Women in Zimbabwe are socially inferior to men. They cannot question a man’s decision. They must enter a room on their knees, if a man is present, as a sign of respect. They speak to men only when permission is specifically granted.
PINE – Women in Zimbabwe are socially inferior to men. They cannot question a man’s decision. They must enter a room on their knees, if a man is present, as a sign of respect. They speak to men only when permission is specifically granted.
“As a result, African women do not know who they are in Christ,” Sherrie Bumstead, IMB furloughing missionary to Zimbabwe, told the congregation at Pine First Baptist Church, a group that faithfully prayed for her over the last three years.
Bumstead, a nurse, went to Botswana in 2003; and when conditions deteriorated there, she was moved to Zimbabwe. She felt the call to missions while living in New Orleans. She sees medicine as the skill that opens doors to her, allowing her to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Back in the United States for a year, Bumstead’s mission is to acquaint Southern Baptist churches with her ministry in Africa.
As a female missionary in a male dominated culture, Bumstead cannot lead a man to Christ, that task must be accomplished by male missionaries. She can witness to and disciple women; but even with women, she must follow the cultural protocol in regards to respect for age.
“It is a culture of respect,” she said. “Younger women enter a room where an older woman is, on their knees. Younger women cannot talk back to older women. Children cannot talk back to adults. Women cannot talk back to men.”
For this outspoken, single missionary with a western mindset, the culture of Africa was a challenge, but one that she conquered through Christ. She learned to walk on her knees and to approach men and elder women with respect. She ate their food and adopted their form of dress. Because she showed respect, she won the right to be heard.
“Men sit under a shade tree and make decisions for the village,” she said.
Women plow, harvest, cook, clean, and do all the chores necessary to keep the family functional. They rise before dawn, at about 4 am. They cook over open fires. They make clothes for their families. They carry water on their heads and their babies on their backs. This allows their hands to be free to tote other burdens or perform other tasks.
Bumstead readily admits that she struggles with the social hierarchy in Zimbabwe, mainly because it leaves women with low self esteem and without a concept of their worth to God. Both God and Jesus are men. Thus, they are unapproachable.
When she moved to Zimbabwe, she was assigned a native woman, Shelia, as her ministry partner. After Shelia called her several times early in the morning, Bumstead asked her not to call between 6 and 7 am. When she asked why, the missionary told her that was her “quiet time.”
The concept of a “quiet time,” where one spends quality time with her Lord, was foreign to Shelia. Bumstead soon realized that the native women, who had accepted Christ as their Savior, were still babes in Christ, even those who had been Christians most of their lives. God gave Bumstead the privilege of discipleship. She became the spiritual mentor for African women, teaching them that God wants to spend time with them.
Training them to enter God’s presence with respect and reverence was easy; getting them to share their burdens with this most important man was more difficult.
“Ladies in Zimbabwe are stoic; they don’t show or tell their feelings,” Bumstead said.
They have never known a man who cares how they feel, or even what they think.
“Hebrews 12:1 tells us to ‘lay aside those things that so easily beset you,’” she told the ladies Sunday school class at Pine. “For women those things are different than for men. Satan uses our hormonal fluctuations and feelings of low self-esteem to keep us from being effective witnesses.”
This is the message Bumstead brought to African women as she taught them to pray more effectively and to read the scriptures for themselves. This is the ministry God is calling her back to when she returns to Africa.
Just as Paul did not command Philemon to flee his position as a slave, Bumstead does not counsel these women to overthrow the culture of respect they were born into.
Rather, she teaches them a “more excellent way,” and leaves the cultural issues to the Holy Spirit.