Representing Rebecca Nyagai Kafi

Sermon, Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church, 16 October 2011

(Pastor Morgan Wong of Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church had invited Rebecca Nyagai Kafi of the Sudan Council of Churches to preach at the English and Chinese services in his church. When Rebecca remained stuck in Cairo, KAIROS staff Julie Graham spoke instead.)

…Today I am representing Rebecca Nyagai Kafi, a Presbyterian of South Sudanese roots who lives in north Sudan.

If she were here, Rebecca would be representing the Sudan Council of Churches. Rebecca should be with us this morning, ready to talk about the role of women in the churches in Sudan, the possibilities of peace and development in the world’s newest nation, and the place of women of courage in the bible and in Sudan.

Unfortunately, Rebecca has been stuck in Cairo for two weeks, awaiting a final yes or no from the Canadian embassy on the question of her entry visa.

This is happening to more and more of KAIROS’ and the Canadian church partners from the global South, especially those from countries that are poor, facing conflict, or both.  The consequence is that we in Canada have less and less chance to see these sisters and brothers face to face, to learn about the struggles they face, and to hear the stories that rarely- if ever -make it into our headlines.

…Rebecca had chosen as one of her scripture references today the story in Exodus chapters 1 and 2 of Pharoah’s attempt to kill the Israelites’ sons.

“Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’ Then a Levite family defied this murderous order. But their resistance would have been for nothing had Pharoah’s daughter– a women with great power– not questioned her father,  taken compassion, and acted to protect life. She, like the Egyptian midwives of Exodus 1, was a woman of courage. Through their actions, Moses lived to become one of Judaism’s, Christianity’s and Islam’s most revered prophets.

We pray that Rebecca will still be able to join the Women of Courage visit that KAIROS is currently organizing across Canada along with our member churches and our partners in Sudan, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Canadian partners. We have had two public events already (last night at St Michael’s Anglican in Vancouver and the Philippine Centre in Victoria.)

There, we listened to the work of these women, who risk their lives to call violent individuals and systems to account. And then we talked about the action our communities must take.

These women are coming to speak the truth about the violence they face and the ways in which they are resisting. As Christians we have the obligation to hear these stories, difficult though they are, because we are committed through faith to love our neighbours as ourselves. We are also bound by the example of Jesus, who faced the violent powers of oppression and laid down his life for the love of others.

To willingly surrender your life for others as Jesus did is the supreme act of courage.  To knowingly risk your life by speaking out so that others might live is also a great act of courage. So is the commitment to refuse to answer violence with violence.

Yet we know that too often, we Christians and Christian nations have stood silent in the face of violence in the home and around the world.

It is very difficult to confront face to face the men who have raped millions of women in the Congo—but that is what Chantal Bilulu is doing and is helping other women do. She said last night: to stay silent after you have endured rape or other violence is to kill yourself slowly from the inside.

It has for many years been dangerous to live in the Sudan, let alone make yourself more visible by condemning the violence. Yet the Sudan Council of Churches has been deeply involved in peace negotiations and now must be part of building a nation in the face of poverty and trauma. Women must be central to this work in the Sudanese churches and wider society, as Rebecca was going to tell us this morning.

Nor are stories of courage far away. It is very difficult in this wealthy nation of Canada to be a migrant worker because you face exploitation from the government, from hiring agencies and sometimes from the family you work for. In some homes nannies face domestic violence. We heard this in Victoria and Vancouver from women who are living it, yet most Canadians know very little about the struggles that led these women to Canada, and the struggle that continues once they are here.

It is difficult and dangerous in this wealthy and diverse nation of Canada to be an Aboriginal woman. Aboriginal women face extreme violence in their communities and wider society, and racism against this land’s original people is a daily reality. We heard witnesses to these facts over the past two nights.

But—we also heard last night that migrant workers and Aboriginal women are standing up for their rights and finding the courage to tell their stories in public.

And so last night, we as Canadians and we as Christians were challenged: we were asked when we would step forward, accept responsibility for the sins of the past and for the present, and commit to working against violence, inequality and racism.

These women do not want charity. They want justice, and they want us all to walk with them. They are like Deborah the Judge of Israel, or the Syro-Phoenician woman who challenged Jesus, or the persistent widow who harassed the judge night and day until justice was found. They are calling us to account.

What is the church’s response? Is the challenge of these women any different than the challenge of Jesus, when he said, “I was in prison and you visited me?” Or when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan, then turned to his questioner and said: “Go and do likewise”?

In inviting Rebecca, your Sudanese sister, to tell her story, you are taking a step towards justice in this world. You got me instead but I think I can give you her message: Hear the stories of those women who struggle for freedom from fear and violence. Then go and do likewise.

Filed in: Africa, Gender Justice/Women of Courage, Middle East

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