West Africa Women Meet to Explore Being Better Together in Christ
Monrovia, Liberia, June 3, 2009—Twenty-six voices rang out amidst clapping, dancing, and celebration: "We are one in Jesus. We are together. We are one."
This impromptu composition by missionary Catherine Akale became the unofficial theme song of this first gathering of leaders from United Methodist women's organizations within the West Africa Central Conference. The participants gathered in Monrovia, Liberia, in early May under the theme "We Are Better Together in Christ."
The event provided an opportunity for the women to learn, share, vision, and engage in sub-regional strategizing. They came from annual conferences in Côte D'Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, as well as missions in Cameroon and Senegal. The agenda allowed them to investigate ways that working together, supporting one another, and learning from one another might enable them, indeed, to become "better together in Christ."
"This coming together has been a dream for many years," explained Beatrice Fofanah, Women's Coordinator in the Sierra Leone Annual Conference. "We have seen the success of the youth network within West Africa and now we women have the opportunity to come together as a body within the Central Conference."
For this first gathering, leadership came from regional missionaries Catherine Akale, Shimba Mulunda, Elmira Sellu, and Finda Quiwa, and the author, who is Global Ministries' executive secretary for Women and Children. It was sponsored by Global Ministries and its Women's Division, as well as the World Day of Prayer–USA, an ecumenical group.
The program in Monrovia allowed participants to learn about the organization and ministries of United Methodist women in various countries. Each national delegation reported on the realities of women in their local context, the challenges they face in their communities, and the strengths and programs of their women's organizations. This exchange of ideas suggested means by which ministries by and among women can be strengthened in sub-regional collaboration.
"Are we really better together in Christ if there are people living in poverty?" Elmira Sellu asked during a workshop on "Women Eradicating Poverty." This workshop explored the regional realities of poverty and looked at possible strategies for response. The women challenged one another to expand ministries of service.
Other workshops were on:
- Women and the Challenges of HIV/AIDS
- Understanding and Strengthening Leadership
- The United Methodist Young Women's Network.
These issues are faced by many women in their national and local women's units, and they have both theological and practical components. The women spoke about ministries that teach income-generating crafts and animal husbandry, engage in education on HIV/AIDS, and advocate on behalf of the poor.
The women resolved by formal action to continue working together and to develop a network among their various organizations within the West Africa Central Conference. They also formed a coordinating committee to foster this work. The sharing of program ideas and educational materials was discussed.
Inspired and hopeful, the women confirmed their role in mission across the vast region of West Africa. The consultation ended with a devotion in which a representative from Côte D'Ivoire said: "It is no accident that we are here. We are called by God to carry this forward."