Miriam and Owen Pugh are part of a team living among the Alagwa people in Tanzania. They are involved in an oral translation of the Bible into Alagwaisa, alongside community projects to improve access to water. Miriam shares with us the dynamics of being a woman in the Alagwa community, and what really matters when it comes to sharing the gospel.
There are spaces in my community where only women go: ritual spaces, relational spaces, even work spaces. Some of these are dependent not only on gender but on one’s stage of life. At first, with my Western presuppositions I found these delineations challenging and restricting. However, I have come not only to see the beauty in some of them but also to understand the depth of connection possible in these spaces.
Revealing the fullness of God’s love
Jesus recognised these spaces in his own community. Some he lived into – choosing the twelve male disciples – and some he purposely defied: sitting with the Samaritan woman at the well, teaching Mary and affirming her as she chooses that over her more expected hosting responsibilities… and so on. He chose to conform to or defy these spaces to reveal more of the fullness of the love and glory of God.
As a woman I have the freedom to enter in and respect, to participate and challenge. To point to the True Light who gives light to the world. This takes a lot of time. And it hurts. Because we are finally beginning to realise that it is the work that God is doing in our own hearts which somehow will bring the fruit we long to see. Not the water tanks or the translation or any other good and important work. I believe that as we live learning to abide more deeply in the One who is worthy whatever the cost, our obedience will count. Even though it will probably never be seen by people.
Defined by what is seen
It is largely the external expressions which define religious piety and practice here; what you wear, when you eat and don’t eat, how you greet and finally how you are buried. Likewise, it is the pre-Islamic ritual acts which restore harmony between the seen and the unseen world. The deeper ancient world views facilitate the binding of these religious acts together and allow a synchronicity between old and new ways: the witchdoctor and the Islamic teacher, the sacrifices for rain and the mosque.
Two world view values which still dominate Alagwa thinking are the harnessing of divine power and maintaining communal harmony. This overwhelming drive for harmony leads to a superficial appearance of a community bound together in a common purpose and religion whilst hurt, envy and fear create havoc below the surface.
Deep calls to deep
Jesus has never been satisfied with the externals and appearances. He desires that deep should call to deep. He wants Alagwa hearts and lives, not just external allegiance or even church attendance. For the Alagwa, who judge the effectiveness of religion on results, surrendering to God because he is worthy is a whole new paradigm. When even
one Alagwa chooses to trust Jesus even when they do not get the results they are looking for, this is what shakes the spiritual strongholds in our community more than
any power encounter. These truths take time for seekers and believers to grasp. They need not so much to be taught as to be lived out slowly and painfully. By us as well as those we are serving.
Jesus is calling us to surrender. He has already shown us what it means for the kingdom to come through the seed that goes into the ground and dies. Owen and I, along with our team mates, are learning more about what it means to die here. To continually die to ourselves, our pride and our own ambitions. As we live in close community with our dear friends and neighbours, often in these gendered spaces where hearts are opened and life is lived, may we also open our lives more to God and to one another. May we lead people to a new understanding of the God who loves them and desires all of them for himself. One day, may there be a community of authentic Alagwa believers whose minds are being renewed and who are discovering new depths of God’s love for them.