Heleen Joziasse, Netherlands
For me it was a great opportunity to learn from reformed women theologians in Madagascar. It was a mind-boggling experience particularly because the Malagasy culture is very different from what I have experienced in Kenya and I was not familiar with the overall economic, social, political and gendered context. Therefore, it was important to start the seminar with an excursion to various Christian communities and cultural places in Antananarivo. The theme of 'listening to' was appealing and the various contributions from the different participants was insightful. I particularly liked the contributions of Brigitte and Christine for their approach of the theme from a practical and lived experience, e.g. working with deaf women in Madagascar and with refugees in Switzerland. The challenge of communicating in different languages did not hinder the meetings, but contributed to the theme of how to listen.
Lalaina Rajaonah, Madagascar
In September 2019, I had the immense honor and opportunity to participate in the theological seminary for women theologians of Tsena Malalaka. Tsena Malalaka is an exchange forum between African and European women theologians. One could think that "immense honor" is a bit too much for this first meeting between African and European women theologians. However, for me it is the appropriate term. The following points marked this experience:
- An "opportunity on the relational and professional level": As a theologian and pastor called for a professorship at the Faculty of Theology of Antananarivo, this seminar allowed me to come into contact with other women pastors and women theologians not being pastors, who are already working in this field at the international level. Being a participant in this seminar was a great honor because most of my colleagues who participated in the seminar have several years of experience in this field and are already in activity there. As for me, I am still in full preparation. Listening to their testimonies about their journeys, understanding their vocation, knowing the difficulties they have had to face in order to practice their profession or understanding the struggles they still have to face as women leaders in their field was a source of encouragement for me. Profession rhymes with relation. Working and doing the good works for which one was created (Eph 2:10) requires interaction with others. Listening to the experience of the others is always beneficial in order to be able to situate where one is oneself and therefore make good resolutions concerning one's own experience.
- A "new and above all a great breath of fresh air": The seminar was for me an opportunity of questioning myself, a great step in my personal and spiritual development, because the personal and the spiritual have become interdependent for me; a step forward on my path and a necessary tool to understand and practice what I was created/exist for. The theme of the seminar was mainly focused on "Listening" in all its forms. Learning to "listen to the other" is equivalent to "learning to understand the other". Who could understand a woman better than another woman, especially the difficulties she has faced as a woman? Learning “to understand" should never be separated from "learning to understand what the other thinks, believes, feels ...". The different workshops organized during the seminar have facilitated our exchanges of points of view and of convictions, our mutual understanding despite our great cultural difference.
- A "new vision concerning theology”: This seminar opened a new door on my vision of theology: My theology is limited on my continent of origin (Madagascar). Theology and its practice could be different according to the origin, culture, own experiences and education of the one who pursues it. Theology could be conceived or perceived in different ways by people with different experiences. Our theology defines who we are and what we think and believe, what experiences have marked us. The experiences of the others enrich us and also open us to new horizons when they are shared. All this has an impact on our theology and will ultimately result in a theology that is richer because it is evaluated and compared to others.
To conclude this testimony: This theological seminar has been for me a promotion on all levels and is the beginning of series of further experiences, because this first experience allowed me to realize that "to exchange" is also and above all “to listen”. Listening without exchanging or exchanging without listening is not possible, especially in theology. I realized that my theology is useless without exchanges and without understanding the theology of the other, without listening to what the other has to say about it, because each one has his own conviction, his own experiences – without becoming a "sheep of Panurge".
One last word on the organization: The Seminary was totally composed of women theologians. In Madagascar, the management and leadership of women pastors in the administration of their respective parishes is seen and perceived as very positive (in the reformed Church FJKM). Apparently, women, theology and professionalism rhyme together, whatever the continent. Indeed, composed of women coming from different continents, the good organization and coordination overcame our differences and helped to bring out the best in each of the participants. I would like to personally congratulate the coordinators of Tsena Malalaka who took us on this incredible journey. Always equal to themselves, their hard work in bringing people together and their incredible openness personally encouraged me to go a step further by learning from my elders. Professionalism as well as an atmosphere of sincerity were present throughout the stays and workshops organized. We have a saying in Malagasy: "Soa fianatra" which means "to learn from what is good, from what has had good results". So, for everything and for all I will say: "SOA FIANATRA". Soli Deo Gloria. "
Verena Naegeli, Switzerland
The theme of our seminar in Madagascar was: "Être à l'écoute - Listening". It became clear to me how much "listening to one another", "understanding one another" is connected with the concrete perception of the respective life context. We European women were "dépaysées" in Madagascar, strangers. We had to face other living conditions. It meant to listen anew, to look at things and at the same time to reflect in a new way on our own life reality and the theological thinking connected with it. Today, thanks to the Internet, communication has become easier - across continents. The seminar showed me that concrete encounters are still irreplaceable.
A kaleidoscope of aspects of listening has opened up before me during the seminar - in the encounter with the participants and with people on the spot. It inspired me anew for my commitment in my own context. A Malagasy colleague said after the seminar: "We met at eye level. I experienced it as mutual give and take". A nice conclusion, which is fully in line with the concern of our ecumenical-intercultural network Tsena Malalaka.
Fidele Gandonou Houssou, Benin
With regard to the Tsena Malalaka Seminary in Madagascar, I can say that it was a special meeting which not only had an ecumenical and intellectual character but also a social and instructive one for all of us. It was a real space for exchange through the various presentations, visits to authorities, institutions and structured women's groups and visits to colleagues on the spot. I could also say that it was a historical visit that allowed us to discover the historical sites of Madagascar and especially the vibrant history of its queens. All this with the theme of the Seminar has been to our credit for more involvement in the ministry of promotion and commitment of women.
Verena Muehlethaler, Switzerland
For me the physical meeting with the theologians from very different African countries was very valuable and enriching. I was especially impressed by their deep spirituality and how they shape church life or carry out their theological research with so few material resources.
Yvette Rabemila, Madagascar
Greetings! I suppose, everybody is back to usual work and obligations and the seminar is far behind now. We in Madagascar, we shall remember for a long time to come the happy moments we have spent with you all.
I personally enjoyed the friendship and "give and receive" experience we have lived in big and small ways during that memorable week. I have experienced once more that in Christ " giving is more of the blessing than receiving" THANK YOU everybody.
Mary Kategile, Tanzanie
I thank and praise God for giving me the opportunity to attend that wonderful seminar. It was such a privilege for me to learn so many things from members of Tsena Malalaka. I learned from sisters who attended that seminar, on their ministries, challenges, achievements, personal testimonies concerning their lives and families. I also learned different ways on how they advocate for gender equality, oppose violence against women and children, encourage women empowerment and also face the challenge how to listen to God in the midst of all that. Generally speaking the seminar gave me courage to continue my ministry for women, giving women voices, empowering women and girls, but also I got some thoughts on my coming writings and researches.
I thank God for all who supported that seminar, who funded it and who organized it. Indeed it was worth being there. I pray that we will have more seminars of that kind. Thank you in Christ.
Elizabeth Vengeyi, Zimbabwe
Personally, I had a very good experience in Madagascar. It was the first time to meet face to face with so MANY people who are MEMBERS of Tsena Malalaka. I had been (for a long time) reading names through group emails of them, but the September seminar gave me an opportunity to meet them face to face.
With this in mind, it gave me an opportunity of interacting and getting to know each other better. The texts, activities such as participating in Rina's church was also a good experience. We learnt Malagasy and sang songs in Malagasy (I still sing the song), I liked it. We shared various angles and ways of interacting with the text (Bible) in as far as the theme of Listening is concerned. It was good! In short, I just liked the spirit of togetherness and unity which was among us, despite our different backgrounds and nationalities. I hope we will have another seminar, like this in future!
Josee Ngalula, Congo DRC
The seminar in Madagascar was for me a wonderful way of immersing myself into interculturality: so many experiences from so many different countries and different experiences enriched me a lot. For me as a theologian, it was a way of making a theology out of life and for a better service to our humanity.
Tania Oldenhage, Switzerland
The intercultural seminar opened my eyes not only to the extreme poverty in Madagascar, but also to the tremendous social commitment of the Malagasy women theologians. I am deeply impressed!
Ny Ilo Jihy Raminoarinosy, Madagascar
I was really touched when I received the invitation to attend the Intercultural Seminar held at Father Dehon Ambolokandrina, Antananarivo Madagascar, from September 17 - 23. 2019. I am pleased to share my feedback and testimony on it.
The Venue : Father Dehon Ambolokandrina
As soon as you arrive to the reception of “Dehon Ambolokandrina”, you feel that it is a peaceful place. You feel at home and at ease; the center has single or twin bedrooms, dining areas (for simple and healthy meals), chapels, gardens, sports fields (volleyball, basketball) … As for me I jogged every morning. The fact of being away from the city makes it a calm and quiet space.
The Group Atmosphere
The group atmosphere shaped me as well as living and staying together:
Cutting the umbilical cord: The principle of abstinence. It was the first time I was separated from my second child, three years old, for a week. I left him with my mother. I received news every day that he was OK except the first night. After all, I realized that, it was me who needed to separate from him, to be more independent and teach my children to be independent. There was a participant who was in a similar case, so the two of us encouraged one another. I had started to stop breastfeeding my child a week before and this break now stopped him totally… and I was "weaned off" from him. It made me grow up and focus on my own duty as on my family duties as well.
Full stay in the venue of the Seminar is one of the rules in this seminar. It brought unity beyond just living together. I requested a single-room (because I was preparing to chat with my children on free time or late at night). But even so I was not alone as we welcomed each other among neighbors, when someone was sick we came to her room to visit and take care of her. Some needed medication, some gave, we were used to welcome each other as friends in our room for a chat. Time seemed too short, but it seemed to us that we have known each other for a long time. I received a visit of two participants: a dean of university and a professor. They prayed for me and provided me guidance on how to complete my own PhD studies. They encouraged me with comforting words but also strategies and keys to complete my studies! I realized that we had been in real sisterhood, their great humility reminded me that there is no diploma barrier for sisters in Christ who are following his calling. “Ny tsy feno ihany no mikobana” says the Malagasy proverb: Only the one who doesn't have enough luggage needs to wiggle around to get noticed.
Time and Schedule
During this seminar I could enjoy Swiss time and punctuality. We followed the timetable happily, I took it as game, but at the same time as a discipline. I often set my alarm to be in time. I used to take a siesta for 10 or 15 minutes. Once I forgot to set the alarm and I was late. Fortunately, someone woke me up, without that I would have been left behind. I also enjoyed the moments of group work and sharing. They helped us to focus on:
Training and Sharing:
The main topic of the seminar is «Listening». All the activities were focused on this topic. The training was rich both in its quality (level) and its diversity of methods.
-Level: It was amazing for me to experience a sharing at such a high level of theology and experience. Many of the participants already have a PhD and/or are very experienced in the field. The training was therefore at a very high level and in the same time very simple and practical.
-Diversity: Different courses came together in the seminar. There was an important impact of interculturality, as I felt, concerning biblical, sociological, ecclesiological, and ecological topics and, especially, feminist theology about which we were discussing. I was involved in “ministry in prisons” and “Voluntary spirit in scouting”. These amazing synergies were insightful and analytic going to the roots of listening problems.
-Training technique and methods: Each moderator had different training techniques what enriched the seminar. There were conferences, film discussions, workshops, role-plays. There were also different training methods: active ones and passive ones. There were, for instance, different ways of mixing the groups: language-groups, country-groups, or mixed groups... These increased the interest, combined animation and concentration and, in particular, prevented from monotony
-Sharing: One of the highlights of this seminar was the great open sharing of some participants about feminism in the FJKM head office. The conference strengthened us, because we felt that the message reached the people. They appreciated the solidarity of sharing and the different ways the message was transmitted. The audio-translation technique was also a success and helped the attendants to understand the different languages.
Like in all Christian seminars, there were times of devotion, a community gathering every morning. The following points touched me:
-Ecumenism: The seminar's attendees came from different denominations – such as Presbyterian Church, Methodist Church, Reformed Church, Catholic Church…, however respect reigned. The Mary prayer, proposed one morning by a catholic sister, raised some doubts in my mind. At the first sight, I was reluctant to say it. But then, it opened my mind and heart. I was considering that Mary was a woman like me and I was asking myself, how often I myself did really open my mouth and pray to Christ, when I was asked to pray for someone else… because Mary was asked to “transmit” many prayers from different people, as one participant, a Sister explained to us. The mix of women living in religious orders and others having other ways of life, was also a spiritual enrichment. The seminar was not only intercultural but also inter-denominational.
-Interacting: I already mentioned that we were visiting each other in our rooms and were praying for one another. I have truly experienced this.
The Moments of Fun:
The orientation phase in the beginning, the excursions, the campfire: these were other forms of living together:
- Orientation phase: Sometimes the local people think that visiting historical places is only for foreigners, that is wrong! There are places, myths and legends (for example in the queen and king’s Palace) that are not known by Malagasy people!
-Visits : A parish visit by our seminar-group was a sharing experience and a relaxing moment as well, including tourism.
-Camp fire – Joy fire: It was a sweet and relaxing moment, where the participants could imagine what society would think about feminism and about listening… but in a playing way: songs, animation, playing, talking, laughing …
To sum up
When I look back at that time of seminary, I remember the mighty hand of God guiding me, and His ears and heart that heard and hold me and taught me to bring and to share! Praise be to Him, the glory belongs to God alone, and acknowledgements and peace be to all the sisters who accepted to make the moment more than amazing! Many thanks to the coordinators and the donors!