We knew we were close when we heard the beautiful voices praising Him in unison. A few hundred feet and we were greeted by children playing on the steps to the entrance of the Ponta Gea Seventh-Day Adventist church in Beira, Moz. We felt excited to experience what a service would be like in this part of the world. The small church was overflowing with people. As we walked through the entrance, the floors were lined with women and children. We stepped into the sanctuary and the pews were jam packed with church-goers wearing their Saturday best, some fanning themselves to provide relief from the heat. Most of the women sat in the back rows and men in the front, the patriarchy of the culture on display. We found a spot against the wall in the back and listened as the only female head elder spoke to the congregation in Portuguese.
We didn’t expect to be able to understand much, but we hoped to still be blessed by the fellowship and music. As we stood there, taking it all in, a gentleman at the front motioned to us and two people graciously left their seats and walked to the back so we could sit. A bit embarrassed, all eyes on us, we made our way to the front, side pew and sat down. We were immediately greeted by those around us and bathed in smiles and welcomes. We were given a Bible in Portuguese, but they quickly realized this was no use to us. There was some shuffling around of people and a man sat next to us with an English Bible ready to translate the entire service. It wasn’t a quiet endeavor, but it was important to them that we hear and understand the message.
The woman on stage was calling for offering, reminding us of the blessings that come along with giving back to God. I looked around and thought about the average $2/day salary belonging to many people in this country and I pictured the widow giving everything she had which surmounted all the wealth in the world. I hoped that the leaders of the church were using it wisely. Another leader rose to the podium and welcomed everyone, asking for the guests to stand. Luckily, we were not the only guests that day and we were joined by many others as we stood to our feet. A giant “Feliz Sabado” echoed in the sanctuary. As we sat down, a sweet sounding guitar began to fill our ears followed by a group of young men’s perfectly tuned voices. We turned around and saw half of the choir beginning their song seated in the rows behind us. After a few stanzas, the melody rose and drifted above us as more voices joined from all around fitting together like an auditory puzzle at the front of the church. It was beautiful.
The pastor rose and began the sermon with Deuteronomy 3:25-27
…25‘Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26“But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter. 27Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.…
The lesson was on the difficulties we face accepting the word “no”. This ancient human quality, beginning with Eve, and evidenced here by Moses pleading with God to allow him to enter Canaan, is familiar to each and every one of us. We all have desires in our life and find it difficult to be on the opposite side of the river from what we want. But God’s heavenly scope sees beyond our blind-sighted earthly view and despite our wants, many times, He has other things in store for us such as the case with Moses who did not cross the river Jordan, but went to heaven instead.
But I couldn’t help but wonder why some hear the word “no” far less frequently than others? I think of this especially in the context of being female. Women are still considered second class citizens in this country, only created by God to reproduce and populate the land with men who return the favor by pushing them down to sit in the dust of their feet. My gender, not my parity, automatically gives me the nickname “mother”, and I cringe at the undertones implied at this attempt to be respectful.
The rights, or lack thereof, for women in this country are appalling. They say things are changing in written law, but the culturally imposed personality characteristics based solely on female biology are as old as the Bible itself. I know it happens at home as well, but like the humidity, it seems more suffocating here. My voice is meant to be quiet and reserved, “motherly” if you will. The puzzled faces when I speak instead of my husband signal these expectations. The initial lack of eye contact and fidgety body language display the uncomfortable feelings of being asked what to do by a female. But once my voice is heard, they do listen, eventually their eyes will meet mine, respect will begin to flourish, and egos begin to deflate. I am delighted to see women medical directors and chiefs, and I appreciate how difficult it must have been for them to climb a ladder built for manly men.
Change is floating around in the air, attempting to infiltrate the culture. But there is a long way to go all around the globe and definitely in the church. The pastor continues by giving the example of how it is so hard for a man to be told “no” from his wife. He says “as the leader of the house, men do not want to hear this.” I sigh. Overall, his message was good. Yes, we should trust in God’s plans for us, but I refuse to believe God’s plans for women are to be subordinate. I hope more and more women do refuse the word “no” and stand up to take a front seat as often as possible.