Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Guest Post!: Julia Mavimbela and Josephine Robinson

So life got hectic, and I've been slacking. But to atone, I bring you a fabulous guest post from the fabulous Amanda, whose ward was lucky enough to have her give a talk on LDS women and how they find joy in their lives. Thank you, Amanda, and I hope we get to hear more from you in the future!

Dear LDS women fans,
I spoke in church a couple weeks ago on how LDS women have found joy and faith in their lives. I was asked specifically to recount experiences from actual women. Erin was kind enough to let me contribute a little to this blog (Thank you Erin!). This is an adaptation of that talk.
The best way to introduce Mormon women might just have been given by the 19th century book entitled Mormon Women (a link is provided by Erin on this site).

"An epic of a woman! Not in all the ages has there been one like unto it. Fuller of romance than works of fiction are the lives of the Mormon women. So strange and thrilling is their story-so rare in its elements of experience-that neither history nor fable affords a perfect example; yet it is a reality of our own times. Women with new types of character, antique rather than modern; themes ancient, but transposed to our latter-day experience. -Women with their eyes open and the prophecy of their work and mission in their own utterances, who have dared to enter upon the path of religious empire-founding with as much divine enthusiasm as had the apostles who founded Christendom. Such are the Mormon women-religious empire founders in faith and fact."

The language might be a little overstated, however, I could not have introduced the lives of LDS women any better. As LDS women our lives are truly different than the average woman. We are aware of our eternal character and our eternal identity as a woman. This gives us the faith to accomplish any good task that we set our hearts upon and the perspective to stick through it. And these are two women who I believe exemplify those traits.

The first woman to introduce to you is Julia Mavimbela. She is a member from South Africa who joined the church in 1981. The trials and tragedies that have been a part of her life are more than most of our families will see in generations. However, her faith and joy in the gospel are undeniable. I quote- "I give thanks to God that He has made me a woman. I give thanks to my creator that He has made me black; that he has fashioned me as I am, with hands, heart, head to serve my people. It can, it should be a glorious thing to be a woman. It is important for women to stand together and rise together to meet our common enemies-illiteracy, poverty, crime, disease, and stupid unjust laws that have made women feel so helpless as to be hopeless."

I would summarize the story of Sister Mavimbela but I would much recount in own words her life and service as an LDS woman.
"That is how I joined the church. I feel that I became involved with the Church by being involved with the people.
My country is a county of many problems, some known to you. There have been quite a few unpleasant times-1976 for example, which found Soweto [her hometown] most unhappy as a result of riots against changes in the educational system. That was one of the most challenging times of my life-to see what we called schools going up in flames, what we called libraries being battered down, and worse still the waste of all that young talent when the education programs ceased. All of what I would call our treasure was being destroyed. Later, strikes saw parents out of work, which made things worse for many families." Sister Mavimbela joined the church during those trying times. She continues-
"I am grateful to the Lord that something was touched in me at that time. I developed a plan to try and help the young people, and my plan was to try and engage the hand to engage the mind. With nothing to start with, I asked for the use of an abandoned churchyard. It was infested with rodents; it was covered with waste. I was allowed to use it….I collected the little children, from four to ten years old, to go into that churchyard and start gardens. I have always fond pleasure in a garden. At times as a mother is isn't possible to get away from the family when some annoyance comes up. But if you can go into the garden, I can assure you, brothers and sisters, it's such a beautiful place. When you break up the soil, you feel you own heart melting and by the time you have done a little work, often you forget what had disturbed you."
"So I taught my little ones at that time, as we were dealing with the lumps of dirt, that these lumps could be overcome if we worked them with the knowledge that we were preparing to get something out of the soil. And when we began putting in the little plants, I would say to the children, 'you see? Now the trouble you perhaps see at home, cover it with the soil, like we're doing with the plants. See what good things you can grow if you nurse this little patch.' I could see us all begin to feel more peaceful, more at ease, though I, too, had be tense and frightened to speak of anything positive during the days of unrest when we were starting those gardens."

Sister Mavimbela began using those gardens not only to soothe those little children but to teach them. And over time, she found that not only the young children were coming, but the older children as well. The older children would leave the riots and come to the gardens for some peace. She told the youth "where there was a blood stain, a beautiful flower must grow." As the number of children grew, so did the space that the gardens needed. Soon the gardens were all over her town, and as time went on, she was asked to grow gardens all over her country. Service and children brought joy and faith to that Sisters life.

This is the kind of woman who has changed the world. Her type is the women who we write books about and speak about at firesides. But there is faith and accomplishment that can be found in those unsung women in our own ranks.

Josephine Robinson was a member of the Elkton ward in Delaware [now split]. Her account is told in the wonderful book called Mormon Lives. Here is a short quote from her:
"My first church calling was Sunday school pianist. Of course I didn't know how any of the hymns were supposed to sound [she was a convert]. I hadn't taken piano lessons since I was about fourteen. There was a particular week that I practiced and practiced and I just couldn't get it. I started crying and banging on the piano. Finally, I just asked the Lord to help me. I learned from that that the Lord never said "do everything". He said, "do all that you can do."

Josephine explains about her current calling as RS president.
"The spiritual part of being Relief Society president I find difficult. I am not experienced enough to have all the wisdom and answers for everybody, but I do enjoy trying to make the organization more functional, to have better socials, better visiting teaching. When the bishop asked me what one thing I wanted to learn from being Relief Society president, I said it was to have a love for the sisters. I'm not one to go up and put my arm around somebody, not that I don't think about it, but some people can do that more naturally. Working with people has made me more understanding. I don't get to do everything I want to do, but we have to realize that the gospel is what's true. It's the gospel! That is why people join the church."

Josephine found joy and faith in her calling. It wasn't easy. But the understanding of the gospel as truth, that is what kept her going. She searched for what she could do.
These women impacted those around them, a whole nation in Sister Mavimbela's case, and a family and ward in Josephine's case. Both are equally powerful. It truly is a beautiful thing to see that small and simple individuals can bring great things to pass. As a woman, I cannot be grateful enough for the example that these women give of the possibilities of service and growth in my own life.
Susan Buhler Taber, Mormon Lives: A Year in the Elkton Ward (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993)
Cornwall, Marie and Susan Howe. Women of Wisdom and Knowledge:Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences. (Shadow Mountain, 1990)