most churches two-thirds to three-fourths of the regular attenders are women.

“We have begun introducing these courses to women in the congregations where we have been,” Bontrager said. “We are excited to see the enthusiasm in women and other leaders that have been blessed in using the materials. The studies have raised awareness of their call to be and to make disciples.”

Women who participate in the course are finding similarities between their lives and empowered women throughout the biblical narrative.

“It is transformative for them because they can easily see that women have a special role to play in the story of God,” Bontrager said.

When creating the courses, Bontrager looked for examples from the Bible to specifically address the concerns that local women had shared with her.

She chose a variety of women from the Old and New Testaments:

– Eve, as an example of God’s initial intention for women (to express God’s image);
– Sarah, as an example of faith, obedience and respect;
– Hannah, as a childless woman with a strong faith and prayer life;
– Mary of Bethany, who was devoted to Jesus;
– Mary the mother of Jesus, a woman of purity and openness to God’s will;
– Potiphar’s wife, who demonstrated poor control of sexual desires;
– Abigail, a peacemaker and the wife of an unbeliever;
– Women of hospitality, good works and godliness;
– Women of suffering, such as the widow of Zarephath; and
– Women who pass on the faith, such as Lois and Eunice.

The Bontragers have shared the studies with five groups of women in Tanzania. In a Ugandan church conference of mostly women, eight groups want to begin using the materials. In Mombasa, Kenya, groups have already requested the master copies of all of the studies so that they can reproduce them for other groups.

“We plan to include these studies along with all our other study materials for each location where we have held a training,” Bontrager said. “We are presently also preparing a course on Marriage and Family, which seems to be high on the list desired for future studies.”

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