Training Women in Developing Nations
Grace Snavely, Global Baptist Training Foundation
My husband told me for a couple of years that he felt God had put a dream in his heart. That dream was to take theological training to national pastors in developing nations. In 2011, we began to make plans and rearrange our lives to follow that dream. Today, we are living that dream through Global Baptist Training Foundation [see www.gbtf.net] and are seeing hundreds of pastors a year, in eight nations on three continents, receive college level instruction that delivers to them the basic Bible college curriculum and beyond.
In 2012, I began traveling with my husband to train the pastors’ wives. I wasn’t really sure what I was facing. When I walked into the first class of women in Rwanda, I saw a room full of stoic faces. At that moment I realized that they weren’t really sure what they were facing either. So, I relaxed. I started with my personal testimony hoping to give them some context for why this white American woman was standing in front of them. I got them to laugh. I showed them pictures of my children and grandchildren. Then I had a question and answer time with them. I wanted to know their attitudes toward studying theology as women as well as their backgrounds and current knowledge base. I was truly not prepared for what I was about to hear.
These women shared their heartfelt desire to know the Bible and how to effectively understand it. But in their culture, they explained to me, the men received all the advantages. No one had ever thought it was important to teach the women. These women, as a result, felt like they were woefully lacking in Bible knowledge. I inwardly prayed for wisdom. In that brief moment, I began to see both the opportunities and difficulties that lay ahead in this journey.
I knew that Scripture would impact the culture of these women, and that, at all costs, I must be true to Scripture. These women had travelled from all over the nation of Rwanda. They were sleeping in a large bunk room. Our foundation was helping to provide one good meal at noon each day of the classes. No frills. Just the promise of training. And that is how it began.
I began to write a curriculum for teaching women how to study the Bible using the lives of women in the Bible as the platform. I said I was unsure what I was up against. Boy was I in for a surprise. I feel like the studying involved in building this curriculum has changed ME more than anything I have ever done in my walk with the Lord. I now have over 100 lessons on women of the Bible using seven different Bible study methods – verse by verse study, whole book study, topical study, inductive passage examination, etc. The narrative of the study is combined with an outline of how to do this type of study. During a week of study, we typically cover 6-10 women of the Bible and the study methods used to find the underlying principles in her story.
I love to use John 21:25 in my introduction. John said that there was so much more about Jesus’ life and acts that could be written, but that if they were all written, the world couldn’t hold all the books. When I am teaching the life of a woman in Scripture, I teach that her story was chosen by God out of thousands (or more) others that could have been included in the Bible. This fact elevates each story simply because it “made the cut” by its very inclusion. Then I try to make each woman come alive and uncover the deeper meaning in her story as it applies to my life and the lives of these women.
I have watched the stories of Priscilla, Mrs. Manoa, the woman with the issue of blood, and so many others impact these national pastors’ wives in Rwanda, Myanmar, Togo…. I see tears, I get amazing questions, and I have even had some life changing encounters.
Even though my class outlines are translated and duplicated for each woman, I watch them take copious notes as I speak. They don’t want to miss a detail, an illustration, an application. So I was surprised to see one woman who didn’t take any notes. It didn’t bother me, but it did seem unusual. At the next break, I asked my translator if he had noticed. He had, and he informed me that she could not read or write. That rocked my world. The educator in me began a mental search for proper accommodations for this poor woman. [Side note: One of the first things I’m usually asked about these women is whether or not they actually understand what I’m teaching. The underlying question is really whether or not these people are intelligent or educated enough to understand. I get it. It was one of the things I worried about before we started this adventure. Believe me, they are intelligent, they are sharp, they read and write, and they GET IT!!] Back to the non-note taker.
She was the pastors’ wife of a very large village church (2,000 members), but she herself had never learned to read or write. The electricity in these villages is spotty, the socio-economic level is such that feeding your family and providing shelter is the primary goal of life. There are no computers, [Another Side Note: I survey the women and about 100% of them have never even seen a computer!] no internet. You get the picture. So what happens to this pastors’ wife who doesn’t read or write? Hold on for the answer.
On Friday of our classes, we do authentic assessment. I assign small groups of women a passage and type of Bible study. They have two nights to study. On Friday, they teach all of us! I cry every time. I watch their joy as they learn to effectively handle the Word of God and stand before a group of women and teach. They usually cry, too. The joy in that room on Fridays is palpable. That’s the kind of assessment that helps me know that they truly are grasping the content of our class. They understand it, they can reproduce it, and they can put it to use. Nothing better!
After this session, we have a testimony/debriefing time. I share my reflections and ask them to share theirs. I have learned from my translators that these women do not typically open up, so the translators are always surprised the first year at how vulnerable these women are in their testimonies. They share their insecurities, what God is teaching them, and how excited they are to go home and teach the women in their world!
Now back to my illiterate student. On the Friday of that week, she was the first to pop up at testimony time. I remember being skeptical. She can’t read or write. Maybe she’ll embarrass me by saying she isn’t getting a single thing out of this endeavor. But then she speaks. She says that a year ago, she sat through the class. Knowing she couldn’t take a lot of notes, she made it her single purpose to memorize as we went. Then she blew my mind. She said she went home and immediately called together all of the women in her church and began teaching the stories we had just covered together. When she finished all of lessons, the women begged her to teach them again. So she did. In her testimony, she said she had taught the lessons over and over and had been just waiting to come back and learn more to go home and share with the women in her village.
To say I was humbled is an understatement. It isn’t me. It’s the Word of God. I have watched Scripture butt up against culture and win. I have had pastors thank me because, for the first time, they are enjoying sharing the Bible with their wives. This all happened because we followed a dream God put in my husband’s heart. I feel like we get a little preview of heaven where some from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9) will stand together before God’s throne. I love seeing them worship. I love feeling the warm extended hugs I get. I love hearing how God is changing their lives with knowledge of His Word. But most of all, I love the fact that we have no idea where this training will end up. It is being passed on and passed on. We are simply equipping these nationals to evangelize and disciple their own people more effectively – advanced discipleship! What a joy to be involved in impacting the world through such an amazing work!!