Complete this phrase:
“ ______ like a girl.” Once upon a time, it was considered an insult to run like a girl, or throw like a girl. Because, well, it was likely perceived that doing anything like a girl was inferior to doing it like a boy.
Thankfully, we are evolving so that such phrases are no longer given much attention or power, right? Today, we can complete the phrase this way: Study like a girl. Invent like a girl. Code like a girl. Debate like a girl. Preside like a woman. Preach like a woman. Lead like a woman. Climb like a woman. Legislate like a woman.
And yet, sexism is alive and well in the broader church and in the Mennonite Church. For example, when my husband Mike and I joined a Midwestern church in the 1982, I called the man who was in charge of the printed church directory and asked him if women could be listed by their first names so that I would not be “Mrs. Michael Bogard.”
It had never occurred to him. I was delighted to enlighten him, because I did have a name, and I wanted to be known for who I was as an individual, not as my husband’s wife. That simple phone call was a moment of empowerment for me and all other married women in that congregation.
Even today, there are women in Mennonite circles who do not have a vote, a voice.
In 2015, I visited with a 40-year-old woman who confided to me a recent decision: She was not permitted to teach an adult Sunday school class, so her family was moving to another Mennonite church where her gifts would be welcomed and celebrated.
This past year, the Mennonite Women USA office received an email from Carren Ouma, a Kenyan recipient of one of our scholarships for international women who deeply desire to study theology and the Bible:
“Let me express my heartfelt gratitude to the good women of Mennonite USA. Four years ago I joined Moi University to pursue studies towards my Bachelor of Education. Financially I was not able to make it, but thank God for the IWF that I have been receiving that has brought me this far.
I am now in my final year and my last semester is beginning September 12; I am hoping to complete by April 2017 and to graduate in either September or December 2017.
My life has completely changed ever since and I have to say I am no longer a dry bone as before. I am living again! Aaron’s staff has not only sprouted but has budded, blossomed, and will soon produce almonds. (Numbers 17:8). What a miracle!
My passion is to remain a Teacher of the Word of God at school, in the church and in the community at large. This is what I have been doing and I pray that I continue to do so to the ends of the earth! Thank you very much for offering the opportunity to study and to be fully equipped for the ministry.”
These three stories represent empowerment in various contexts. At times, women must take matters into their own hands in order to express their prophetic voices. In other circumstances, we depend on others to deliver support and encouragement and to help us find a way when there seemingly is no way.
Today, as we celebrate 100 years of Mennonite Women USA, I embolden you to be deliberate in empowering others. It’s time!