Dormitory to create equal opportunity for women

Deborah Froese
August 25, 2016
Mennonite Church Canada
Four women at 2015 MKC General Assembly
Women's dorm under construction at MK College
Winnipeg, Manitoba

To ensure women receive the education and training they need to help build the body of Christ, Meserete Kristos College (MK College) in Ethiopia, a ministry of Meserete Kristos Church (MKC), is building a women’s dormitory on its main campus in Debre Zeit.

Two-thirds of the required $1,061,233 USD have been raised and a generous Canadian couple are encouraging donations for the last third. They have agreed to match up to $200,000 CAD ($150,000 USD) in gifts and pledges committed to the project by Sept. 30, 2016 and payable by March 30, 2017. Mennonite Church Canada is accepting donations for this project.

The dormitory will house 258 female students and is scheduled for completion in 2017. Currently, the college houses 30 women in its education building.

The Canadian couple, who wish to remain anonymous, originally planned to support construction of the MK College women’s dorm through their estate, but decided the project was too important to wait. “We think that by stretching ourselves and offering up a matching program to get the dorm done sooner rather than later, we might encourage others to also not wait and instead join with us. By working together, we will all be able to see this project blessing the believers in Ethiopia.”

Darrell Jantzi, MKC’s Canadian liaison, noted that women have been a “tremendous blessing” to the life and development of MKC, despite fewer educational opportunities.

Meserete Kristos Church, a name that means "Christ is the foundation Church" (based on I Cor. 3:11), first took root in the 1950s through the work of Mennonite missionaries. From 1982-1991, the government forced its 5,000 members underground. Because male leaders were often imprisoned or closely surveilled by the secret police, women stepped to the forefront to keep the church and their faith alive.

Within individual homes, women led cell groups in Bible study, fasting and prayer. They served pastorally, evangelized, preached and taught, and presided over funerals, weddings and baptisms.

Under the leadership of women, growth exploded. When the existing government fell and the church finally had the opportunity to meet openly again, membership had grown to roughly 50,000 members. These days, Sunday services regularly welcome about 500,000 participants and membership, now at 275,000, continues to grow. Meserete Kristos College is training men and women to fill the corresponding need for more church leaders.

In an email, Carl Hansen, Jantzi’s counterpart in the US, wrote that the church officially recognizes no gender barrier to leadership positions, but there are cultural impacts. Very few women hold key positions, and almost none of the delegates sent to the MKC annual General Assembly are female.

“However, most male leaders recognize that the female gender represents at least half of the gifts God has given to the Church,” Hansen stated, “and there is genuine interest in making it possible to better equip and encourage the use of those gifts in the various ministries of the Church.”

Since MK College began in 1994, 1,226 students have graduated from it. While just 55 of them have been women – slightly over 4% – many of them are now serving in prominent positions. The college would like to see their numbers and their influence increase.

May 2016 graduate Lemlem Tiumelissen serves the church as a teacher and worship leader, and in her senior year of study, she played a role on the MK College Student Council and assisted the Women's Dean. She says she benefitted from her experience inside and out of the classroom at MK College.

“One of the difficulties was the lack of a proper dormitory for the 30 female students. There could be as many as eight of us accommodated in a room designed for classes or offices. Although these crowded conditions evoked feelings of discomfort, lack of privacy, lack of lockers and cupboards, noisiness when wanting to sleep, I was able to study and score good grades. I hope these inconveniences will be resolved when the new dormitory for women is completed.”

Meserete Kristos College graduate Tigist Alamirew served at the college for 18 years before developing, launching and now leading the MK College Distance Learning Program.

Before attending MK College, Welela Yadeta served as a layperson in her local MKC congregation. She now chairs the Elders Board. “My experience at the college was beyond my expectation,” she said in an interview for the March, 2016 MK College Newsletter. “The instructors were very much devoted and shared their godly gifts. We, the students, had a nice fellowship that lasted to date. Last, but not least, the curriculum was very much relevant and I studied my Bible indeed!”

Jantzi says that while women in the country don’t always have the same opportunity for higher education and leadership roles as men do, he is impressed with their dedication. “Their energy as prayer cell leaders and evangelists within 10-15 miles of the local churches is impressive but most often [they serve] as volunteers and without pay or very low compensation or financial assistance.”

With the addition of the women’s dormitory, MK College hopes to enable women to share their gifts more broadly.

This May, 158 students graduated from MK College – its largest class ever. Thirty-four students received 4-year BAs, including 5 women; and 124 students received diplomas for 2-year distance education programs, including 16 women.