Bible women spread word through Asia
by Kelly Martini
Erlincy Rodriguez, a pastor and deaconess, travels to five rural communities in Davao, the Philippines, to teach about health issues and also conducts three-day seminars on HIV/AIDS in Western Visayas.
She takes along "health begins at home" manuals, translated in native tongues, with cultural images that are appropriate for her country. Though many of the women from the villages she visits cannot read, she communicates through a method introduced to her in a "Bible Women" training sponsored by the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and developed by ProLiteracy Worldwide (formerly Laubach Literacy International and Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc).
Using a simple, learning-focused technique, she teaches rural women to make herbal bath soaps for their personal use and to sell for income. She shows them how herbal plants from their surroundings can be used for medicines. And she teaches them about HIV/AIDS and its prevention.
"'I belong to where I am needed' is my motto," Rodriguez says.
It's the motto of many of the Bible Women who belong to the rapidly spreading program that began three years ago. Their actions demonstrate how some of the greatest evangelization takes place when people live out their faith. In Malaysia, their work has already reached more than 3,000 people in the rural villages of Sarawak and the remote towns of Sabah.
Christmas Day marked the baptism of 85 new Christians in a longhouse in Malaysia, a result of the work of Bible Women there.
Stories like those in the Philippines and Malaysia are becoming common throughout Asia as women in Cambodia, East Malaysia, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, the Philippines, Southern India and Indonesia work as Bible Women.
At Women's Division trainings, the Bible Women are armed with a knowledge of issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention, community-based health care, micro-credit economics and domestic violence. They choose the issue, based on what they see as the most urgent need in their areas. Together, they study the Bible, specifically focusing on Jesus' ministry of healing, challenges and transformation.
Then the women use their knowledge as they travel - many times by foot and for days at a time - into rural areas and towns. The treks can be brutal and the weather uncooperative. But the women say they are committed and believe this is their calling.
As they teach others about such issues as community health and HIV/AIDS, they share Bible stories. Materials developed for their culture and situation are used. They incorporate literacy techniques throughout the entire training, so that women can learn to read.
Once used as a program of women's missionary societies more than 100 years ago, the Bible Women concept was reinvented in March 2001. Training sessions this year are scheduled for Laos, Northern India, Southern Cambodia and the Tamil areas of West Malaysia.
The Women's Division represents United Methodist Women, a million-member organization that focuses on fostering spiritual growth, developing leaders and advocating for justice. Members raise about $20 million a year for programs and projects related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world.
Date posted: Jan 20, 2004