Over the four Fridays of March, VTS’ online publication On Holy Hill will hear from Ebonee Davis, archivist for the African American Episcopal Historical Collection and the Rev. Dr. Susan Lukens ’11. Ebonee will share details about her trip to visit the Diocese of Tanganyika, Tanzania’s women’s conference. Stay tuned for more by visiting VTS.edu each week or follow the hashtag #TZWomenVTS on social media. In my first blog post, I laid groundwork for the stories I’d collected while facilitating a women’s conference in Tanzania. I confessed my surprise at what the women shared and how telling their stories was important, despite the discomfort. Well, I wonder if you’d allow me to alter that a bit. As I sat down to write this next post, I struggled to find a way to share these stories with sensitivity and integrity. Every approach felt wrong, bringing me to the realization that there was no amount of creative language I could use to tell a truth that simply wasn’t mine to tell.
These stories were shared in a language that was not my own, and while I was privileged to be present and record every interaction, these women sat a bore their truths not to me, but to their Mama Bishop, Pendo Chilongani, wife of the Bishop of the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. She is who they truly trusted with these truths. I was merely there to keep record-only gaining full access to what was said when the recordings had been translated for me back in the States. So, instead, I share with you how the heart of these women, as they poured it out to their Mama Bishop, could be felt and understood without translation. How strikingly beautiful they looked as they filed in and out of the college library where we conducted the interviews, dressed in their Mother’s Union blue kitenge (African fabric), with their children strapped tightly to their bodies. How when they spoke to Pendo, she listened with the greatest care and compassion on her face, granting each woman her undivided attention. I share with you how, as they told stories of the difficulties they faced maintaining quality education for their children, or finding gainful employment, or just making ends meet, they comforted and encouraged one another. I share that when they wondered how to further the mission of their church in a time when so many things are pulling people away, they asked these questions with the sincerity of those who believe that Christ is the only cure for the sick world we all find ourselves facing today. And when they were done, they asked us to pray, and not in an “our thoughts and prayers are with you” kind of way– no, they asked us to pray with fervor, intent, and expectation. These women understood the power of the gathering of the saints, and had done just that, both at the conference and in the library with us that day, with the full knowledge that the Lord would hear their voice and meet them there. The strength of their conviction and the conversations they had in that safe place with their Mama Bishop speak to the greater power of what happens when women gather. In the next couple of weeks, you’ll hear more about those conversations and the power they carry from VTS Alum, the Rev. Dr. Susan Lukens ’11, as she shares the origin story of this transformative conference and discusses her personal relationships with the women of the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. – Ebonee Davis Archivist, African American Episcopal Historical Collection