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Learning from women

We sat around her table, overlooking the valley down to the city. The table was covered in papers and we frequently reached for our phones to record things that struck us as together we wrestled with the issues.

My friend is a follower of Jesus from another religious background, and she continues to identify both as a member of that community and as a follower of Jesus. I had given a paper at a conference on the role of patronage in discipling women followers of Jesus from Muslim backgrounds. I had learned a lot from her when she explained how her community operates and women’s roles within it. I was aware that my paper had some under-developed areas. Now we were talking through what it would look like to have a book that pulled apart the topic and added to it, and how we could do this together. I am both a learner and a facilitator in this ongoing process.

Research and writing had not really been on my agenda as a young cross-cultural worker. I was by nature an activist but when I did my PhD I found new doors opened for conversations that brought together my activism and my love of research.

I was researching the role of women in social change, and was invited to attend a women’s rally. As we gathered at the start of the rally, I found myself standing by Mukhtar Mai, who had been the subject of international media attention after the local village council ordered her rape as punishment for an alleged crime by her brother. How would I, as a follower of Jesus, have a meaningful conversation with this woman? I knew she would wonder if I were just another foreigner looking for a way to use her for my story. As we talked, I wanted to know about her, not just the story that was already in the media. We stepped back from the noise and in a quiet voice she talked about her family and the girls in her village, whom she passionately wanted to protect.

I walked through the march, talking to women and asking them about their hopes and dreams in participating in such a rally, seeking to understand what change would mean for them. I thought of the stories of Jesus’ interactions with women that could be shared. This has helped me think through the work of the When Women Speak … network in training and equipping women to reach Muslim women.

Research and writing has now become a core part of my cross-cultural work: facilitating and publishing collaborative research and writing by women, including those who follow Jesus from Islam, to help the church understand how women experience faith; training the church in other places with higher education qualifications so it can be an articulate participant in transformation in its community; encouraging reflective practice among women mission practitioners through online courses; and forming a platform for women’s cross-cultural mission research at the Australian College of Theology.

Research and writing enables me to participate in new ways in God’s great work of reaching the nations.

Cathy has served with Interserve for over 30 years, working with women in the Muslim world. She now leads When Women Speak…