Abundant Life, Conversations, Discipleship, Domestic Violence, Education, Faith, Gender, Global United Methodist Church, Health, Mission, Sexuality, Social Action, Social Justice, Solidarity, Transforming the World, Under 18, Wellness, Whole Community, Women

The Sacred Worth of Women and Girls

Katey ZehGuest Post from Katey Zeh, Director of Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Initiative of the United Methodist Church:

When I began writing this piece, I was stopped abruptly by the amazingly weird sensation of the right side of my belly leaping upward.  I’m currently thirty weeks pregnant with our first child, a daughter. For years I’ve dedicated my ministry to advocating for women and girls, but now as a soon-to-be mom of a daughter, my passion has deepened in ways I never imagined.

Very early in my pregnancy I was reflecting on the story of Hagar (Genesis 16).  The slave of Sarai and Abram, Hagar has no agency over her own body. When her owners struggle with infertility, she is used as a surrogate, and Hagar becomes pregnant with Abram’s child. Sarai becomes so abusive toward Hagar that she runs away, risking everything in search of sanctuary back at home in Egypt. In the midst of my own pregnancy-related nausea and fatigue, I thought about the enormous amount of inner strength Hagar must have had to venture out alone into the wilderness.

But Hagar is never really alone. Along her journey an angel of God appears to her, calling her by name and assuring her that she and her child will survive. Strangely he also tells her to return to her masters’ house, but he does not do so without first delivering a message of hope and survival.

Hagar is the first person in the Bible to give God a name, “El-Roi” meaning the God who sees. Perhaps for the first time in her life, Hagar knows that her masters do not define her identity.  Ultimately she is not a slave; she is a precious child of God.

In our world today there are so many women and girls like Hagar who are objectified, reduced to meeting the needs of others and at the expense of their physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual health.  How many of them are waiting for a voice of hope, an assurance that God is with them in the wilderness? How many have dreams of escaping but have no way out? How many simply wish to be seen, to be heard, and to be called by name?

The question that I ask of each of us is: what would the church look like if women and girls were seen as children of God with sacred worth? This question is not meant to be rhetorical or theoretical. It is a call to transformation! Our calling as the body of Chris is to follow the example of the one who reached out with hands of healing and compassion; who saw women as full human beings worthy of his time and attention; who came that all might experience abundant life here and now.

In my work as director of the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project of the General Board of Church & Society, I work to ensure that women’s sacred worth is honored through the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Tragically every two minutes somewhere in the world a woman loses her life while bringing new life into the world, Most of these deaths could be prevented with basic medical care and access to safe, voluntary family planning methods.

The Church is called to respond to this needless loss of life by ensuring every woman and girls has the tools and information she needs to experience the life of abundance that Christ promised all. One place to begin is ensuring every girl and boy, every woman and man has information about their bodies, sexuality, and how to care for one another with respect and dignity. I invite you to join Healthy Families, Healthy Planet and the General Board of Church & Society on August 27th for a webinar focused on the intersections of faith, sexuality education, and your congregation. Please visit the registration page to sign up and for more information.

Through the power of Christ’s spirit, all things are possible. We can become places where all are affirmed as children of God with sacred worth. As I prepare to birth a baby girl into this difficult, beautiful world, I could not hope for anything more.

Katey Zeh, M.Div is an advocate, organizer, and writer for global maternal health and family planning. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she currently serves as the Director of the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. Katey has written about maternal health for the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Feminist Studies in Religion, and Mothering Matters. She was named one of “14 Religious Leader to Watch in 2014” by the Center for American Progress. For more information about Healthy Families, Healthy Planet, please visit umchealthyfamilies.org

Global United Methodist Church, Mission, The Great Commission, Transforming the World, Whole Community, Women

Statement from the Iowa Nigeria Partnership

The Boko Haram and the Nigerian United Methodist Church

NigeriaPartnership_LOGO_SCXZXHQ3The country of Nigeria has been in the press with stories of bombings, kidnapping of 250+ girls, burning churches and causing turmoil in villages located in northern Nigeria.  Nigeria is the size of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa with a majority of Muslims living in the northern states which border Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Mali.  It is in this area that the militant group known as Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” is trying to impose their Sharia law. The Boko Haram targets Christians with hundreds being killed in the last several years.

The Nigerian Government has not addressed this terrorist problem thus allowing attacks to continue in northeast Nigeria.  With the recent kidnapping of 276 school girls taking exams in Chibok, a world wide protest has occurred with the cry being “bring back our girls.”  The school girls kidnapping – which the group has taken responsibility for – is just the latest attack in a brutal campaign of violence it has been waging for years against what it sees as the corrupt, Westernized and oil-obsessed government in the majority Christian south.

Nigeria officials have invited assistance from world powers as the U.S., United Kingdom, and China to help find the girls and train security and military forces.

The United Methodist Church of Nigeria is located in north central Nigeria, south of the states being affected by the Boko Haram.  In Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State and headquarters of the UMCN, there is a ban on the use of motorcycles in the city.  In Adamawa and Borno States cell phones and the internet had been banned.

Our group flies into Yola, located in the southern part of Adamawa State, and then drives to Jalingo where we stay at the church guest house. During our stay in Nigeria, we travel to very rural, remote villages, off the beaten path, where religious groups peacefully coexist.  In the past several years our stay in Nigeria has been without incident.

While we Iowans can return home, our Nigerian church friends live with insecurity and a sense of fear not knowing where, when or why an incident might take place.  Let us raise our prayers to God for their safety and ability to continue the Lord’s work in their land.  Pray that the kidnapped girls be found and returned to their homes.  Our Iowa work team of fifteen members will appreciate prayers as we depart for Nigeria on June 9.

For More Information about the special relationship between the United Methodist Church in Iowa and the United Methodist Church in Nigeria: Iowa Nigeria Partnership  or like on Facebook