December 21, 2015

New training courses connect East African women with women of the Bible

Written by  Andrew Mashas
EMM worker Gloria Bontrager (fifth from the left) meets with Lea Ngulinzira (third from left) and Judith Mwimanzi (fourth from left) along with other women in the Sumbawanga Mennonite Church in Tanzania. EMM worker Gloria Bontrager (fifth from the left) meets with Lea Ngulinzira (third from left) and Judith Mwimanzi (fourth from left) along with other women in the Sumbawanga Mennonite Church in Tanzania. Photo credit: Joe Bontrager.

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: a number of these issues confront many East African women daily.

As EMM worker Gloria Bontrager interacted with East African women, she desired to address these issues from a biblical perspective. In response she developed two basic courses, Women of the Bible and Women in the Work of God, based on women of the Bible who were examples of faith in the face of these particular issues. East African culture identifies strongly with Bible culture. Gloria says that the women see themselves struggling with similar problems, so they can easily put themselves into the stories and learn from them. Together, these courses give a history of women’s participation in God’s work throughout the Old and New Testaments, and they challenge the church to respond to the task of God’s kingdom today.

Gloria and Joe Bontrager serve with EMM in Kenya and Tanzania, working with churches and coordinating Theological Education by Extension (TEE) teaching. They have observed that in most churches, the majority of believers and regular attenders are women, probably two-thirds to three-fourths of each congregation.

“In the past several months, we have begun introducing these courses to women in the congregations where we have been,” Gloria 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,” Gloria said.

When creating the courses, Gloria 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 His 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 different groups of women in Tanzania. In a Ugandan church conference of mostly women, eight different 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,” Gloria said. “We are presently also preparing a course on ‘Marriage and Family,’ which seems to be high on the list desired for future studies.”