How women move the church forward

They cultivate fellowship, but not only among themselves: the International Sisters’ Fellowship, comprised of New Apostolic women from Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, is an example of the role women take in church and society in this part of Africa.

There is a lot of singing, dancing, and laughing at Luwinga Secondary School in Mzuzu in Malawi. After two exhausting days with many topics on the agenda, it is time to relax a little. We are not talking about children here who are playing outside their school, but about experienced women—nearly 3,600 from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. They have come together for their annual meeting of the International Sisters’ Fellowship, taking place from 25 to 28 August. This year’s motto: “Victory with Christ”.

The programme: medicine, legal matters, and economics

One of the presentations was on the Catechism, specifically the sections dealing with thanksgiving, offering, and the tithe. The services of a medical doctor from Mzuzu Hospital could be secured to give a talk on various health issues such as HIV/Aids prevention, cancer awareness (breast and cervical cancer), blood pressure, diabetes, and sickle-cell anaemia. The organizing committee was also able to secure the services of a magistrate to give a presentation on legal matters, which are often much more than theory: gender-based violence, early marriage, property grabbing, and human trafficking. Also on the agenda was the topic of sharpening women’s entrepreneurial skills, including practical advice on the opportunities available to support a family.

Besides enjoying time together, the women use these gatherings to follow a long tradition of humanitarian work: they help the sick, orphans, the vulnerable and needy in the community where the meeting takes place. This time Mzuzu benefited, a city in northern Malawi with a population of 130,000. The meeting ended on Sunday with an open-air service celebrated by District Apostle Helper Arnold Mhango. He based his sermon on 1 Corinthians 13: 11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Guidelines: pastoral care, health, income

Such meetings are the culmination of the work undertaken by women in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. They play such an important role that guidelines were published in 2011. These are intended to ensure that this noble cause is not misunderstood and that they have the support of the leaders. The paper provides that—from the congregational level to the elder and apostle area level—committees are formed to co-ordinate the work. The committee at the Apostle area level will be chaired by a sister with leadership qualities and expertise in education and development of women. At this level, one sister from each elder district and three ministers will also be appointed to the committee.

The guidelines published by District Apostle Charles Ndandula contain an extensive catalogue of activities under the headings “Soul care and spiritual fellowship activities”, “Health and wellness activities”, and “Empowerment and income generation activities”. Included here are, for example, the production of literature on how members can organize their everyday life based on their faith—from marriage to the grave. Other activities include health education, home-based care programmes, nutrition and the promotion of healthy foods, as well as sporting and recreation clubs for sisters.

A key role in the development

The activities in the area of finance have two objectives: first, to strengthen the economic independence of women and, secondly, to support the work of the Church. Fundraising campaigns are therefore a standard feature. More than 50,000 US dollars were raised at this year’s meeting in Mzuzu alone. The proceeds from such campaigns are invested primarily in charity projects—such as funding a maternity ward or a school. But the money also goes toward the construction of churches. Just how big the sisters’ contribution is can be seen by the following statement from District Apostle Charles Ndandula: “Sisters in the New Apostolic Church play a significant role in building up the Church.”