Jesus said, that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to the largest of mountains, “Move from here to there, and it will move!” (Matt. 17:20) God used mustard seed faith to build an African egalitarian movement. It began like this…
Dr. Jewel Hyun, a beloved CBE board member and pioneer of Matthew 28 Ministries, faithfully delivers CBE’s journal, Priscilla Papers, to libraries throughout Africa. In 2009, she placed our journals in the library of Saint Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya. It was here that a student, preparing for the Anglican Priesthood, began his search for a biblical response to the patriarchy that was crippling communities in Kenya. CBE’s message ignited a passion to promote the biblical foundations of gender equality as God’s path to healing. With permission from his denomination, the Reverend Domnic Misolo developed The Ekklesia Community for Advocacy for this purpose, and he contacted CBE with an interest in a partnership. Thanks to generous funding, we are able to bring Domnic and 10 other international leaders to our conference in Seattle in 2011. Together they considered egalitarian strategies and Domnic determined to host a 2012 conference in Kenya.
Thanks to a generous grant, Domnic began organizing “Equal to Serve: Gender and Authentic Biblical Leadership,” a three day conference for pastors, educators, lay leaders, counselors and students. Speakers were invited, the venue was booked, meals were ordered, hotel rooms reserved, buses were rented, and more than 230 scholarships were offered. By God’s grace an amazing worship team assembled and more than 4,000 books and journals were donated, printed and shipped. Why so many books? Because of the cry for books and more books. One woman wrote to CBE saying,
I would be grateful if you could bring lots and lots of your books so those of us from Africa can buy because it is very difficult for some of us to order online from America, and WE REALLY DO NEED THE MATERIAL FOR SO MANY PURPOSES!
The Revd. Philip Owasi—CBE’s first International Fellow—translated Still Side by Side and Studies on Biblical Equality into Swahili, which we distributed to each attendee. Yet, we wanted to do more! So we asked friends to send books and funds to ship them. Two weeks before boarding our plane, we had translated, printed, shipped or packed in our luggage enough books and journals so that 230 plus attendees would have at least six books of their own, including copies of Equal to Serve and God’s Word to Women, along with several CBE journals. Each library represented also received up to twenty-five books.
As we landed in Nairobi and made our way to the conference site, we learned that four Anglican Bishops planned to attend—an unprecedented interest from national church leaders. We also heard that a distinguished guest would join our opening ceremony, someone who required additional security. On the first day of the conference, armed security guards were found walking across the campus of Saint Paul University, attending carefully to our security. As our meetings opened, a tall and distinguished woman walked to the podium—a member of Parliament and minister of the president’s cabinet—Charity Ngilu. She celebrated biblical women who give her daily reasons to advance gender equality in her political work. Her conviction of purpose, her devotion to Christian ideals, and her passion for gender equality was inspiring. The quality of her presentation set high standards for the speakers who followed.
Charity Ngilu, Cabinet Minister and Member of Kenya’s Parliament
Just as speakers came from all over the world, attendees represented more than 12 countries including Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda. While we were a diverse group, the African context and culture was not only predominant, but is also one that is much closer to bible culture than our own. For this reason, we enjoyed new windows of insights into the biblical texts. And, as astute observations were made from the podium, inevitably someone would rise to their feet in song and dance and several others would join in. What began as a lecture grew into song and motion, because learning and worship is as communal as it was kinesthetic. Most importantly, all were welcome to participate because everyone had a gift from God to share. As song and dance erupted amid lectures and questions, our sessions were filled with joy.
This was never more the case than during our evening of cultural worship, as choral groups from neighboring countries led worship through tribal dress, song, and dance. Rather than sitting as passive observers, we all joined in. We danced, and danced, and danced just as we sang, and sang, and sang. Our tired bodies and weary minds were revived through an older tradition of worship. One that reaches back to Miriam and David where praise was unabashedly exuberant, where bodies and voices were rarely still, and where colorful clothing swirled around us all. As our cultural worship renewed our spirits, we were poised to celebrate eight individuals who received CBE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Together we honored their life of service, sacrifice, and tenacious labor and courage. Younger leaders had much to ponder.
With each session, our oneness in Christ grew day by day and hour by hour, culminating in communion and a candle lighting service. One candle lit another, just as our unique gifts serve and empower each other. Our call from God was clear. Every member of Christ’s body has gifts the world and the church desperately need. We are fortified, by God’s Spirit, to be new wine and to create new wine skins where the gifts of women are welcomed and celebrated.
Before heading home, there was one final meeting…an invitation to any eager to form CBE chapters in their community. Over 20 attended this session, and more than 7 countries were represented. We joined hands to develop local chapters in each country present, and to form an all-African council in planning the next African conference.
While many headed back to their buses, making their way to Nairobi and beyond, a dozen of us headed to Bondo—the poorest region of Kenya. Here two workshops were led by Empower International, training more than 300 lay leaders on the biblical foundations of male and female relationships, using the book New Man New Woman, New Life, by Carrie Miles. Each who graduated from this training received CBE books and journals honoring their hard work and giving them resources for their communities.
This is the result of faith even as small as a mustard seed, but which through God’s grace grows into a large tree with branches that reach across a continent called Africa. What words shall we use, but Asante Jesu. Asante Jesu. Asante Jesu!
Enjoy this conference by listening to some of the sessions recorded, available here.