Two centuries after the death of Mary Bouffler, the first woman sent out in her own right by Church Mission Society to be a missionary overseas, CMS is honouring the achievements of inspiring women who, imagining a better world, followed in Bouffler’s footsteps, overcoming cultural and societal norms to share their faith and transform communities.
Bouffler travelled to Sierra Leone in 1820 and tragically died less than a year later. She was the first in a long line of countless CMS women missionaries to battle injustice and prejudice and fight for change, human rights and empowerment. From Ann-Marie Wilson, who set up the charity 28 Too Many to highlight and stop the practice of FGM (female genital mutilation), to Helen Kisakye, who founded SPLASH, a dance troupe in Uganda that intentionally includes young people living with disabilities, and Nevedita, who leads a programme in Sri Lanka for children who have been abused and traumatised, women have been integral to mission throughout CMS’s history, sharing their faith and changing lives.
Healing, restoration and opportunity are common themes where these pioneering women are involved, and frequently they have led the way, breaking taboos and crossing boundaries in mission to reach those who have been marginalised, abused and abandoned within their communities.
CMS local partner Rachel Karanja, a businesswoman, church leader and entrepreneur from Kenya, explained that being left housebound for over a year after a stroke inspired her to set up Women of Destiny Kenya. She said: “The charity helps to support women who have faced significant struggles in their lives and enables them to discover their God-given destinies.” Rachel also runs several organic farming initiatives, income generation projects and a biogas business that teaches families how to use cow dung to generate energy in an environmentally sensitive way.
Ann-Marie Wilson, founder of FGM charity 28 Too Many, highlighted the role of gender inequality in the fight against FGM: “We should value equality of women in pay, status and potential, and meet women’s health and education rights. If women had their education rights met there wouldn’t be FGM. Girls who have education don’t tend to practise FGM to the same extent.”
Nevedita, a mental health specialist in Sri Lanka, has spent 20 years leading a programme which supports children who have been abused, abandoned and traumatised. In Sri Lanka, social and cultural norms resist talking about emotional, physical and sexual violence against children. However, Nevedita has dedicated her life “to show God’s love to children who have gone through trauma and abuse”.
In Uruguay, CMS local partner Mechi Tarragona is pioneering a new mental health centre, NLight, which offers a Christian approach to mental health – a novel idea in Uruguay’s highly secularised society. At more than 20 people per 100,000 (Rio Times), Uruguay’s suicide rate is more than double the world average; Mechi and her team utilise an innovative approach based on forgiveness, self-esteem and the power of words, to help restore broken lives.
Debbie James, CMS’s Deputy CEO and Director of Mission Transformation, said: “In many areas of the Church, and at times in CMS’s own history, women have been undervalued but what has been achieved over 200 years is testament to the tenacity, talent and imagination of countless women of God.”