Waiting for death, with no help from the church

March 2, 2009 at 12:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Fulata Moyo

Fulata Moyo

This year’s Commission on the Status of Women is discussing caregiving in the context of AIDS.  This theme is not well understood – and incredibly unequal because women are almost always the ones who care for the sick. Yesterday I heard Fulata Moyo from Malawi and the World Council of Churches talk about losing her sister to AIDS and her husband to cancer.   She focused on lack of care for the caregiver, unpredictable wait for death, and the use of sacred texts to maintain widowhood. What impresses me is that after her husbands death – she went around and told churches how to better care for the caregivers…

When people from the church came to visit me they only said that God would heal my husband.  The church told me over and over that God will heal him.   I did not want to tamper with that so I prayed day and night and did not sleep.  I was giving care to my husband but I also needed care.  Some Christian fundementalists visited the bedside and told me there were symbols on my outfit that were demonic so I burned that outfit.  I loved that outfit.

After he died the church people told me that God was my husband.  But after 6 months I had physical needs.  These are issues women face and they will not talk about it.  I asked my pastor, so God is my husband, what can I do? Our male pastors do not know what pastoral care for women is.  Most women do not talk about this but I do because I am one of the crazy ones.   If I had had daughters they would not have gone to school during this time because you also have to care for all the visitors that come to see the patient.  Praying was seen as the only way to be supportive, if the spirit was OK then the body was OK.  But I needed someone to cook the food.

After he died I went around and talked to churches in the region and shared my experience and called for a greater commitment to pastoral counseling.  My advice to people who are with someone who is dying:  ‘if you don’t have wisdom keep quiet, and don’t talk to a widow about being a husband of god.’

a gospel of gender equality in Papua New Guinea

September 24, 2008 at 4:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Pastor Michael

Pastor Michael

I spent the last week in Papua New Guinea – not something I ever expected!  With over 800 languages, communication in PNG is fascinating.  There is no internet and even phones are hard to come by, a few cell phones are here and there.  Most people I met promised to write me — as in a letter.  We will see how that goes.

I went to PNG as an invited guest to a Lutheran women’s conference.  Colonized by Germans, more than one-fifth of the country is Lutheran.  One of the key features of the conference was a bible study called “Jesus Liberates women in PNG from male dominated cultures”.

Growing up, Pastor Michael, a seminary professor, watched his mother suffer in a polygamous marriage. His father, a “bigman” would forceably take the pigs she raised so that he could enjoy a high status in the community, beating her if necessary.  When mensturating, women were (and still are in some places) secluded, and some believe that even the food they touch is contaminated so they are no allowed to cook meals.  After the age of 13, Michael was discouraged from spending time with his mother.  Because of a tradition called the “Bride price” –similar to a dowry– women cannot divorce their husbands because their family is expected to pay the money back. By paying for their wives, it encourages a culture where many men consider their wives a possession. Even though she was often beaten by her husband, his sister was unable to divorce him because of the culture and eventually committed suicide.

All this caused him to read the bible searching for stories of women’s liberation.  At the conference he distributed a 60-page book written in Pidgin (the national language) and English that systematically unwraps the stories of women in the bible to deliver a message of respect and encouragement for women’s leadership.  It ends with a chapter: “Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan Women (and others) could be a model for PNG men to follow”.   Some of the suggestions:

-PNG men should put aside their beliefs of gender-based concepts of clean and unclean…

-Women ought to be given equal invitation and opportunity for leadership roles in the church

-Women should be given equal theological education…

-Women should be ordained

Now – the format of this communication was not modern, it came in a dense booklet – footnotes – even the original greek in some cases.  But this is an oral culture, so the women may not read this thesis booklet, but they will remember his message and retell it in their villages. They asked him to address the synod meeting next year, which will be mainly men, and hopefully this will happen.  In a male-dominated culture, it will help women gain credibility to have a man – and the bible – speaking on their behalf.

I think this was a historic occasion in PNG, and it speaks to the power of education.  He went to school and chose to study this subject and is now preaching a new gospel in his own language in a country that is hungry for it.  The “West” cannot export gender equality, it has to come from up from the grassroots within.  PNG is a very religious country, they have mixed Christianity with their own beliefs and it permeates almost everything they do.   I can’t think of a more credible way for a gender equality movement to gain foothold in this country.

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