Freedom in Christ | CBE International

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Freedom in Christ

On October 29, 2014

For several years, CBE has served as a gender consultant for World Vision, providing theological critique on resources aimed at ending gender-based violence. Last month, I had the pleasure of working beside CBE partners in South Africa and Kenya, observing the impact of biblical teachings on gender equality. Our liberation in Christ is a mission without borders and one that constitutes a call to action. My encounters with individuals were so profound that I wanted to share the stories that have changed my life.

My journey began with the longest flight (and nap) of my life from the US to South Africa--where gender based violence is among the highest in Africa. When I landed in Durban, I joined a team of Christians devoted to biblical solutions for gender-based violence. Our first task was to consider World Vision's curriculum--Channels of Hope for Gender--implemented throughout Africa. Since CBE helped shape some of the content, I was profoundly interested in meeting facilitators and others who have completed the course.

Bongiwe Sibayi is one such person--a passionate advocate of Christ's liberation of women. A youth and Sunday school teacher, Bongiwe was raised to believe that men are God's intended leaders, a teaching that inevitably implies male superiority. She told us: 

Girls are taught to be very submissive to boys, which made us feel inferior. We were taught never to say 'no' to a boy. We were afraid of boys. Men have authority in the church and home. But now I see that I too, have authority. I must do what God tells me! Most of all, I have authority to please God. This new behavior in girls made boys feel threatened. Yet, the love of God makes people equal in value and authority and as they learn this, the boys stop bullying the girls. Boys used to ask girls to sweep the school room floor and dust their desks. Now boys share in the cleaning of their school rooms. I teach in my church that "head" means "source" not "authority." Boys and girls used to sit divided. Now we all sit together. Women used to serve men. Now boys serve women. I have been delivered! When I look at women, I see there isn't anything she cannot do. The Holy Spirit testified that this is true. It felt good. New things were revealed to me that I didn't learn in the church. It was like being born again. I discovered that when Eve was tempted, Adam was beside her.

I also met young soccer player, who had completed the Channels of Hope for Gender course. His discovery was a very practical one. He said:

In my village, girls and women carry water back from the wells. I ask my soccer friends, why should my sister stay home from school when I can help carry water too? Some of my friends listen but others just laugh at me. It doesn't bother me. I just keep talking and hope they will listen one day.

This tenacious but whimsical devotion to gender equality was equally evident in a woman we met several days later. Speaking to community leaders, this woman expressed her struggle to gain local and government support for her community farm. Undeterred by challenges, she recognized the value of her own work. Few could ignore the income and jobs that resulted from her labors. Moved by her confidence, our team decided to stand with her in constructing a fence to protect her crops. As the fence is built, we believe it will also amass support for her leadership. I will never forget her posture as she talked: her back held perfectly straight, her arms folded, and eyes sparkling as she described her hopes for the girls and women in her community. She was a living sermon of God's power made manifest in Christ. I long to be more like her! 

From school yards to church and community meetings, girls and women were the first to initiate and lead songs and dances of praise. Their passion was contagious and few seemed unwilling to follow.

Devoted to ethnic and gender reconciliation, it was an honor to observe the leadership of Xana McCauley--leader of CBE's Johannesburg chapter and pastor of Hands of Compassion--a social outreach of Rhema--a mega church on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Passionate in her support of younger female pastors, Xana convened a chapter meeting to consider their interest in hosting CBE's 2016 conference in Cape Town--a formidable task but not for the NGO leaders, pastors, and the South African Commissioner of Gender Equality who lead CBE "Joburg." They were energized by the opportunity to enlarge the egalitarian collective, not only in South Africa, but also beside CBE partners in East Africa like EFOGE--who are about to launch a Pan-Africa conference in Bondo, Kenya--my next stop.

For the next three days, at the EFOGE conference in Kenya, over 100 students, pastors, educators, and Christian humanitarians from seven countries explored the theme "Gender Justice and Strategic Leadership in Africa." Lectures were theologically astute as well as eminently practical. Educators and practitioners considered God's redemptive presence amid abuse, betrayal, and despair. EFOGE's conference also attracted leaders and members from the Mother's Union--a group that is active in denominations across Africa, Australia, and England. African leaders described how "husband pleasing" has become an all-consuming focus during Mother's Union meetings. This practice works to alienate widows and creates many more through unsafe sex. One woman admitted that placing the pleasures of husbands above individual family members has led to "keeping of secrets" that is, ignoring abuse. In God's mercy, the president of the Mother's Union was also present and in hearing these concerns was mobilized to develop egalitarian curriculum for its members. She is determined to see the Mother's Union center its energies on pleasing God above all others.

Dashing to catch my flight home, I was stopped by an articulate and thoughtful young man. He and his girlfriend sense God's call to marry, though he admitted that both sets of parents are unhappy given their different tribal origins. Would it be a betrayal of our parents to marry, he wanted to know? Coming from the largest tribe in the Middle East, I have a dim sense of his challenge. Yet, all I could think of was Galatians 3:28, that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ. "My friend," I asked, "are we not all members of the Jesus-tribe? If you and your girlfriend are born of the Spirit, then you are sons and daughters of God's promise to Abraham and Sarah." This is a living reality, that each of us long to experience more each day. The mission of tribal, economic, and racial reconciliation in Christ is as Fredrick Douglass observed many years ago, the task of many reform movements working together. Our mission is one without borders. It is one that liberates believers in every context.

Please remember these leaders in your prayers and celebrate their courage in your hearts.

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CBE advances the gospel by equipping Christians to use their God-given talents in leadership and service regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. Together with supporters and ministry partners from 100 denominations and 65 countries, CBE works to inspire and mobilize women and men with the Bible’s call to lead and serve as equals.

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