Overcoming barriers and building empowerment

A testimony from Regional Representative Cynthia Peacock

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 MWC, first with the Deacons Commission and now as 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 and loves.

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 continue to look for opportunities to negotiate. I keep up the faith and hope to see change.

While serving with MCC 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 for trained women who are not being used well enough in their churches.

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

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

Women in this church have been 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 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 honoured, I humbly submitted for 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 on the way 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 to understand what it means to be a Christian and move on. They 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 me 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.

—Mennonite World Conference release by Cynthia Peacock

At Assembly 16 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, representatives of the Anne Zernike Fund, which supports women pursuing theological education, honoured Cynthia Peacock for her pioneering service, calling her “a source of inspiration for many.” Click here for that story.