Dispatches from “Crossing the Line”: The Universal Boundaries of Silence and Voice

The Universal Boundaries of Silence and Voice

Panel 21: Saturday 1:30-3

“Expected Decorum/Silence and Speaking Out: Experiences from KMT”

By Esther Mugahachi, Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania

  • Esther Mugahachi, director of Grace and Healing Ministry and a bishop’s wife, talked about her experiences in the Tanzania Mennonite Church and the struggle of Mennonite women in Tanzania to find a platform.
  • She identified several boundaries the Mennonite women in Tanzania face, both cultural (inside and outside the Church) and personal. Culturally, women are expected to be submissive and to keep quiet in order to protect their husband’s reputation and ministry. Personally, they often struggle with low self-esteem and discouragement.
  • She shared changes that have already happened in the Tanzania Mennonite Church: women (including Esther) have begun to receive theological education, to work with children and people with HIV/AIDS, and to offer pastoral Sister Care workshops to other women. She also shared changes that still need to happen: women need to be heard, not only seen, men need to learn gender sensitivity, and the Constitution of the Tanzania Mennonite Church needs to officially recognize women’s ordination.


“Empowering Girls and Women with Education”

By Pamela Obonde, Kenya Mennonite Church

  • Pamela Obonde, the coordinator of women for Kenya Mennonite Church, spoke about her own experience as a Mennonite woman in Kenya and the ways in which she is using her NGO skills to empower women in the Kenya Mennonite Church.
  • She spoke of the boundaries Kenyan Mennonite women face, including traditional cultural and biblical narrative of women’s inferiority, lack of access to education, limited economic opportunities, underrepresentation in church leadership, and a lack of older female mentors.
  • She also spoke of the work that needs to be done to transcend those boundaries, work she has already begun to do: training workshops to teach women their constitutional rights, workshops to train women for participation in the Church, and engagement with the scriptural texts that have been used to subdue women. She also spoke of the comprehensive educational efforts she has begun, through which women learn literacy, entrepreneurial skills, and their inherent worth and dignity.


“Ages and Ages Hence: A Conservative Mennonite Woman’s Hidden Desire for Education”

By Hope Nisly, Fresno Pacific University

  • Hope Nisly’s paper, delivered in her absence by Anne Hostetler of Goshen College, spoke of Nisly’s mother Edith Swartzendruber Nisly, the education she received as part of her conservative Mennonite community, and the further education she wished she could have received.
  • Edith’s community decided that she had to stop high school after grade nine. Ultimately, Edith remained within her community, but she eventually admitted to her children that she wished she could have gone on to college and studied mathematics. In her later life, this wish manifested as a recurring dream, in which Edith began college as a senior and was always pleased to finally attend.
  • Nisly notes that stories of women who leave to pursue new opportunities are told, but those of women like Edith, who chose to stay but the lost opportunities, come to light more rarely.

See other writings on “Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries” here.

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