Martha's Call to Ministry
Martha fled with her family from her home in Córdoba when her children were very young to escape personal threats of violence there. They settled here in Chigorodó at some point and she continued as an elder here as she had been at home. She continued to take on leadership in the church as she reestablished her life.
Martha became the pastor of the original Chigorodó church with the continued encouragement of other elders in the community over several years. She graduated from seminary and was ordained into ministry as the solo pastor in her church with over one hundred members. She moved to the Manantial de Vida church in 2008 where she continues to lead.
From 1990-98 there was a lot of violence in Chigorodó - dead bodies were often found in the streets. It was not safe to be out at night so members of the Chigorodó church were not comfortable walking from one neighborhood to the other for evening worship throughout the week. As a result, they started having evening worship at an elders house on the other side of the highway and eventually that led to building the church here called Manantial de Vida. People from three other communities that were displaced including Ciesa moved here and solidified the need for a church in this neighborhood. Now people from many places are here - it is very diverse and very inclusive. Martha is the pastor in this community of replanted refugees.
The positive encouragement from the community that empowered Martha to continue her studies and take on a traditionally male role in the church is amazing to me. What is even more amazing though is Martha's courage and tenacity to take on a difficult public and spiritual leadership role in a church that is known for speaking out against oppressors.
The Next Generation
Martha had to leave to meet with other church members so she left us with her daughter Jenny. Jenny is starting university this year to study psychology. She is interested in working with communities. She has an interest in theology, but does not plan to be a pastor. Seeing the struggles of her mother seems to have had a big influence on her own decisions.
Not being a pastor does not mean she has any lack of initiative in the church! She is on the regional and national association of youth for IPC. She organizes national and presbytery wide youth conferences every two years. She organizes events for ecological and social topics at these conferences. For example, they have talked about mining in Bahirá - both the environmental issues and how it affects the workers. Locally she organizes health brigades and soup kitchens, nature walks, and days to pick up trash in the streets.
So why wouldn't someone so involved with the church at all levels be interested in becoming an ordained spiritual leader? Jenny has seen other female pastors in Barranquilla where the national offices are, but in the Urabá Presbytery her mother is the first and only female pastor. It must also be said that the Presbytery is only twenty years old. One story she mentioned was where a man came to the door of the church asking for el Pastor, when Jenny explained that her church had a Pastora (female) he dismissed her and asked again for el PASTOR. Being dismissed over and over again is not encouraging even when your church members support you.
I asked Pastor Bernardino about this at breakfast today. He says that he has actively been encouraging five of the young women in his church to pursue a seminary degree. So far only one young woman has shown interest in seminary although there are many women acting as spiritual leaders in the church.
Gender issues here are as real as they are in the United States. This is one of those situations where having an outside perspective makes the gender issue look much clearer. I should really have a corresponding article written from Jenny's perspective when she visits the United States some day. Talking to my sister, Reverend Katie Snipes Lancaster, Jenny could quickly see that there are hidden roadblocks for female pastors in my context as well. I praise God that Martha is willing to struggle through additional difficult challenges in order to make way for more women and more equality in the future. Her ministry is so important in this traumatic time in Colombian history.