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Mozambique church celebrates women in ministry

A choir of dancing clergy celebrates 30 years of women's ordination in The United Methodist Church in Mozambique. UMNS photos by M. Garlinda Burton.

A UMNS Report
By M. Garlinda Burton*

Jan. 8, 2010 | INHAMBANE, Mozambique (UMNS)

In 1979, United Methodists Amina Isaias and Lea Jatamo became the first women to be ordained by any mainstream Christian church in the African nation of Mozambique.

Thirty years later, more than 700 people gathered at the denomination’s Cambine mission last month to celebrate the historic anniversary and acknowledge that both clergy and laywomen are in the forefront of the membership explosion of the church and its programs supporting the poorest of the poor.

Amina Isaias 


The celebration opened with a procession of more than 60 United Methodist women pastors and seminary students, singing original songs—“2009 is a year of our hope and strength!” and “Where would we be without women?”—in Xitswa, a language indigenous to southern Mozambique.

Young women ushered the now-retired clergywomen, Isaias and Jatamo, to the stage. Most clergy wore white anniversary T-shirts and golf shirts bearing the image of the two pastors.

The five-hour celebration included singing, dancing and tributes by grateful pastors and laypersons. They credited the two pioneering clergywomen with mentoring young pastors, battling institutional sexism as “firsts” in their churches, starting still-existing, cutting-edge mission projects and planting at least five congregations.

Isaias, now 65, had accompanied her husband to the United Methodist seminary at Cambine mission when he came to study evangelism. “I had never heard of a woman pastor, yet God started calling me,” she recalled.

She began doing pastoral work in the church in Cambine alongside her husband until she entered seminary in the 1970s. After her ordination, she continued evangelizing, building churches and offering pastoral care during the brutal civil war of the 1980s, “even in places that didn’t want me.” After her husband was killed in an accident, she continued her ministry until she retired in 2002.

Not typical

When Jatamo was a child, it wasn’t typical for girls in her community to attend school. She studied with an uncle, who soon recognized the intellect and leadership potential in his niece.

Lea Jatamo

She became a Sunday school teacher as a teenager and started a study group for young women in the early 1960s. She met a United Methodist missionary, whom everyone called “Auntie Margena,” began working with her as a Christian educator in Vilanculos and attended seminary. She married a United Methodist choirmaster in 1978.

Jatamo, who in 1990 became Mozambique’s first woman district superintendent, also served as a chaplain at the United Methodist hospital in Chicuque. She showed a special affinity for caring for dying people and their families.

A gifted evangelist, she planted at least three congregations in what is now the Maputo West District and is credited with making that district “one of the strongest, most vibrant districts in southern Africa,” according to Bishop Joaquina Nhanala.

During the exuberant celebration, well-wishers from across the region honored Jatamo and Isaias with gifts, tributes and song. M. Garlinda Burton, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, presented them with commission pins, calling them “standard-bearers” for women in ministry.

The Rev. Beauty Maenzanise, dean of the Theological School at United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe, hailed the two Mozambican women as “strong mothers of a movement in Africa,” and presented them and Nhanala with a soapstone sculpture.

Setting a standard

Speaking on behalf of the Mozambique National Council of Churches, the Rev. Dinis Matsolo said the ministries of Jatamo and Isaias set a standard not just for the Mozambican United Methodist Church, but for all of Africa.

Bishop Joaquina Nhanala
of Mozambique, the first United Methodist woman bishop in Africa

“You are not just the first women pastors in The United Methodist Church here, but you were the first in any Christian denomination, said Matsolo. “You have opened a door for women in leadership that will never again close. And that is a gift from God.”

Much of the 2009 session of the Mozambique South Annual Conference, held Dec. 9-13, was a celebration of the ministry of women in Mozambique, where Nhanala is presiding bishop. She became the first woman elected a United Methodist bishop in Africa in 2008.

Many men were part of the celebration. A group of 35 men married to United Methodist clergywomen presented a resolution affirming their wives and challenging the Mozambican church to “continue the path of empowering women.”

And a choir of young clergymen celebrated Jatomo, Isaias, Nhanala and other churchwomen in leadership, noting they were “sent by God to save our people.”

*Burton is the top executive of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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