Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Courageous Women

The four women pictured here have left a mark on my spirit and heart. I don't remember hearing their names before. While their story may have been on the curriculum of a seminary class on South Africa, I don't recall it. But now I can't forget them - their witness, their courage, their ability to help a nation lean in with pressure on an oppressive government.

These four women - Rahima Moosa, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Sophie Williams - organized a movement of some 20,000 women who came to Pretoria from every corner of South Africa on August 9, 1956. These four women with different backgrounds and skin colors knew that the government's efforts to require passes for people to move through certain areas was a policy that put people into prisons of oppression instead of allowing people to move free. These four women brought the signatures of 100,000 women to the doors of South Africa's Prime Minister, begging for change. And then, at the suggestion of Lillian Ngoyi, the entire crowd of 20,000 women went silent for a full half an hour. Women showed their nation that they would not be confined to the home or seen as people without any political power. Rather, they showed their country that "when you strike a woman, you strike a rock."

There is now a national holiday called "Women's Day" in South Africa every August 9. The holiday remembers the courage of these women who made a difference. I had the privilege of preaching for Women's Day twice while recently in South Africa, immersing myself in their story. I'm convinced that these women could even teach Sheryl Sandberg a thing or two about "leaning in."

But there is another group of women that is having a similar impact on me.

We met these women outside the city of Durban. They are grannies who have raised their own children and are now raising anywhere from one to six children whose parents have died of HIV/AIDS. They live in what most of us would consider a shack on less than $130 a month (that's less than $20 a month per person for some of these homes). They come together every other week to participate in a Self Help group. Each week they bring 2 Rand which is the equivalent of 20 cents and put it into a group account. The treasurer of the account changes each week in order to build trust in the group. When there is enough money in the account, they invest the money in seeds. The seeds will soon produce vegetables that will be taken to a local market. The proceeds will then be distributed amongst the women and shared with other poor people in their community. While these women are all very poor, part of their responsibility is to always help others while they learn life skills through an employee of a church organization who comes to strengthen their skills on a regular basis. These women provided a tangible embodiment of Acts 2 where we are told that the early disciples come together with glad and generous hearts and make sure there is not a needy person amongst them.

What do we believe in so strongly that we are willing to put everything on the line - including our lives - like Rahima, Lillian, Sophie and Helen did on August 9, 1956?

Are those of us with privilege and freedom willing to march today on behalf of those who are oppressed?

Why is it that we who have so much are often reluctant to share with others, believing instead that we deserve what we have been given or earned through God-given skills and talents?

What would it take for all of us to share an equal portion of what God has entrusted to us with those who have less than we do?

Where is Acts 2 being embodied in our nation?

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