Bishop Johnson asks you to support women’s shelter

Twenty-six elderly women live at the United Methodist Hanhane Women’s Shelter in Massinga, Mozambique. All of the women are there because their families accused them of witchcraft and drove them from their homes. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #05-M044, 4/6/05

by Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

Naftal Massela, Communications and Volunteer in Mission Coordinator for the United Methodist Mozambique Annual Conference, reports the opening of a safe and secure home for their “witch daughters”.  United Methodist Bishop, Joaquina Nhanala, and other church leaders celebrated the opening of the Hanhane Shelter.

This shelter was started by the church to care for women, abandoned and accused of witchcraft by their families.

They had been cared for by the United Methodist church for years, but in reed and thatch huts that offered little protection from the weather or thieves.  A robbery in 2008

became a catalyst for the building of the new facility.  In that robbery 32 blankets and most of their food was taken.  Each new house consists of a living room, four bedrooms and a small veranda.  At the dedication Bishop Nhanala said “He keeps an eye over His creation and is always ready to rescue those who are rejected.”

For these outcast women, known as “witch daughters,” rejection has become a way of life. “The main sin I committed in life is the fact I was born a woman.” said Albertina Mica Massingue, a widow and mother of six children, and the newest resident of the Hanhane Shelter.

“These accusations do not have any kind of scientific or theological support,” said Victoria Chifeche, executive secretary of the United Methodist Women in Massinga, who started caring for the women in 1982.   The practice is sending away elderly women, especially widows, was common among families in Massinga.  Most of the victims are accused by relatives, even their children, of practicing witchcraft.  Besides the suffering brought on by the loss of their husbands, the women face an uncertain future and have lost everything they spent their lives building.

Juaneta Tomo Come, who is in her 90’s, was the first woman the church took in after her children and the children of her husband’s second wife blamed her for his death.  “It all started when my husband passed away and his children from the other mother began to accuse me of having killed my own husband.  The worst part of it is that they had support from my own children.”

The women at the shelter are between the ages of 50 and 95.  The women share their experiences and are living as a family.  Their daily activities include agriculture and animal husbandry, and they are all committed to work for their own benefit.

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission are frequent visitors to the shelter.  Donations from the teams provide food and animals to raise.

The United Methodist Church in Mozambique has also taken on the task of teaching the community to respect and care for the elderly.  “The education is meant to discourage the practice of accusing women of witchcraft and to encourage love and support for their parents. Christ loved the world though we are all sinners.  This is a serious battle and as the church we need to step up and educate the community”  Chifeche said.   Failure to learn this lesson may result in one day other innocent women also experiencing the same treatment these women have suffered.

If you would like to help our “witch daughters” through the ADVANCE #14507J, just send your gifts with this number to the conference treasurer, or go directly to the General Board of Global Ministries website and make your donation there (www.gbgm-umc.org)

Mozambique is not the only place were Christians find “daughter witches”.  We had our witch trials in colonial America. People were burned at the stake for being convicted of witchcraft.  In today’s society we no longer do that but we use other political terms.  Prayerfully look at your own community.  Women are still one group that is sometimes blamed for the evils of our world.  Most of those living in poverty in the United States are women and children.  These women are often held responsible, but not the men who deserted them for economic gain, leaving them to fend for themselves with the children they love.  Girls are also made “witch daughters” by cyber-bullying, destroying reputations and date-rape.  A “Witch daughter” is any woman who is rejected by society, exploited and abused, and then blamed for the abuse they receive.  They feel ashamed, empty, lost, alone, and without hope.  They are the beloved daughters of God and it should be the arms of Christ, the body of Christ that wipes away their tears and welcomes them off the dangerous streets into a loving home.

This Halloween consider the “witch-daughters” you might know of…women who are on the margins of life in poverty, abuse, prostitution, and rejection.   They are in your own community.  Some of them are members of your family.  Come together in ministry and advocate for those with no voice, bring hope on Halloween.