Throughout this year, the God’s Design – Perth blog will be featuring the stories of a number of inspiring individuals. I wonder what your mental image of a women’s rights advocate looks like. A middle-aged woman in Doc Martens, with short hair and arty taste in clothes? A young female university student studying an Arts degree? There’s a fair chance that you’re not thinking “male Kenyan Anglican priest.” Today, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Domnic Misolo, a priest in the Kenyan Anglican Diocese of Bondo. God has taken Domnic on a journey which has not only caused an incredible change in his own life, but which is also helping to transform the lives of many Kenyans, particularly women and girls. He is an inspirational leader with a humble heart and a passion for truth, justice and equality.
GDP: Domnic, tell us a bit about yourself – your background and what you are doing now.
DM: I’m an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya. I’m the founder of Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education (EFOGE), a registered faith-based/non-governmental organisation working in Kenya and East Africa to advance biblical knowledge of equality between males and females.
I was born in a patriarchal society where male superiority is taught and practiced. My father had three wives in which my mother was the second wife with 12 children. My father used to hit my mothers with a stick in order to discipline them – as it is known (in this patriarchal society) that wives must be disciplined in order that they may toe the line and submit fully to their husbands.
GDP: In that situation, many men would simply have grown up assuming that’s the way a man treats a woman. Clearly it had the opposite effect on you. Was it the influence of your mother in your life, or a godly Christian couple that showed you that your father’s example was the wrong one? (Or something else entirely?)
DM: Growing up as a boy, I loved my mother so much and I did not like her being hit like a child. I couldn’t understand what was going on and I kept on asking simple questions to which I couldn’t get the answers, such as ”what’s going on here?”
Growing up and living in these conditions, it became clear to me that my father was superior to my mother almost in everything. Men’s superiority was evident in every step of social life, like I could see majority of males are leaders in the church and community. Then I thought that “it’s God’s design for males to be superior and females to be subordinate.” This half-truth/lie went down into my mind and I believed so. But I was still troubled in my heart and mind about my mother beaten almost every day like a child.
GDP: I’m so sorry you – and especially your mother – endured this. What was the turning point? How did you come to hear of and accept biblical equality?
DM: My mother has had a great influence in my life. First, in this situation, we lived in abject poverty and my mother used to work so hard to bring food on the table. She loved us so much that she could forgo even her own clothes to provide food for us. My dear mother gave us full protection in that situation that nobody else could give.
The turning point was in the year 2009 when I was in my second seminary school, having already been ordained as priest and served one church, St. Luke’s Parish Nyagoko in Rarieda district – Bondo Diocese. During that year, I came across academic journals (Priscilla Papers) from Christians for Biblical Equality, which talked about the biblical truth about male and female relationships – made in the image of God as equal partners, and that the Fall brought about disharmony and gender prejudices.
This TRUTH challenged my worldview and threw me off balance – reflecting my childhood memories of my mother in chain of abusive marriage and living as a servant with no voice, dignity and worth as a full human being. I thought, God is calling me to do a new thing in my church and society, and then and there, I thought of starting the Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Equality.
GDP: Did it take a while to get EFOGE off the ground? Was it hard to find others to share this vision of men and women working in unity and equality in the home and church?
DM: Yes, this is the beginning of EFOGE! It was not easy to start this new idea in the beginning. First, I wrote to my bishop and told him about my vision and call to promote equality of males and females from a biblical perspective. My bishop listened to me with the second ear and he gave me chance to try it out.
I work in his office as the Diocesan Advocacy Officer in charge of gender. Through him, I was able to get access to many priests and other neighbouring bishops. However, still it was not fully easy to talk to other churches that are not Anglicans, like Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc., because they thought that this is an Anglican Church idea. In order to work with all churches within our locality – we registered EFOGE as neutral ground for all churches.
GDP: That sounds like a wise move. Have people from other churches come on board a bit more now, or is the movement still primarily Anglican?
DM: Now, we have many different churches coming on board. During our annual conference – church leaders from different churches always come. On the Board of Management, we have church leaders from the Pentecostal church, Anglican, Roman Catholic Church, etc.
Recently, a Roman Catholic Church father presented a truly honest and nice paper in a public lecture that tells of the deep influence of patriarchy in our churches and culture through dowry payment – you can find it on our website.
GDP: What is the most profound way in which your belief in biblical gender equality changed you or the way you interact with women? What is something you do differently now?
DM: I believe that TRULY, that God created men and women equal in his own image. When God revealed to me this truth of equality, first I reflected on my life and my relationship with my wife. Because by then, 2009, I was newly married and my wife was a house-wife, a young woman just out from high school. I shared my conviction with my wife and I told her that this is what my heart desires to do for life – to see change in beliefs and attitudes. I released my wife to proceed with her education and she joined Egerton University where she graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in education.
I treat all women with dignity as equal partners made in the image of God. Apart from empowering church leaders in regard to equality, I have school programs that help vulnerable girls and boys to learn of God’s design in their life through teaching curriculum on biblical equality. I give needy female students limited school fees and sanitary towels.
(Limited access to sanitary products is one of the key reasons adolescent girls drop out of education in developing nations.)
GDP: I think most of the world sees Africa as beset by many problems – political instability, Islamic extremism, war, famine and lack of food security, serious health problems, lack of access to clean water…with all these problems on your doorstep, what is it that had made you focus on gender equality as a matter of urgency in Kenya today?
DM: My friend, I believe that the root cause of poverty in Africa, including many of the problems you have mentioned above, is the underlying patriarchal culture and worldview being propagated by churches/mosques. They misinterpreting the Bible and other sacred/religious texts, teaching that women are second class citizens and not equal to men. This leads to a male culture of dominance and abuse. Many women are kept in kitchens where they serve their tyrant husbands. Many cultures cut young girls (female genital mutilation) and give them into early marriages; many cultures promote polygamy as a way of life, which exposes males and females to multiple sexual partners, bringing about high level of HIV/AIDS, in which women are most vulnerable. The majority of women are locked out of the job market, leaving a huge unutilised power that could be used to bring change and development.
GDP: Can you give an example of someone (other than yourself) whose life you have seen truly changed by knowledge of biblical equality?
DM: I’ve seen many people’s lives changed here because of this ministry. First, my current board chairperson was married as a second wife and believed in male superiority, but now, she is relieved from such a worldview. She is now a truly empowered woman who advocates for the empowerment of girls and women. Because of her conviction about equality, she is starting studies at seminary, and now she is serving the church as a lay leader.
My wife Christine, who also had the same notion, now sees things differently and is a great partner in this ministry. This year, she and other local women registered a group to advocate for women’s economic empowerment, Geno Women for Participatory Reserach & Development.
We implement a youth curriculum about biblical equality in schools. As a result, many female students in both Nyamira Girls and Jaramogi Secondary school now compete equally with male students and excel in their studies, unlike before.
GDP: That’s wonderful to hear. And finally, even though we in Western countries may pretend colonialism is in the dim, dark past, I think in reality, most of us believe that those who live in Africa can learn from us, and not the other way around. What is one thing you think Western Christians could learn from our African brothers and sisters?
DM: The colonial mind-sets are demeaning! We pray that it will one day go out. Both westerners and Africans are full human beings, created in God’s image and likeness. We have to give each other in mutual respect and love. I have been in the West for visits but I’m afraid that still many churches in the West believe in the half-truth – women and men are equal, but when it comes to the church and bible interpretation, you see gender prejudice. The West should also learn about our spiritual richness and adopt it for belief because, many westerners are running away from believing in God.
GDP: Thanks so much, Domnic. I really appreciate your time and your candid views.
The work of the Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education is having a profound impact in the lives of Kenyan women and girls. It is involved in fighting against female genital mutilation (FGM) and violence against women. In 2015, it trained approximately 24,000 young adults in 18 public secondary schools in Kenya to understand the equal worth of men and women from a biblical perspective, identifying wrong beliefs formed through religion and culture, identifying how these lead to violence against women and providing a new paradigm of mutual respect and dignity. They have a scholarship plan which aims to get “at risk” girls – many of whom are victims of sexual abuse – back into school. The Foundation is educating church and community leaders to understand the detrimental effects of dowry and bride price. It provided training on domestic violence to church leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan.
EFOGE needs more donors to help continue their vital work. Donations may be made here.
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