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Reflections: Stand With Africa Study Trip. By Linda Chinnia. President of the Women of the ELCA.

My personal reflections about this experience center around the incredible women
I met during the trip. During the past three years, Women of the ELCA has conducted an organizational self-assessment. During this process, a mission statement was adopted, To mobilize women to act boldly on their faith in Jesus Christ. In Africa, I encountered women at each location of our itinerary who exemplified the mission statement for me. I will never forget these women of faith. They have changed many lives in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. They have also changed my life.

Asenath Omwega, Lutheran World Relief East Africa Regional Representative, was the first to greet our group in Nairobi after more than sixteen hours of travel from Chicago. I remember her welcoming smile, great warmth and organizational skills as she gathered us together with a prayer and we started our study journey. Asenaths faith glowed clear and strong through her devotions, instructions, information sharing and personal stories. She became my Deborah, a woman with great responsibility who was aware that God was her source of strength and who felt a strong sense of calling, discipleship.

During the first day of learning, I met Margaret Obaga, the womens coordinator for the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Bible verse quoted on Margarets business card is Philippians 4:4, Rejoice in the Lord always; Again I say rejoice. Joy is the emotion that my memories of Margaret evoke. We visited the Pangani Lutheran Childrens Center and met many girls who were kept away from the streets through this program of after school care and mentoring. During the visit, Margaret asked if I had ever visited Africa previously. When I responded, No, she embraced me and said, Welcome home! For me, Margaret became the parent in the parable of the lost son who rejoiced at his sons homecoming and said, It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.

Dr. Pauline Riak met with our group to discuss the plight of refugees from the Sudan, a country that has been ravaged by civil war for thirty-six of its forty-five years of independence. Pauline helped to organize the Sudanese Womens Association in Nairobi (SWAN), an organization of displaced Sudanese women, which fosters peace and unity through economic development and capacity building. Pauline spoke with passion when she shared the goal of SWAN: to return to a peaceful Sudan as a core of women who can and will effect change in their homeland. We went to the SWAN headquarters, met the women and heard their stories of faith. Many spoke lovingly of Pauline, who became a Dorcas for me; a disciple full of good works and acts of charity.

Khadija was Muslim orphan who represented her community on the Bosongo Community Health Service Outreach Project in Kisii, Kenya. Khadija wanted our group to visit her community of 30,000 Muslims living on a two-acre tract in abject poverty. Although this community has existed for ten generation, the people are still considered squatters with no legal claim to the land and virtually no contact with the outside community. Some of our group honored Khadijas invitation and climbed a great hill to meet with the community early one morning. The Iman met us and shared with us the problems of his people. He and Khadija also shared the solutions and plans that their people had to improve their plight. We learned that our group was the first set of outsiders to visit this community. We felt humbled and honored as the residents came out to meet and greet us. Khadija was truly an Esther for me. She understood the time to speak up for the relied and deliverance of her people. I am certain that Khadija came into Gods kingdom for such a time as this!

Sibiah is the coordinator of the womens work for the Seventh Day Adventists. She works with more than 50,000 women, traveling throughout her district. I spent an evening talking with her about the work to promote the awareness and prevention of AIDS in her community. Sibiah spoke of her work to convince parents to end the practice of female circumcision (a horrible procedure that can cause death and other complications as well as the spread of AIDS). This is a difficult mission because it contradicts cultural teachings. For me Sibiah embodied the women who accompanied and helped Jesus as he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1).

Sister Judith Bukambu was an energetic disciple that I met in Bukoba, Tanzania. We shared stories about being school principals. Sister Judith headed a vocational school for girls for many years before her retirement. She was proud of the many alumni she encountered throughout the country, many of whom became nurses and teachers. Although she retired because of health problems, Sister Judith works with people suffering with AIDS by providing home care and support. As we shared supper and conversation, I was struck by the care and admiration the younger women had for Sister Judith. She reminded me of Naomi, whose life of faith and love so affected her daughter-in-law Ruth, that she adopted Naomis people and accepted God.

Sister Margaret Mshana is the chairperson for KIWAKKUKI, Women Against AIDS in Kilimanjaro (Moshi, Tanzania). She spoke with passion as she described the work of her organization to educate, counsel and assist the community to combat the spread of AIDS. I was especially moved when Sister Margaret spoke of our children, (ADIS orphans). She felt a personal responsibility to care these children, members of her family through her baptism into the life and suffering of Christ. Sister Margaret was my Lois and Eunice, the pillars of a godly home and background that grounded Timothy in faith. Her mobilizing faith has changed many lives.

These women represent the faith that I encountered throughout the Stand with Africa Study Trip. I was overwhelmed by the largesse of faith in the midst of circumstances that appear hopeless. We went to Africa to learn how we can help our brothers and sisters cope with disease, poverty and war. My brothers and sister from Africa taught me about faith, hope and community. They have blessed me. I hope to be a blessing to them.

African Reflections 2 3

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