Ten thousand dollars is not much when you divide it among twenty or so individuals over the whole world. But this fall we spoke to a number of women who had received scholarships from the annual fund administered by Mennonite Women USA. We caught up on their personal news and learned just how effective those small scholarships have been.
We were celebrating the first ordinations of women in the Mennonite Church of Congo (see our report in Mennonite World Review). One of the newly ordained women, Sidonie Swana Falanga, has been a leader in African Anabaptist Women Theologians (AAWT), the group that helped instigate the fund. “Mama Swana,” as everyone calls her, completed her studies in the 1990s, before any scholarships were offered.
Mama Swana told us the fund motivated other women to follow her in studying for the ministry. Now, as the ban on women’s ordination is being lifted, they are ready to serve. All three Mennonite conferences in Congo now ordain women.
“God bless the women of the USA who send us scholarships,” Charlotte Mulemba said. “They have the love of Christ and neighbor.” Charlotte, a second-year theology student at Christian University of Kinshasa, believes the recent ordinations of women in her conference will attract many more women to study theology.
The scholarships help make that possible but student life is challenging. A widow with a son and two grandsons, Charlotte traveled from the distant town of Tshikapa to study for the ministry. In Kinshasa she shares a two-room apartment with nine other students.
Anne Marie Ndungo, another scholarship recipient, is a third-year student at Christian University
of Kinshasa and a mother of five. Anne Marie carries on small commercial activities, which help support her household and costs for school materials and other requirements of the university. At her church she teaches women and girls.
Anne Marie’s husband was ordained on September 22 along with Sidonie Swana and Fabienne Ngombe Kidinda. Although most of the attention was on the women in the ceremonies, Anne Marie says her husband didn’t mind. “It made his ordination a very special event,” she said.
Rev. Mimi Kanku attributes her ordination in 2012 directly to her MWUSA scholarship. Mimi was one of the first women from the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo (CEM) to receive a scholarship, and she was the first CEM woman to be ordained, shortly after she received her degree.
“Where there is a will there is a way,” she said. “I benefited from a scholarship in my second year of study. The first year was really difficult. This scholarship, although not enough, allowed me to finish my studies.”
She says her ordination has had a positive impact on CEM women, “especially on those who disregard themselves and who didn’t believe that a CEM woman could be ordained. But now all these women support and encourage me to go farther.”
Mimi is an assistant pastor in a Kinshasa congregation but is currently living with her husband, who is a government administrator in Bandundu city, 450 km from Kinshasa. She worships in a Mennonite Brethren church there and helps with pastoral responsibilities. Mimi and her husband have two children and are expecting a third in November.
Natalie Yowa Kananga, another CEM member who graduated with Mimi, is an assistant pastor and youth leader in her Kinshasa congregation. She reports that she is engaged to be married.
Two earlier recipients of scholarships through AAWT have worked with MCC.
Leya Mulobo directs MCC Congo’s Menno Monde program, a popular domestic exchange that
places young people in different parts of the country with host families from other Mennonite churches. They work as volunteers in the community. Leya recently gave birth to a daughter, after several miscarriages and a stillbirth.
Tatiana Ndjoko founded a peace education program for young people that became an MCC partner project. Tatiana is now serving as a missionary to Angolans who had fled to Congo during Angola’s conflicts and who have now returned home, often to resentful communities.
A few dollars goes a long way in supporting women theologians around the world. How about increasing this fund?
-Nancy Myers and Charlie Malembe