I read the theme across the front of the handout for the Women’s World Day of Prayer, wondering for what I had been signed up. I thought back to just about a week prior when I had been sitting at the Women’s Guild meeting at Lingadzi listening to Mrs. Tchale translate the announcements to me. One of which was that our very own Mayibusa Rohde would be preaching at the World Women’s Day of Prayer. I whispered back to her that this was news to me! She looked at me and said, “You didn’t know!” and then we laughed for about the next three minutes. Things like this tend to happen, and all I can really do is laugh.
Each year on the first Friday of March, women gather together to pray, all over the world. There is a different theme and country of focus every year. This year I was the preacher at this event. It was a gathering of women from different churches within this district, an area that had been chosen. The event was held at the Assemblies of God church in Kauma, but there was also various other denominations represented. It is beautiful when the body of Christ can come together in a world where so many ideas, theologies, and interpretations seem to divide us.
The passage I was given was 1 Kings 17: 8-16. God called a widow to provide food for the prophet Elijah; but she also needed to feed her son and herself. All she had was some flour and water. I could start with my experience with baking bread. I knew many women are widows here. I knew that women here in Malawi do all of the cooking; with few exceptions. The women also are undervalued and taken for granted; this is the traditional mindset. Furthermore, many here simply have some maize flour and water to provide for their families. I knew that this scripture would resonate. On the other hand, I wanted to empower these women. I wanted these women to know that God has used many women in this world, and they are an important part of God’s story.
My nerves were high the day before. Public speaking is challenging. Talking to a large group of women seemed daunting. But here it was, I was coming to a situation that was both unfamiliar and for which I felt under equipped. Just like the widow in the story.
I showed up to the church, greeted the Amayi—with a sweaty-palmed hand. Responded to the “Madsuka bwanji’s” (How are you this morning), with my “Pong ‘ono” (a little) response, which is what you say if you’re only a little fine. They laughed and verbally pushed aside my anxiety. After a short bus ride we walked up the stairs of the Assemblies of God church.
After a few minutes of greetings, I was ushered to the first row. Feeling relieved that I didn’t have to sit facing the crowd, I mentally prepared to be sitting for a long time. I have yet to experience a short worship service or meeting here; they can be two hours or many more, I have even heard of weeklong meetings. We went through the liturgy, which was all in Chichewa and the Chairlady of the Women’s Guild translated for me so that I knew what was going on. The time came for me to, um, preach. So up I went. My stress level was elevated but I knew I was closer to being finished. Having someone translate my English to Chichewa was a new experience. I wanted to communicate clearly and concisely, but I also wanted to make sure that the translator would easily understand my words. Having to stop halfway through a thought can feel awkward, but I found that this is what I had to do. I tried to make some jokes about nsima and learning Chichewa in the beginning but then it got a little more serious. I spent the last part talking about how women as a whole, are underappreciated and undervalued, the room went quiet. The seriousness settled in the air as I’m sure this is something that is a cultural norm, that they want to change. I mentioned that the first people to share the message of the resurrection of Christ were women, hoping this fact would build them up. I ended with prayer.
It seemed to have gone well. I didn’t know if people were just being kind, or if they really thought the message was powerful. Even if it was, I hope that it was God speaking to them.