by Fanya Burford-Berry
Would you like to travel to Zimbabwe this March? You can, if you participate in the March 6, 2020, World Day of Prayer (WDP) service written by women in Zimbabwe. With this service, these bold Zimbabwean sisters call their country and our world into action. Central to this call, they ask: “Do we humans want to be healed? Will we rise, take our mats and walk?” (Read John 5:2-9a).
If you aren’t familiar with it, World Day of Prayer is a global ecumenical movement led by Christian women who welcome other women to join them in prayer and action for peace and justice.
I’m now serving as chair of the World Day of Prayer USA board, which I joined in April 2016. Since then I’ve traveled to the Philippines, Suriname, and Slovenia—all without leaving Illinois, where I live! And now I’m headed to Zimbabwe thanks to this new WDP study. Serving on the board has taught me that wherever women gather, we have the power to change the world.
Working with a diverse board
Initially, I was both excited and apprehensive about working with the board, comprised of 15 women of various Christian denominations, including ELCA, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., United Methodist, Baptist and Mar Thoma Syrian members.
Twice a year, we meet for an entire weekend. Of course, I wondered how we’d all get along. Would there be conflict over Christian theological and cultural issues?
I’d always thought that the World Day of Prayer had a more conservative theology than I was used to. There are some more conservative elements. Before I joined the board, they discussed at length the appropriateness of a photo of women breastfeeding. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for that!
But since then, I’ve realized that many of their materials are in fact bold, written by bold women who speak the truth and act on their power, disrupting our western way of sometimes thinking about women in other countries, and helping us to become more thoughtful about how women’s power is used in the world. To ensure that their voices come through, even though the board previews and edits these materials, we never edit their message. We want you to hear their authentic voices.
Looking back at past WDP materials
In 2017, women from the Philippines wrote testimonies about the country’s economic inequality. Using the theme, “Am I Being Unfair to You?” (Matthew 20:13), they explored how we can work together to create an economy of collaboration rather than competition.
In 2018, women from Suriname titled their materials: “All God’s Creation is Very Good” (Genesis 1). A confession: Previously, I had not known anything about Suriname. Did you know that Suriname is in South America? Or that Suriname is one of the most diverse countries in the world?
Within the worship service and Bible study they wrote, the women from Suriname called out U.S. companies for polluting their land and water. As they worked on their study materials and held worship services around the country, they began to realize their power and to organize. They persevered until they were able to reach out to their government—not an easy task—and they have been successful in starting several environmental programs, including one that protects sea turtles.
In 2019, the women of Slovenia reminded us that “Everyone is Welcome at the Table” (Luke 14). They told us that God has given us all that we need, and we must switch our mindset from scarcity thinking to abundant thinking.
The bold women who write World Day of Prayer curriculum are unafraid to share their joys, concerns, challenges or their plans for action. I hope sometime this March your congregation will take the time to listen to the joys, challenges, and plans of Christian women in Zimbabwe. Even if you can’t plan your service in March, you can choose another 2020 date that works for you, and let us know how it went.
The Rev. Fanya Burford-Berry serves as pastor and mission developer at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Chicago, Illinois. She is in her second three-year term on the World Day of Prayer board, which she currently chairs. Fanya and her spouse, Kendric, live in Chicago.