I witnessed it in a thousand little ways every day in South Africa.
Little, tiny, insignificant ways, but when you put them together all of those insignificant things became one very significant thing--the daily "depowerment" of women.
It was so evident, I couldn't even define it as unempowered, but needed to create a new term to describe how women were being robbed of their power by both small and large daily acts.
Over and over again, I met women who were leading their households, raising their children, leading in their jobs and bringing home the family's main source of income, but did not know they were powerful. Did not know they could possess power. Did not know that God created them to be powerful, valuable and worthy women to his honor and glory.
I met girls with every opportunity to excel in school, go on to a career and lift their family out of poverty who got pregnant at a young age in order to recieve a child support grant from the government--a small stipend designed to support impoverished mothers and children that all too often was not used to support the child.
I worked alongside amazing women at various NGOs capable of great leadership but daily demeaned by men and superiors who expected her to make tea and clean the office while he sat and waited for something more important to do with his own two hands, idle and just as capable.
And here I was, standing beside them, an empowered woman who had received all the benefits of feminism. I could do for myself, speak for myself and generally take care of myself, never fearing the retribution of my partner or male colleagues.
I ached for the woman around me to know the same power in themselves, and I wept whenever I saw the Church as the author of these depowering acts--shunning women who got pregnant out of wedlock, instructing women to submit to their abusive husbands, forcing women to fall inline with cultural traditions that promoted men in value and lessened women in theirs.
There were, of course, exceptions. There are always exceptions to every generalization and every stereotype.
The first time I ever heard a woman preach was at a small, village church.
I was mesmerized and amazed by this beautiful, strong, pregnant South African woman who spoke with authority and full confidence of the Spirit of God within her.
She and her husband faithfully pastored that little church with grace and love. They consistently empowered both men and women in their community and were a blessing to me throughout my time in the rural areas of South Africa.
And then there is my friend Elias who remains always my friend and graciously served me tea more times than I can count as he daily and faithfully served and empowerd his community.
And then the many, many women I met who had empowered themselves or were rising above and choosing empowerment.
These exceptions brought me joy and hope and encouraged me when I was disheartened by little and big acts I saw, both rural and urban, that silently spoke messages to women: You are less valuable. You are less worthy. You are less important.
And as a future mother of a daughter, I am concerned with images I see now in the US that silently speak those same kinds of messages, especially those images I see within the Church.
It concerns me that in so many of our churches, young girls can be active leaders in our youth groups, graduate, and find the church no longer wants their leadership gifts.
It concerns me that in so many of our churches, men are given roles of prominence while women hold supporting roles, unable to fully use the gifts God has entrusted them with.
It concerns me that in so many of our churches, we are not setting the example for millions of women and girls oppressed in our country and worldwide who need to see the Church demonstrating You are valuable. You are worthy. You are important.
The abused and beaten wife. The mother struggling to feed her children. The woman abandoned by her lover, pregnant and alone. The woman forcefully mutilated by traditions valuing female circumcision. The woman trafficked into sexual slavery. The daughter struggling with her self-worth.
These women need to know a Church who says, You are valuable. You are worthy. You are important, not just by their words but by their deeds, by the image they show to the world.
We need Esthers and Dorcas'. We need Deborahs and Abigails. We need Ruths and Mary Magdalenes. We need women who can empower other women by their actions and show them their value and worth.
But we also need Elishas and Elijahs. We need Pauls and Davids. We need Johns and Jesus'. We need men who see, know and build up women with their words and deeds.
We need a Church living out the fulfillment of the Creator God's image on both men and women.
And as much as I see it not happening, I am also thankful for the little pockets where I see it taking place.
I see conversations being held with mutual respect between egalitarians and complementarians. I hear of women empowered with small daily acts of greatness by the men and women around them. I hear stories of churches finding ways to liberate trafficked women and turn cultural practices that demean and suppress women on their head.
I hear of women rising out of the depths of depowerment.
And it makes my inner-most shout aloud and rejoice.
Today's post was written in conjunction with the “One in Christ – A Week of Mutuality” synchroblog at RachelHeldEvans.com. Join the conversation about women in the Church this week. Connect and spread the good news.
For more on the depowerment of women across the world and in the Church and how we can be involved in empowering women, I suggest you check out Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James.