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Overcoming barriers and building empowerment: A testimony

1.4. 2018 Written By: Cynthia Peacock, Mennonite World Conference release

At Mennonite World Conference Assembly 16 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, representatives of the Anne Zernike Fund, which supports women pursuing theological education, honored Cynthia Peacock (center) for her pioneering service, calling her “a source of inspiration for many.” Photo: Heike Martin

Boundaries, barriers, blocks, bridges and empowerment have been very real to me. Through the years, I have learned to face challenges and to grow stronger in mind and beliefs.

The Christian community in India has played an important role in bringing opportunities for women to become educated and liberated from the bondage of the belief that women are without their own identity.

But Anabaptist churches have much work to do to help both men and women join as co-workers to extend the Kingdom of God among all people, using all their potential to contribute to society, family and the church.

For the past nine years, I have been involved with Mennonite World Conference, first with the Deacons Commission and now as a Regional Representative. I promote MWC so that all our churches, especially those in remote areas who often feel abandoned and lonely, know they are part of a worldwide body who cares, prays for and loves them.

This role involves working with male leadership. It has been a long journey to bring an understanding that I am not a threat, but a sister in Christ.

Building a trusting relationship takes time, effort and patience to cross boundaries. In some cases, I feel I have failed, but I continue to look for opportunities to negotiate. I keep up the faith and hope to see change.

While serving with Mennonite Central Committee for 38 years, I became involved with our Anabaptist churches and got to interact with women who were struggling to use their gifts and talents in the church.

A few courageous women established the All India Mennonite Women’s Conference in the early 1970s. We are also working to establish the Theologically Trained Anabaptist Women of India group for trained women who are not being used well enough in their churches.

We persevere–despite barriers to acceptance and to moral and financial support–trusting our labor will bear fruit someday.

I have seen the women of Tollygunge Christian Fellowship, my own congregation, bring change.

Women in this church have made an impact spiritually and socially, while growing to understand how to serve as a woman. It was a woman who started Sunday school with a handful of local children and now there are more than 100 children attending. Women began to preach the Word in a culture that was still very male-dominated. Women lead in worship and all major church decisions are made along with women.

Finally, I share my own story. My marriage began to breakdown as early as 10 days after I got married. With the teaching from my pious mother that the vows made in the church between husband and wife must be honored, I humbly submitted to five long years of abuse.

One night, when I faced death, along with my children, I forgot all the condemnation and I left with just a set of clothes and milk for my son and my daughter who was yet to be born.

After many struggles, thanks to the support of close family and people at MCC who stood by me without judging me, I began to gain strength and to understand what it means to be a Christian and move on. My colleagues taught me to overcome barriers and build bridges of love and understanding. I grew to be strong and stubborn, but also patient as I used my gifts.

I was able to overcome fear, shyness and low self-esteem. I boldly told my story when asked, but very carefully, since I did not want my work with the churches to be jeopardized. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b) and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) have become part of my story as I face barriers.

Thanks be to God and to all who have given me courage, support, counsel, inspiration and stood by me in my darkest moments. I now have a responsibility to be and do the same in whatever ways I can.

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