Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever (Psalm 30: 10-12).
If there was ever an embodiment of these verses, it is in the lives touched by Channels of Hope for Gender in rural Durham. From middle-school children dramatizing the importance of HIV awareness, to children mesmerized by a math teacher, to Sunday School teachers, youth and pastors who have welcomed the liberating message in Scripture, one that free males and females from bondage—newness of life danced before us these past few days.
Yet, the deepest transformation seemed to be the result of reading Scripture not to support male-rule, but to nurture mutuality, harmony and equality between male and female. It was like chains falling off—one pastor said, as he and his wife became partners, serving one another as equal children of God. Mourning turned to dancing for both men and women, young and old.
Consider Bongiwe—a Sunday school teacher whose long walk to freedom ended with “thanks” to God, which is also the meaning of her name in Xhosa. Hers was a story of deliverance, transformation, and a rebirth from male dominance to a realization that God also gives her authority. She broke free from the messages she received from her community, that girls should be submissive to boys, a practice that instilled a sense of inferiority and intimidation among females. Girls are afraid of boys and are often bullied by them. She told us how in school, boys demand that the girls sweep the floors and dust their desks. In fact, the girls are afraid to say no to boys. But thanks to bible studies, community meetings and conversations sponsored by World Vision’s Channels of Hope for Gender, teachers, community leaders and pastors are reading Scripture with different lens—one that exposes patriarchy as the consequence of sin. The result has been nothing short of “deliverance” said Bongiwe.
When asked what was most surprising for her in discovering a new gender-message in Scripture, Bongiwe said: “First, I learned that Adam was right beside Eve when she ate of the forbidden fruit. They were both responsible for sin. This was a great revelation for me because all my life I was taught that the snake tempted Eve because Adam was working in garden and could not protect her.
I was so surprised to read Genesis with better eye-sighted, noticing what the bible actually teaches.”
“The second thing I learned was that Eve is very powerful. She was created as a strong helper, not a weak inferior which is what we usually think when we hear ‘helpmate'” said Bongiwe. “Eve was a good helper, a strong companion because Eve was created with Adam, in God’s image.”
“Finally, I realized that ‘head’ in 1 Cor 11:3-4 and Ephesians 5:23 had been poorly translated. The truest meaning of the Greek word kephale is not “head” but ‘source,’ a word that does not imply authority. Man is not the head in terms authority, but man is a source of love and partnership because God said you must love your wife as yourself. How can you undermine yourself, or pull yourself down? That is what happens when you put your wife down, you hurt yourself because you are one flesh. I was able to bring this teaching back to my church. I even taught a class on this topic myself!”
While other women do not agree with Bongiwe’s new found freedom, she realizes one of the greatest needs is for better bible translations and bible teachings so the true culture—the culture God intended would shine through the bible.
“New truths were revealed to me that I didn’t learn in church,” said Bongiwe. “The truth was hidden. Learning these new truths was like being born again. I am learning all over again and the Holy Spirit testifies with my new reading of the Bible. I feel good. I know it is the truth.” She celebrates the good news of Christ, who restores the truest order of the Bible, one that does not bring chaos, but harmony, mutuality and joy between men and women. Her shame has been redeemed, and her mourning has turned to joy.
What is Bongiwe’s dream? To become a pastor herself: to preach and teach the Gospel throughout her community. In learning this, hands quickly joined together with Bongiwe in prayers of affirmation, confirmation and ordination, that God would lead her from strength to strength, in serving her world as she does so faithfully.
The day ended very well for us, as we met another strong leader, whose broad shoulders carried the burdens of her community, particularly the sorrow of girls abducted into forced marriages at ages as young as 14 or 15, by men in their 30s and 40s. Despite her repeated complaints to the authorities, little has been done to address this abuse. To meet with us, she walked a long distance but showed no signs of fatigue. In fact, she stood with poise, and spoke quickly citing facts, details, numbers which betrayed her agile and focused mind. When asked about her dreams for the community, she said she wanted a garden. She had negotiated a plot of land from the village chief. But to plant her crop, she needed a fence to keep the animals from spoiling the harvest. The vegetables would be sold for profit, and this would raise the income and also the esteem of girls and women in her community.
Perhaps their improved status would prove a deterrent against forced marriages as well! Before departing, we ended by singing a hymn. Emily noticed a broad smile appear on her face as we held hands singing to God. Delighting in our shared concern for her community, we also prayed God will raise the funds for her fence!
We can never forget these faces, their stories of liberation as God turned their mourning into dancing, a renewal that fills our souls with God’s delight. Transformation is contagious! Praise be to God.
This post originally appeared on the travel blog for the vision trip with World Vision’s Channels of Hope and Gender program on September 12, 2014: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/rcc2southafrica/1/1410520853/tpod.html