Suzy Wilson in Gambella, Ethiopia, is bowled over by the local women’s ability to put aside rivalries and lead the way in peacemaking.
The whistle is blown repeatedly, piercing and loud. Its sound announces their imminent arrival and the other women from around the compound of St Barnabas’ church come running.
A couple of young men have wired up the speaker to play their favourite music and position themselves ready for the car. The ladies around me begin cheering, shouting and running, and I hear it coming – the horn blaring again and again. They have arrived, and the place is alive with anticipation and excitement.
Everyone is crowding the car now as the St Luke’s Mothers’ Union emerge, carrying their crosses, and as they do so these Nuer and Anuak women embrace one another in welcome and thanks.
Drums are beaten, they sing and the crowd moves towards the church. Many of them fall on to their knees, or jump and dance in praise and worship.
This is the second time I have known this happen – and the first time was at St Luke’s the week before.
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The lady who danced
Let me tell you about Ariet. In my mind I knew her as the lady at church who danced – and how she danced.
This old, old woman was normally the first to be on her feet, lifting her hands in praise, or shaking the local maraca for all it’s worth. Inevitably, she was the main worship leader as others watched and joined in.
This woman who could barely walk would jump up and down at the front of the church – how she loved God and how she loved to worship him.
Ariet died a few weeks ago, and she insisted that her funeral should be a celebration with a coffee ceremony. This is not the norm. Her funeral became a symbol of unity and praise as two Nuer men came to preach. They are well known to us, and coming to the funeral meant travelling deep into Anuak land.
Listening to the ‘enemy’
Rumours that Nuer men would be at the funeral spread, and Anuak arrived wanting not to attack, but to listen. And those men preached on being bold, on not fearing, on trusting in God to sustain and provide.
As a result of this funeral, the Anuak Mothers’ Union were invited to demonstrate that boldness and trust in their God, and come to the Nuer side of town to drink coffee with the Mothers’ Union there. They did, and I hear it was amazing.
What I saw yesterday was their response, inviting the Nuer to come share here.
We live on site so we know the Anuak Mothers’ Union arrived early in the morning and cooked all day to prepare for the festivities.
I was excited this was happening, but had no idea that I would be completely bowled over by what I was to witness.
In my three years here, this was the most beautiful thing I have seen. The women take the lead, whilst their children watch. They are setting the example, and boy, what a thing to witness.
Tired, but praising
It’s been a hard year for Gambella. Peace has felt like it is drifting further away and for many, hope is fading.
Women who had once found it easy to love, are tired.
What we witnessed yesterday was a sign in our midst of God’s kingdom. After embracing, after worship, after eating, these ladies walked home, together; Anuak and Nuer walking through Anuak land where Nuer have been killed.
Together they walked, singing songs of praise. Surely angels walked with them.
“For you shall go out in joyIsaiah 55:12
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
We thank God for the life of Ariet, this lady who exuded joy in her life and is moving mountains though her death. And I am delighted that the death of this saint is helping to bring these communities together.
I am also praising God that this is happening through women, through these pillars of family and community who are easily overlooked or considered weak.
The women I meet here are strong, and resolute, and funny – and if their character can be directed towards peace and unity, we will witness transformation.
The road is still long, but these glimpses of God’s kingdom give us hope that things really can change.
Don’t dismiss the women
God chose for the single most important event in the Christian faith to be witnessed by women.
Not the wealthy kind, or the ones who are seen because they shout the loudest, but the poor kind, the kind that no one really notices – although perhaps if pushed society would dismiss them as not having any significant role or impact.
These are the women who told the disciples that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead – news that rocked the foundations of that cowering community and sent shock waves through the Ancient Near East.
We can be so quick to dismiss the power of she who sits in the home, tends to the children and stirs the pot. These too can be the movers and shakers. They might not force their voice into the debate, but can ever so quietly, with a deep set conviction, shape and change the conversation.
Don’t dismiss them or undervalue them because they appear unremarkable and you don’t see them.
And don’t choose to be seen because you think that is how you will make a difference. Be faithful.
There are some who will be heard and celebrated and cheered on by society. But I have read God’s story, and it looks to me that time and again, he chooses and speaks to the faithful, the humble, the quiet ones, the women – the family line that leads to Jesus is crammed full of such remarkable ladies.
This one is for the women. God sees you.