By Betty Kazadi Musau, North Katanga Annual Conference
There is a metaphorical usage of a woman in pain that turns into a joy, happiness after giving birth to a child from John16:21. Paul uses metaphors for the church in his letters. He compares the church to the local community, body of Christ, universal community, bride. In his metaphors for the church, there is no tension in referring to specific groups of churches as though sending greetings to the congregation as a unity (Rom 16:5). He develops fully the concept of the church by embracing all churches, which leads to the universal church. So, for him, church meant the local church, not in isolation but in connection with the universal fellowship and with a strong sense of belonging to it. There was an interconnection at the worldwide level according to particular and varying needs. We need to thank Paul for his imagery language of the church.
According to John 16:21(NRSV): “when a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.” There are characteristics of a woman who is pregnant and who is in labor. She is always tired if she has inadequate diet. When she is healthy, chances are that, she will deliver a healthy baby. When a family welcomes a new child, there is joy, warm welcome, and no more pain because the child is born. In Luba culture, ways to express joy in the family for the newborn include dancing, singing for the newborn, ululations, offering gifts to parents on behalf of the newborn. With the presence of the newborn, it is the community, the village’s responsibility to raise the child.
Mujinga, a mother of ten children, reports that the mother’s siblings bring gifts in kind: chicken, goat, mealie- mealie, some bottles of palm oil. With these gifts, siblings of both the mother and father cook food and bring food together in order to exchange it as a sign of love and to make the woman who had pain happy. This is warm welcome to the new child in the family, to enjoy the birth of the child together.
Today, society does not want to remember pain; it suppresses pain. Flora Keshgegian, theologian and ordained pastor, reveals the tendency to forget, repress, and deny distortion and so promote silence, which is a problem. But with remembering, one witnesses, uncovers the past and the pain, and so confronts and faces the problem by naming it as pain and suffering, which then can be a resource.
Keshgegian has explored remembering as both a problem and resource for identity, witness, and transformation for survivors and witnesses. Remembering, she argues, is a process of learning to redeem memories. It is a practice of both self and community formation. Also, it is an imperative, Christian obligation that provides redemption, transformation. It is a resource for salvation. It honors those who suffer and maintains the future open. It brings meaning to identity and begets hope and salvation of human, social, and religious identity.
Keshgegian’s idea can, in today’s society, prevent chaos and unnecessary accidents and deaths by showing the relationship of the pain of labor to discrimination, violence, and marginalization of women in the context of poverty and war.
In this context, silence plays a role in people’s lives; it dehumanizes and weakens victims. It is promoted by those in power in order to exclude, discriminate, and oppress victims. Hearing—through remembering those who have been victimized, traumatized by pain, suffering, oppression, slavery—contributes to the healing and transformation process. Hearing stirs up stories, memories that seek to voice up, to speak up so that victims are empowered. Both silence and forgetfulness are dangerous for the memory when they are imposed on victims. They cover the truth, history, and revelation of the divine.
There is joy when the children born grow up and become adults, human beings to become a church. Similarly, the Gospel of John tells us about Jesus’ departure, which created pain for the disciples. His return will bring happiness and joy. The imagery of birth stands for the church that needs to be raised in the community in order to give a sense of belonging. The newborn stands for the church. Eric Soard, a United Methodist missionary in Morogoro, Tanzania states that we are to be the church and do not go to the church. As human beings, people embody the church, incarnate it, rather than go to the church to represent it.
Birthing a worldwide church is a call to action that leads church members to identify needs for the church and be able to meet church members’ needs for spiritual renewal, growth, and empowerment. Birthing a church leads to what Paul says in his letters about the church: in each local congregation are parts of one body, emphasized in Ephesians 4:15, whereby Christ the head is united to the body as one. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, Paul focuses on church as the body of Christ, which brings new humanity. In Acts 9:31, the church is both institutional and charismatic. All believers are connected in universal fellowship. The worldwide church is connected by this universal fellowship. The real life of the church is known by faith in Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the imminent coming of the kingdom will be new and all past things will be no more. One who is in Christ is a new creature. The church is new humanity, and that is why, when one sees the other, he or she sees the church—new humanity, not a building. This new humanity should have authority to bind and loose, enforce rules and disciplines (see Matt 16:18-19). The new humanity reminds readers about the role that one has to take.
Look at the Samaritan woman of John 4, who birthed a whole village by outreach; she heralded good news to the village and became community evangelist. This leads to say, people did not look at her status or origin but what she did. She also brought joy in the village. This outreach is what Walter Brueggemann refers to in his writing on prophetic imagination that raises village consciousness by seeing something new. The Samaritan woman evoked new hope and amazement in the community as the herald. She became prophetic within the village where she was marginalized. She made a stand and faced the culture.
There are also women like the Samaritan, who raise the community awareness but are not recognized. These women live in the shadows because the tradition, the culture do not value them. But they continue to provide change and nurture. Unfortunately, they are unnamed. That is why the church needs to increase leading ladies who must rise and step forward through education programs to come into the light. God created male and female for greatness, and glorification should be given to God.
Today, the church is no longer incarnational, taking the form a human being. People are enduring their own pain like a woman in pain, in labor. Church members do not have people to listen to them. African woman care for and raise children, they work hard and stand as backbones of the family, for family subsistence. The church of Christ should care for and restore joy by recognizing the worth of each and everyone in the community.
Additional inspiration comes from Leonora Tisdale, professor of theory and practice of preaching who writes about speaking the truth in love. Speaking the truth as strategy challenges readers of her book and the church today to name and face issues that concern the community. Speaking the truth in love is biblically founded on God’s love. If we fail to say the truth in love, we are not trustworthy, and we are not doing justice to people. Speaking truth in love restores, redeems, and reconciles. We know that love is from God, and we are created in the image of God as God’s loving action. When we speak the truth in love, we connect to God through Jesus and one another. Truth is from God. When we embody the truth, Jesus is in us in order to witness to God’s presence as we choose to dwell in God for other people by sharing God’s love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. Love compels us confess, repent, and lament evils that haunt us.
The joy of a woman is real if the child is raised in a community that is driven by a fully inclusive society. In such a society, peace, justice, dignity, and health care are promoted through prophetic preaching, which enables the pastor and laity to address openly issues that bring imbalance, inequality, and injustice in the life and growth of the congregation. This creates a space for talk and recognition of one’s faults and leads to reconciliation, reparation, and restoration. Also, this form helps people to articulate and name evils, dominant powers and forces, and to invite perpetrators to confess their wrongs in front of the victims—or in front of God—and promise to change for redemptive and restorative, reconciling relationship between one and God and one another. So, this form creates space for a change of heart before a change of mind.
The worldwide church is the truly church when it empowers women who have been put at the margins for a long time. Sarah Longwe, feminist activist from Zambia, notes that when gender equality increases, empowerment increases as well. The church should enable the woman to self-affirm who she is, to increase self confidence, and to know her rights and stand for them. Hence, she will be able to make decisions, have free choices, and enhance self-achievement.
The church should be the space where one’s rights are expressed in order to practice belonging, as all people are members of the family of God. The church should extend love to all people. Happiness points to hope and encourages women to think of the unexpected and go beyond the routine life, to see new ways of life.
This leads us to what the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stated. In the Christ body, we participate in baptism, which makes us members of the body of Christ; and in the Lord’s Supper, which sustains us in the community. Hence, we live incarnational love: Christ is for us, for the new humanity. The church community has to shift from focus on the institution to focus on the person, the human being. The church as the new humanity needs to be raised in love and live right, and when they are old, they will not change (see Prov 22:6). The church is the new human being, created in the likeness of God and at the same time Christ. Now we are called to become new human beings, churches who come into the church and become members of Christ’s body.
To conclude, happiness becomes visible and incarnate in church members when we are one church community, the body of Christ and Christ himself. The unity of the church gives identity to Christ and his body. This is possible through the Holy Spirit, which brings church members together as one. When church members are one that is where God dwells. Christ is the only foundation and cornerstone of the church.
. Flora A. Keshgegian, Redeeming Memories: A Theology of Healing and Transformation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).
 Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).
. Leonora Tisdale Tubbs, Prophetic Preaching: A Pastoral Approach (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).
. Josefina V. Gabuya and Adonis N. Muego, Women ,Households and Organizations: Touchstones for Gender Development and Pastoral Work (Switzerland: IPDI and Fastenopfer, 2007),27.
. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 4 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, 2004 in paperback), 213–224.
2019 – Unity in the Church
2018 – Claim Who We Are in Christ
2017 – Bodies, Oppression, and Gospel
2016 – Birthing a Worldwide Church
2015 – Clergywomen Lead Vital Congregations
2014 – Empowerment for All
2013 – What Next?
2012 – What Does the Lord Require of Us?
2011 – See, I am Doing a New Thing
2010 – Voicing Truth With Grace
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WellSprings, A Journal of United Methodist Clergywomen, is published by the Division of Ordained Ministry, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Editor: HiRho Y. Park
Managing Editor: Barbara A. Dick
Editorial Circle: Patricia Bonilla, Neelley Hicks, Anita Phillips, Jacqui Rose-Tucker, Trudy Hawkins Stringer