If we are to move away from strategies and practices in mission that marginalise women, how can the presence of Christ be revealed?
I am advocating an engagement of comforting, consolation and healing. Comforting draws from the power of the Holy Spirit to comfort, transform and heal – both humanity and creation. The Holy Spirit, also known as the Comforter, is the one who comforts the broken, the afflicted, the suffering. The woman of Samaria experienced in the conversation with Jesus consolation and comfort, even when it challenged her. She said to the rest of the village, come and see the man who told me all about myself. Even in confrontation with Jesus she experienced consolation and comfort. God is a God of consolation who is with abused women, victims of war, trafficking, violence, marginalisation from health and education services. Women struggle on to feed and protect their families, to live in reconciliation and peace, to bind up the wounded, to heal the broken-hearted. A missiology that embodies comfort, consolation and healing may indeed be perspectives that we as women can bring to our hurting and wounded world today. Jesus proclaimed this when he read from the scroll of Isaiah at Nazareth. These were words of comfort, consolation and healing for those who have ears to hear.
Our engagement should include hospitality and relationship. As the Samaritan woman shared the story of her encounter with Jesus and invited others to that relationship, so the village extended hospitality and out of that we learn that not only did they believe because of what they saw of the work of God in this woman’s life, but because they too encountered Jesus as he stayed with them. Hospitality is at the centre of the culture of so much of the Middle East and it is usually enacted through the work of women. While the men publically offer it, it is the women who do it. Offering hospitality helps us to see differently. We must recognise the way that this cultural metaphor, with its excessive demands on women, can add to abuse in poverty. The issues of private and public space need to be redeemed for this to become a redemptive place. However, hospitality is still a powerful metaphor with which to think about mission. It begins with God and is an essentially outward-looking practice and virtue.
Hospitality involves listening, learning, seeing the other and negotiation of space by all parties. Generous hospitality can lead to reconciliation and genuine embrace of the other. Indeed, poverty may even be a good place to start with hospitality. Poverty of heart and mind creates space for the other. Poverty makes a good host – poverty of mind, heart and even resources where one is not constrained by one’s possessions but is able to give freely. Hospitality from the margins reminds us of the paradoxical power of vulnerability and the importance of compassion. Women who follow Jesus as they live under Islam have an opportunity to extend the divine invitation from God to enter into a loving relationship with God, allowing people the space to come to God in their own way; to become the person God created them to be. Ministry is not about invading their space, forcing them to come to Christ in the manner of the conquistadores, – vanquishing them in the name of Christ; nor is it imposing or transplanting Christianity to make them like us as was so often done in the colonial period. Women have a unique role to play here.
Our engagement must also be one of sight, embrace and flourishing. The Samaritan woman was seen in a most profound, confronting and yet embracing way by Jesus in this encounter. He could tell her everything about herself, and in that she found a path to redemption. She too saw, not with judgment and hatred for the abuses she had suffered and her victimisation in the community, but redemptively so that she shared and included the community in the good news. The gifts of sight and insight are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Just as the women disciples were the first to see Jesus, women’s eyes have to be opened to recognise Jesus also. Once we can see Jesus, the Holy Spirit enables us to see the other person. Ministry in the name of Jesus requires that we actively see and welcome the guest and stranger in our worlds. Women followers of Jesus are able to do this and so be the agents of transformation in their community as they encourage their community to recognise the identity of the other, bringing reconciliation into their brokenness. As those who are considered nothing live with a passion to see the potential in the other, a powerful redemptive work can be released.
© When Women Speak … September 2023
CH spent nearly four decades in South Asia and the Middle East working in education, community development and the Church, and has returned as part of Interserve’s International Leadership. A co-founder of the When Women Speak… network, her research has included women’s activism and social change in South Asia, violence against women and missiology. She is currently focussed on developing new streams of ministry among women who live under Islam and enabling women academics and practitioners to shape missiology and mission practice. She holds a PhD in Gender Studies (Australian National University).