The Mothers’ Union
The Mothers’ Union, an international Anglican women’s organisation has around 4 million members worldwide, around half of which are in Africa. The MU are hugely active in the majority of the churches in Mozambique and Angola and their ‘quietly behind the scenes approach’ often goes unnoticed but often is the backbone of the diocese work for women.
In Niassa, the MU groups go from strength to strength. They are making concrete the meaning of the diocesan vision to ‘be a communion of communities transformed in Christ Jesus’ for church leadership, a vision that includes women equally, encourages their own spiritual growth and brings nurturing care to the communities. In short, they are living the life of God’s church.
Recent statistics are showing that, despite many signs of development and improving opportunities, women’s lives in Niassa are still faced with deprivation and vulnerability. The birth rate is still higher than the national average, and life expectancy is 46 years in Niassa compared to 52 nationally. Worse still, illiteracy in Niassa currently stands at 44% for men and 76% for women, where the national average is 52% now. Female-headed households make up more than a quarter of all Niassa households, and nearly half of these are headed by illiterate women. Life in northern Mozambique is neither just nor easy for women. But women find strength together, in faith, friendship and community service, and that is the attraction of the Mother’s Union.
So much so that MU Niassa has grown from around 1,000 in 2004 to more than 3200 now, with even Muslim communities looking to the MU as an example for their own women’s organisation!
One way that the MU have grown in confidence is through a Bible reading method based on ‘lectio divina’ which was rolled out through all the Niassa churches and groups, a method which focuses on hearing God’s word rather than reading, and allows for the fact of very low literacy and few Bibles. As one of the previous MU workers said, this method allows for everyone to hear from God and “go out with something for themselves and others.” In this rural diocese, there are places were illiteracy is still more than 50%, particularly amongst women who lost out on education during the long war years but whose grand-daughters are catching up now as educational opportunities develop.
The MU is a place to gain confidence: “to be freed”, as a visiting Bishop once said. Alongside Bible study is the discipleship programme written for Africa, especially post-conflict, rural places, called ‘Rooted in Jesus’, used for youth and training local leaders here. The MU have started their own groups to study together, where new leaders are also gaining confidence for ministry to one another and then within their congregations. Just as the voluntary ‘Equipas da Vida’ mobilize communities to be involved with development issues and raise up their own communities, so too the MU is raising up women and younger girls to see themselves differently through working with St Agne’s girls groups, starting to replace traditional initiation weeks with Christian initiation and entry into membership of St Agne’s.
MU members are involved in many ways with building the church. They have also been involved in the 220 or so volunteer, church-based, community-focused ‘Equipas’ with youth and other church members, focused on seeing development through the lens of health. These teams have been involved in community health projects, like the acclaimed project, ‘Salt and Light’, along the northern Lakeshore, where MU members have been key volunteers amongst others as midwives, administrative and nursing support in a project providing basic health care to around 20,000. Besides this work, ‘Equipas’ around the diocese have supported orphans in community, trained others in nutrition, farming methods, sanitation and clean water wells.
Through multiplying out the teaching and caring into communities, it is estimated that several thousand orphans are mentored and cared for, around 3,000 volunteers are mobilized in Equipas da Vida, and possibly 30,000 people in northern Mozambique are being reached.
All members of the churches are encouraged to participate in this, as many MU members do. As a visiting social worker once said, this was the work of changing the fabric of society.
As a visiting bishop once said, ‘this is God transforming a church to transform a nation. And the MU brings women to the core of this transformation. ‘