Historically Africa has been a predominantly patriarchal society, but scratch the surface and you will find, women are often the lifeblood. This is what Bishop Boniface Shonga has come to find in his years raising up leaders and working to see communities and nations transformed throughout Africa. He serves on the executive board of EMIT, an organisation that reaches into the most remote areas of Africa with a holistic model of leadership development bearing multiplicational impact. Their goal is to see every leader raise up another ten, saturated in the gospel and equipped to transform the communities they serve with renewed responsibility.
Five years ago, EMIT (then known as AFMIN) made a key pivot to their strategy and launched a new leadership development programme to train and equip women to lead effectively in their sphere of influence.
“We realised that if we wanted to see transformation on the continent, we needed to address more than just one level of leadership in communities”, said CEO Kobus Grobler. “Our next logical step was to start training women because they have so much influence. The response was enormous.”
Today EMIT’s reach has been nothing short of remarkable, having impacted the lives of close to 500,000 indigenous leaders across 17 nations. Many, if not the majority of these leaders, have been women. Although EMIT’s story is uniquely inspiring, they are just one of several ministries across Africa and the Middle East who, in partnership with the Mergon Foundation, are finding that hope and restoration can come catalytically to communities when women are themselves hope-filled and restored.
Women have always been at the heart of community building in Africa. As mothers and caregivers in the home, for millennia, women have been the relational glue to hold their communities intact. Although their contributions often go untold, women are in many ways the moral gatekeepers and spiritual pillars within their communities. God has placed a deep sense of creative resilience and resourcefulness in the heart of a mother, which, when surrendered to His will, has the power to effect extraordinary change. Ministries like EMIT are learning, in many ways, that by partnering with a woman, you can partner with a community.
In Africa and the Middle East alone, women currently account for nearly 800 million of the population. Many African women are contributing breadwinners in the home too – mainly operating in the informal business sector (which is estimated to be three to four times bigger than the formal business sector). Their contribution to this sector is substantial too – nearly 90% of employed women in Africa are in informal employment, compared to 82.7% of men.
“The woman has immense influence – not only within her home and family, but in her community as a whole. If the women have been left behind and neglected, we are left handicapped,” says BB Shonga.
Ruba Rihani works tirelessly to see women in the Arab world come to Christ, find freedom and become whole as individuals. She leads the Arab Center for Consulting and Training Services (ACCTS-AWT) in Jordan – a ministry (and partner to the Mergon Foundation) that equips and empowers Arab women economically, socially and spiritually through leadership training, discipleship and advocacy. Thanks to their women’s discipleship programme, many Arab women have started to open up and share their stories and deal with their past. Within a safe and vulnerable space, they can heal and forgive, and grow in understanding of their worth in Christ. The result of which is stronger, healthier relationships.
“By design, the nature of the woman is that she is a social being,” explains Ruba. “She is a networker who can easily make friends and develop relationships. In the Arab world specifically, we have a friendly, social culture where we share our lives with one another. But what makes it so effective is the women. Even just our living situations are a prime example. Many of us live in apartment buildings where you might have four neighbours. What that translates to for us as women, however, is that we are in a relationship with four different families. We easily share what we have and what we know with one another. Women want to be change makers, and this naturally spills over into their spheres of influence and communities.”
EMIT has seen something similar. Upon completion of their leadership programme, every lady is required to share what she has learnt with at least ten other women. The purpose is two-fold: on the one hand it helps the women to internalise the material and grow personally, and on the other hand it enables them to have a disproportionate impact on the communities they serve. More often, however, they tend to over-deliver – training far more than ten women, but tens of tens along the way.
Women are natural connectors, who can easily and more readily move the gospel forward, simply through everyday living in community. This organic ‘leveraging’ of relationships is creating a rising swell of strong, sacrificial women leaders, who have wrapped their lives around the Great Commission. Sit with leaders on the ground, and they will tell you stories of individuals whose lives inspire others to follow.
Stories like…the 72-year former student who now runs a leadership school from her farm outside Harare, Zimbabwe. Weekly, she trains scores of women in the leadership skills that she learned, so that they can grow in their area of influence – be it business, politics or running a home – and then do the same for others. In Uganda, another former EMIT student is teaching multiple groups of women in her community, sharing weekly on key topics like health, family and marriage. Still another woman has decided to specifically mentor and train deaf women, working to see them become successful leaders in their own areas of influence.
In South Africa, women continue to form the bedrock ministry for the nation’s orphaned and vulnerable children. Ministries like Mergon partner, Judea Hope, in Pretoria, are reaching thousands of vulnerable children with nutrition, care and education, working across 1,300 ‘Hope’ centres, to see a generation restored – mainly through mothers and women teachers in the local community.
Says director Thea Blom: “We aim to enable and to motivate our ECD teachers so they will not only be well prepared but also deeply inspired for the work they do. In working with children, women are slowly but surely changing the future of their communities.”
The impact of one life that has gripped and transformed by grace, cannot be underestimated. Its catalytic impact, often unmeasurable. That’s what AWT has come to find in working with women across the Arab world. She shares:
“One year, a Lebanese lady left our AWT Annual Network Conference so encouraged that the first thing she did when she got home was tell her husband she wanted to go back to school. She finished high school and then went on to get two degrees – one in theology and one in business. She eventually opened a clothing store which has become her mission field. As women come to shop for clothes, she shares the gospel with them, leads them to Christ and then starts discipling them on a regular basis in her shop. [Her life] has been life changing for so many women. We were able to guide her and help her to find her purpose, her passion and to listen to God’s call on her life. From being supported by our ministry, she now supports our ministry and truly acts as an ambassador for our work.”
Nelson Mandela once said, “As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow.” He was acknowledging what the Word of God has affirmed, right from Genesis onward: women are central to the heart of God. In many ways, the heartbeat of society, women have the potential to shape and grow a nation. The more we bring them to the fore, offering spaces for women to flourish in Christ, the more evidence we will see of Kingdom transformation across the African continent.
Bishop Shonga puts it this way: “The woman is, in essence, the pivot point of the home. If you educate a woman, you educate a family. If you empower a woman, you empower a girl child. If you uplift a woman, you will see everybody around her uplifted as well.”
The Mergon Foundation is a resource partner to ministries who expand God’s Kingdom and bring hope and restoration to communities across Africa and the Middle East. Through well-chosen partnerships, we strategically deploy our God-entrusted resources for the spiritual and societal transformation of countries and communities.
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