Our friend Samaki was telling us about his ministry in another part of Tanzania. He is introducing people to Isa Al-Masih in a Muslim part of the country. When people start following Jesus, they don’t announce, “I’m now a Christian!” but their lives are changed and people notice and ask, ‘what is this change?’
I asked him about what some of these changes were for women. He said that they become influenced by biblical ideas of marriage, that is, to be peaceful with their husbands, care for their children and be busy at home. Those of us with connections to conservative circles in Australia might find this a familiar description of a good woman or wife, so I asked him more about it.
He told story after story of husbands amazed by the changes in their wives who had gone from ignoring or insulting them to paying attention to them and being agreeable. Amazed husbands asked what was going on and upon hearing from their wives that they had met Jesus, would follow. Samaki said, “The wives bring the light to the whole family.” He saw husbands as in search of peace. Feeling guilty for how they had treated or cheated their families, to learn about forgiveness was overwhelming and a foundation from which they could start to love their wives.
But back to the wives… what does it mean to be busy at home? I asked. He listed off various things: caring for children, making sure the home environment is nice, bringing in income, working in the field, being self-controlled, etc. Bringing in an income meant starting a business of some kind – selling fruits and vegetables or catering or sewing or opening a shop.
That Enlightenment distinction between the ‘outside’ world of economic activity and the ‘inside’ world of domesticity does not apply in Tanzania just as it did not apply in the ancient world in which the Bible was written. Home is a site of economic activity and far from being a liability in caring for your family it is a means of doing so. Industry is part of being a Christian wife.
This reminded me of another conversation I had on the same day. Someone else asked me about discussions in Australia about limiting women’s roles. He said he thought it was only Africans who had trouble with women’s empowerment. My reply was that Tanzania in some ways has a better foundation for women’s empowerment. Unlike in the Australia where femininity is often associated with weakness, in Tanzania women are known to be strong. The archetypal Tanzanian women is bearing up under heavy burdens, not crushed by them. No one is worried about her fragility or conceiving of her role in terms of passivity. Because women are already seen as potentially strong, there is less cultural work required to see “busy at home” as multi-faceted.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.