Welcome to December. The year 2011 quickly comes to a close, but not before Advent’s precious coming infuses us all with the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ’s arrival.
Still on my mind, though, our VBWIM dinner in November brought its own reminders of Christ’s Spirit at work in women and men here in Virginia, but also around the world. On the evening of November 8, we dined together at Grace Baptist in Richmond during the convention of the Baptist General Association of Virginia. It was a beautiful time of reconnecting with friends and fellow ministers from home, while we also received word from our sister of Liberia, Rev. Meekie Glayweon. Rev. Glayweon has a special relationship with VBWIM as we had the opportunity to provide her a scholarship to attend Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary.
Rev. Glayweon brought us a word from her home in Liberia, a nation that is very much a sister to us in the United States and particularly to Virginia. The capitol city of Liberia, Monrovia, is named for James Monroe, a Virginian and our fifth president. James Monroe participated in the American Colonization Society, the goal of which was to relocate Americans freed from slavery “back” to Africa where they could begin a colony. These colonists were not Africans returning to their home, but Americans, many of them Virginians, planting a new republic. After facing horrible civil wars in recent years (a result, in part, of the cultural tensions developed out of this colonization), Liberians have retained their democracy. Days after the VBWIM dinner, Liberia reelected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president.
With tender and powerful voice, Meekie Glayweon told us the story of her co-laborers in ministry. The church in Liberia has met women as ministers with skepticism, but slowly, women are receiving ordination and serving in leadership. As women in Liberia faced challenges, they held onto the same words of God that have strengthened many of us here: the promise that God’s sons and daughters will prophesy and that in Christ, there is no longer male or female. Each denomination, Rev. Glayweon told us, has responded to the call of women in different ways, some accepting female ministers more freely and some with greater difficulty. The ordination of women received great discussion in Liberia, reflecting specifically on 1 Cor. 14 and the concerns with women speaking in church at the time the passage was written, but, “the Bible was not written in a vacuum,” Rev. Glayweon reminded us. She continued, “God is not only able, but is also faithful.” Today, most denominations in Liberia allow women the freedom to attend seminary and serve in some forms of leadership, although only a few are actually allowed to serve as pastors or bishops. The women of Liberia serve on, following the call of God’s Spirit. Rev. Glayweon spoke the names of women called by God in the Bible – Esther, Deborah, Naomi, Ruth, Sarah – and claimed for us all, “The Lord has not brought us this far to leave us.” The women of Liberia, women like Meekie Glayweon, continue to follow God’s call, living the belief that God’s grace cannot be controlled or overcome at any time in any nation.
As Rev. Glayweon closed her talk, I felt stunned to hear how similarly God has worked in Liberia as God has worked here. Rev. Glayweon’s story sounded unquestionably familiar. No matter the challenges, I thought to myself, the common heritage, or the beautiful differences, Rev. Glayweon’s word reminds us that the Spirit of God is at work in Liberia and the Spirit of God is at work here. No history can silence God’s call. Bloodshed and civil war cannot frighten the Spirit away. A people born out of enslaving and a people born out of enslavement need not remain enslaved. God’s voice still speaks through our sisters and brothers all over the world.
After Rev. Glayweon spoke, the floor was opened for questions. “Do you have children?” one woman asked her. She told us their ages and their names. Rev. Glayweon and her husband are adopting a nineteen-year-old, adding to their three natural children.
Her youngest child, she told us, they named Triumph.