The Silent Dauniveiqaravi in the Church
Date added: 28/06/2017
A silent dauniveiqaravi: Redefining the role of those who serve in-between (minister’s wives) with special references to 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35
By Deaconess Litiana Maituriwai Tuidrakulu, Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma
I am deeply grateful and honoured to be part of this Emerging Writers Workshop in the Pacific on this broader theme “Mission in Oceania: some contexts and currents”. I feel humbled to share with you my chosen area of concern and interest and hope that what I am going to share will make some small contribution to this workshop, and also to my fellow ministers’ wives in the future.
I acknowledge the role played by the organizers and members of the planning team for their hard work that made this event a reality.
The title of this paper, a silent dauniveiqaravi needs some explanation. Dauniveiqaravi is a local word which means a person whose main role is to serve others or in other words a servant. The word ‘dau’ is a prefix which according to the Fijian dictionary means an ‘expert’ (Capell 1991). The word ‘veiqaravi is a verb which means serving, attending to or to serve in-between. When the word ‘vei’ is connected to a word it is plural and signifies her/his role to others. Others’ needs are vital to attend to as the person doing the veiqaravi but her/his own needs and problems become secondary.
The word qaravi means to worship or serve someone who is superior, stronger and who has the power and authority. Qaravi has both positive and negative implications; the positive side is that qaravi is pointing to God or serving God (qaravi Kalou) while the negative side is serving the devil or qaravi kalou lasu or tevoro.
The word veiqaravi itself is a very broad concept.It can be used in our traditional ceremony (veiqaravi vakavanua), veiqaravi e valenibula (serving or attending to someone’s needs in the hospital) or veiqaravi ena lotu (serving in the church).But mostly the word veiqaravi is associated closely with women because veiqaravi means to serve or service, which is an everyday task.
The word ni is a preposition which is used to make the connection between the word dau and veiqaravi or in other words it connects the person to his/her role in serving others. The word ‘dau’ and ‘veiqaravi’ can be meaningless if they stand on their own but the meaning becomes alive when the word ‘ni’ is inserted in between. It reminds the person that her role is to serve the people. So dauniveiqaravi put together describes a person whose role is to serve others.
With this broader understanding of veiqaravi, two important things can be learned. First, others’ needs are always priority while the needs of the person performing the task of veiqaravi are often neglected or unrecognized or overlooked. Secondly, the person doing the veiqaravi is silently obeying everything she is told to do, without realizing that she is a person, a woman created in the image of God and a born again Christian, who has spiritual gifts to be used for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
The limitation of the role of dauniveiqaravi is that it is associated closely with the word ‘serving’, which is somewhat traditional or colonial such as serving the chiefs, serving the pastors, serving the chief guests, etc. In this kind of serving, there is a gap between them. Those who do the serving have their own limited space of serving and are not free to eat and mingle with those being served. Those being served, in contrast, are free to do what they want in their own free space. Those being served have their needs met, while the one serving is often neglected and is only being used by others to achieve what they want.
I have chosen to write my paper on the roles of ministers’ wives in the Methodist Church in Fiji because they are often seen as their husbands’ partners in ministry. However, most of my fellow wives do not understand what it really means to be called into ‘partnership in ministry’ because most of the respondents who are the wives of the ministers expressed to me that they are only meant to be in the home to look after the children and not in ministry. I believe if the majority of these women (ministers’ wives) were well equipped and trained from theological college, they could be a source of empowerment and make a great impact on the lives of women in the church. So the question is, what does it means for a husband and a wife in ministry? How about in the home? How the responsibilities should be shared in the home? Does partnership also applies in the home too? Or does it only refers in the mission field. My paper aims to redefine the role of ministers’ wives in the church to meet the needs and challenges faced by women in the parish level and the society as a whole.
The problem I have noticed and which has been evidenced by women through interviews is that most of the ministers’ wives in the Methodist Church in Fiji are often seen as the silent dauniveiqaravi in the Church. The question is, what makes them silent? After listening to the views of some women in the church, some of the ministers’ wives and church ministers themselves,five contributing factors emerge as to the silence of minister’s wives in the Methodist Church today. These contributing factors have assisted me to reflect on and attempt to redefine the roles of those who serve in-between in their families and the church as a whole.
A. The common phrase being used to describe them should not diminish them
One of the common phrases that is often uttered by church ministers in the church today is, “O koya e a kau ga mai, me mai qaravi au ga.” O koya refers to the wife, ‘e a kau ga mai’ means was brought, ‘me mai qaravi au ga’ means to serve me only (My wife was brought to serve me only). In other words the wife was brought specifically to cater for the needs (physical, social, emotional etc) of the ministers only and this kind of serving is confined to the comfort of their own homes where the ‘King’ is expecting his servant to be there for him.
The phrase that I have mentioned above belittles the wives and restricts them from taking an active role in the church or amongst women in the church. It is in fact a stumbling block and does not help them in being valuable contributors or partners in the church because they tend to believe that what is being expressed by their husbands (ministers) is definitive and true. It should be noted that these words are being uttered by their husbands, who are the heads of their families and so they have to abide by it. A man’s authority as head of his wife is delegated to him by God. [i]The phrase mentioned above and what has been stated in the social policy of the church clearly indicated that wives’ main and only domain is the home (Soronakadavu 2003, 161). The words used above are therefore powerful and can influence the mindset of wives, thus limiting them even within their own homes. In this kind of situation, women (minister’s wives) often develop low self – esteem, believing that they are not good enough to make a contribution to wider ministry but simply to look after the family while the minister takes care of the congregation.
According to Linda Sanford and Mary Donovan in their book called ‘Women & Self Esteem’ the common phrase above fits the category of ‘the negative labels” (1985, 64). Words are powerful and if not used correctly, will greatly influence a person’s life for better or worse (64) and in this case, the lives of ministers’ wives in the church today.
B. Minister’s wives should know who they are in the church
Who are we as minister’s wives in the Methodist Church? In the Methodist Church in Fiji, ministers’ wives are often called ‘Tina ni lotu’ or mother of the church. The ‘Tina ni lotu’ is part of the Body of Christ ‘the church’ and has a role to play. In the Methodist Church in Fiji, women in the church, especially at parish level, have high expectations regarding their ministers’ wives, expecting them to be advisors, counselors, spiritual advisors, preachers etc. Sadly, however, ministers’ wives cannot meet these expectations from the women in the church. If wives are known as tina ni lotu or mothers of the church, they are there to assist their husbands in looking after the women because these women are the ones who are attending to the physical needs of the church. For example, preparing and serving in meetings and conferences, doing fundraising for the church, etc. Marie Ropeti also highlights a valid points that “women normally make up 60 percent of the members of the church (2003, 137). If women do make up 60 percent of the congregation, there is therefore an obvious need to have more women in ministry (137) but the one who is already in their midst is often neglected because she is seen as her husband’s partner in ministry.
The two questions I am raising are, why is the tina ni lotu is silent as she has a role to play in the church? Why is the tina ni lotu only confined to the comfort of her own home while the ordinary women in the church are giving their utmost in attending to the needs of the church? Kanongata’a, Malia Keiti, Ann rightly says that “our common experience of the church has been a ‘doing church,’ we must ‘do,’ we must ‘perform’, we must ‘build’ - a lot of dos and doing but too many activities tire the body, the brain and even the soul.” (2014, 28). If we continue on this trend, the church will lose its real meaning to the world. The church is there for the people.
The late Bishop Viliami Halaapiapi stated this encouraging words to women. “Women you are the powerhouse of the church, without the powerhouse, there will be no electricity and the church will die” (cited by Rev Amy Chambers -Weavers Newsletter 2007). This is an inspiration to all women out there because of their contribution to the church that is why the church is surviving until today. But that is not the whole purpose of our calling in the church. As Kevin Barr puts it, “women have more to do than sweep the church, arrange the flowers and provide morning tea” (Barr 2014, 5). I agree with Barr because women are not needed in the church just for the sake of cleaning the church and arranging flowers or taking care of their own families. They contribute more than that. Wives of ministers should understand the whole purpose of their calling. This is stressed by Keiti Ann in that, the church is called to be the human face of God on earth (2014, 28), that is to bring good news to the oppressed, bring light to the darkness, a source of empowerment to the powerless, etc.
I believe that the wife of a minister needs to be empowered and know that she is not just a woman, or a passive servant but she is unique because she is a person created in the image of God. In this image, according to Letty M. Russell in her book called ‘The future of Partnership” has to do with our relationship with God and with one another (Russell 1979, 48 ). We are relational beings (Vaai 2017) because we are created to be in relationship with God and others. Russell states that we seek to find ourselves in going beyond ourselves to others and the good role model is the Lord Jesus Christ who came into the world to serve others (48).I believe it is very important for us to have a relationship with God so that we can be able to serve others. In that regards when ministers’ wives are empowered, they will also be able to empower other women in the church, or in the society as a whole and be able to bring people face to face with Christ, our main ministry in the Church (70). Wives need to exercise their spiritual gifts to be used in the church. Denying the spiritual gifts is denying the work of the Holy Spirit.
C. Lack of theological education: another contributing factor to the silence of wives in the church.
The third contributing factor to the silence of ministers’ wives in the church is their lack of theological education. In some of the Pacific Churches women are not given the opportunity to undertake theological education (Perelini 1999, 15). However, in the Methodist Church in Fiji, women are given the green light to study theology with men but only for those who meet the requirements of the church to be ordained as ministers of the sacraments. I am not speaking about women who are attending formal theological education with men but my main focus is about minister’s wives who are the majority in our local theological college. Although they are also given the opportunity to undertake some studies; this, in my own analysis, it is not sufficient to prepare them for ministry. A respondent from our local theological college, who is also a lecturer’s wife, stated in an interview that wives are only given two and a half hours in a week to study.[ii] The time allocated to these women is definitely not enough to prepare them for ministry where there are so many issues faced by the women in the parish level. The question therefore is, why is our local theological college and the church only allowing them (wives) very little time to study theologically? Why are they not as serious about the training of wives as they are about ordained ministers?
A respondent and also a woman minister in the Anglican church highlighted to me in an interview that there is no need for wives to be theologically educated. She stated that priests are being trained to deal with all issues at parish level, whether among men, women, youth or children and there is also no need for the wives to be trained because of their demanding work in the home.[iii] I do agree with her in part because I am a housewife too and I know very well the demanding tasks in the home. However, that in itself should not be the sole reason why wives cannot be theologically educated. With the demanding needs in the church today concerning women, I believe wives need to be trained theologically because of their partnership role with their husbands. As James Kwegyir Aggrey of Africa expressed “Educate a man and you educate an individual; educate a woman and you educate a tribe and a nation.”(cited - Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement).
However, in most of the theological colleges today, wives have limited theological training because of the ‘domestication’ of their programmes and it captures their interests. Anton Knuth, a former lecturer here at the Pacific Theological College, highlights that “the women’s programs should not be discriminated as a domestication of women but as a learning center for lay workers in ministry” (2012, 65). I agree with the above statement that the college should have a changed mindset in regards to ministers’ wives, and more time should be spent in preparing them well spiritually/theologically because of the vital role that is ahead of them.
The silence of wives in the church encourages me to ask these questions: Are they not good enough to be useful in ministry? Are they not part of the Mission of God wherever the church has been called by God to carry out its mission? Keiti Ann in her article called “Rethinking mission and theology in Ocenia” states that “it is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world, it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church” (2014, 23).
The church is the symbol of the body of Christ, which means everyone is welcome to participate in the mission of God to the world and if it is only for men then the body of Christ, the church is not complete. Alice Akao in her article called Women and the Church argues that “The church, the body of Christ is incomplete, if they are only men. Nor can the church exist without women, since both must complement each other in every way” (2004, 90). One of the main reasons why most of my fellow ministers wives are seen as passive spectators as Paulo Freire calls it, “the culture of silence”(Freire 1985, 33) is mainly due to the lack of their theological education and as Perelini puts it “many women have low self esteem due to lack of education” (1999, 17).
I agree with Perelini that one of the contributing factors to our empowerment in life is through education, whether secular or theological. Women in the secular society are fully participating in all other spheres of services such as in Parliament, education, administration, health, business, law etc and only a few are seen in theological education. If women are meant to be silent how can they participate freely in the church?
According to the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, James Kwegyir Aggrey of Africa mentions a valid point suggesting the importance of education which he says “education which not only trains individuals and makes them whole but also prepares to serve the community…” (cited in the dictionary of the ecumenical movement 2002, 389). If that is what theological education can do to our lives, why then are minister’s wives in our local theological college only given very limited time to study theologically? The bible clearly says in the book of Hosea 4:6 that people perish because of lack of knowledge.
D. Our traditional beliefs are another contributing factor to the silence of women
In his book Vanua: Towards a Fijian Theology of Place, Ilaitia Tuwere highlights the importance of silence (2002, 73) as cited by Elise Huffer and Ropate Qalo (2004, 95) in their article called “Have we been thinking upside –down?” The contemporary emerging of Pacific theoretical thought ‘Silence in my local language means ‘vakanomodi’ or ‘vagagalu.’ Tuwere argues the positive aspects of silence that “every vosa’ (the word speaking) uttered is meant to be heard, to be listened to” (cited by Huffer and Qalo 2004, 97) and it belongs to the nature of the vanua to vakatudaliga (to make the ears stand) when the vosa (word) is given ( 97).
Unaisi Bobo Baba agrees with Tuwere of the importance of silence that “women are generally expected to be silent ( see Baba et al. 2013, 100).” Baba and Tuwere both speak about the positive aspects of silence in my culture and I agree with both of them that silence is good in the sense that we cannot be all talking at the same time, someone has to listen. In my culture it says “na Yalewa na bula ni vanua” which means the woman is the life of the land or tribe”(100). Baba argues that “it is in the strong hands or will of the woman that serves the tribe life that puts it in good stead” (100). If the tribe’s life depends mainly on women’s role, why does our culture allow women to be silent all the time? Aren’t they good enough? How can they voice out their own needs and problems if they are meant to be silent all the time?
My concern goes out to women and girls who are members of our society that are being raped and abused by members of their own families and are vulnerable as this is an increasing issue in Fiji today. Can we say that silence is the cause of all these things? If so, silence in this sense is not good at all because men have used this cultural norm to manipulate innocent women and girls. Women are often afraid to speak up, to voice their problems and needs because they are being forced to maintain something that has been part of their life all along (silence). The question that needs to be asked then is, “Is it fair to the women who silently serve their families and the church all the time while men can freely voice their concerns?” Especially, if silence leads to condoning and colluding with rape. To me this is rather unfair to women who try their very best to serve their families and the church. How can they participate freely in the Mission of God where everyone else is invited to play their part?
E. An additional factor to the silence of dauniveiqaravi in the church is because of the literal interpretation of some biblical texts, for example, I Corinthians 14: 34-35.
“Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”(NRSV).
Many women have interpreted this text literally and obeyed it because it is ‘the word of God’ and must be respected. This text is seen as a stumbling block to most of the women at the parish level. I believe women need to understand why Paul uttered these words in his own context and in his own time and what was the situation was like during that time.
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her book called ‘In memory of Her’ states that Paul was trying to protect the Christian community because of the problem seen that wives had to question other wives within the Christian assembly during the congregational interpretating of the scriptures. The main reasons why Paul made this laws is not so much on the behaviour of women but the protection of the Christian community. He wanted to prevent the Christian community from being mistaken for one of the orgiastic, secret, oriental cult that undermined public order and decency (Fiorenza 1993, 232). If the situation highlighted by Fiorenza is true about wives questioning other wives, that can be a problem to us today because the church is a place of worship.
Women/wives need to look into this text from a positive side of it. To be silent in the church can mean two things; the first one is that silence is required of anyone who is willing to enter the church to worship God whether men, women or even children. To sit in silence means everyone has to sit quietly, waiting for the word of God to be delivered by the preacher who is the mouthpiece of God.
Secondly, women need to be good listeners to the word of God. When we sit in silence, we are using our ears to attentively listen to the word of God as Tuwere uses our local word ‘vakatudaliga’ which means “ to make our ears stand when the vosa is given” (cited by Huffer and Qalo 2004, 97). By doing this, women are allowing the Word of God to speak to them, to mould their lives and to let God do His wonderful and miraculous works in and through them so that they will be strengthened and be bold enough to stand up: not by their own power but through the Resurrected Power of Christ through them.
Silence takes on a new kind of feminine power in this way. This is our only hope: only God understands our situation, He knows our feelings and everything that we are going through. He understands our needs and our problems. When women are empowered through the power of God, no one will stop them: not even the law of their own culture can prevent them from standing up and giving witness to what God is doing in their lives and in their own contexts.
In addition to this, Paul highlights that women need to ask their husbands if they desire to know anything. In my own interpretation, women in that day had limited knowledge: that is the reason why they needed to ask their husbands if they wanted to know more about anything. This is good but if our husbands are a stumbling block to our journey with the Lord today, why do we waste our time and energy in sharing our desires/needs/problems with those who are not willing to listen? As Christians, women need to be empowered to be strong women of prayer. We need to share the desires of our hearts to God our heavenly Father who is willing to listen because he knows us better than our husbands. God understands us better than anyone in this world and therefore he knows our values and our worth in ministry. He knows us by name and he calls us to ministry too and provides us with spiritual gifts to be used in His ministry.
A silent dauniveiqaravi is seen as passive by others because it only involves listening but not taking an active part or not talking. To become passive means we are accepting everything we are told to do. The silence of women in the church today is mainly due to the above mentioned factors but that should not hinder us women from being useful in God’s ministry. We are unique in our own way: that is why we are created to be our husband’s helper. Without our contributions in the family, church and society, everything will be in chaos. I believe we can contribute more in God’s mission if we allow ourselves to sit continually before God in prayer. A prayerful woman is the powerful person because she continues to sit in silence before God, listening to His words, meditating on them and applying them in her life. She can be useful if she exercises her Spiritual gifts in ministry.
This should be the attitude of women disciples of Jesus in the church today, where we need to be active listening and contemplation to Jesus words and commands in our lives in order for us to grow in maturity. When we become active listeners to the words of Jesus and thinking deeply about it will motivate us to move forward not as a passive followers but as an active child of God who is empowered by the power of God and at the same time is willing to serve others.
When we are an active listeners, we will be able to understand what is the meaning of partnership. Partnership is not only confined between husbands and wives but they need to be partners with God in the home and in ministry as well (Sakai 2009, 30). Also Tofaeono argues it is a real struggle to hold together the two contradictory identities of serving and be equal partnership. We are women and men created for a purpose, both to serve God and others, and be your partner in ministry (2003, 125).
In addition we are living in a changing world with many kinds of problems and needs including gender based problems. These gender based challenges are in the church, hence gender based counseling should be encouraged and not seen as a problem in the church and should not be entertained. This is where the training of Ministers’ wives is vital because they can be trained to bridge the gap between the two ;‘dau (person)’ and ‘veiqaravi her role.’
Akao, Alice. 2004. “ Women and the Church.” The Pacific Journal of Theology 32(II): 87-93
All Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
Baba, Tupeni L., Boladuadua Emitai L, Ba Tevita, Wasenia Vatuloka and Unaisi Nabobo Baba. 2013. “Na Vakanomodi.” In Na Vuku Ni Vanua – Wisdom of the Land: Aspects of Fijian Knowledge, Culture and History, 1st ed. Suva: Native Academy Publishers, 2013.
Barr, Kevin. 2014. “Rethinking our Mission and Theology in Light of the Experience and Realities of the People of the Pacific Today.” The Pacific Journal of Theology 51(II): 1-19.
Capell, Arthur. 1968. A New Fijian Dictionary 3rd ed. Suva: Government Printing Department.
Chambers Amy, 2016. “Interview,” By Litiana M.Tuidrakulu.
Chamber, Amy. 2007. “Empowering Women in Ministry.” Weaving: The newsletter of Weavers, the Women and Theological Education arm of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools(SPATS). Weaving 1 (5): 3.
Huffer Elise & Qalo Ropate. 2004. “Have We Been Thinking Upside- Down? The Contemporary Emergence of Pacific Theoretical Thought.” The Contemporary Pacific 16: 87- 116.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. 1983, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. London : SCM Press Ltd.
Freire, Paulo.1985. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishing
Kanongata’a, Malia Keiti, Ann. 2014. “Rethinking Mission &Theology in the Pacific.” The Pacific Journal of Theology 52(II): 21-39.
Knuth, Anton. 2012. “ Second Response to the Keynote Address” The Pacific Journal of Theology 47: 59 -66.
Lydia, Johnson & Joan, Alleluia Filemoni- Tofaeono, ed . 2003. Weavings: Women doing Theology in Ocenia. Suva:Weavers/SPATS
Marie, Ropeti. 2003. “ The Biblical Basis For The Ordination of Women In The Pacific Churches.” In Weavings: Women Doing Theology in Ocenia, edited by Lydia Johnson & Joan Alleluia Filemoni-Tofaeono, 133- 139. Suva: SPATS & Institute of Pacific Studies, USP.
Nasaroa, Temalesi, 2017. “Interview,” By Litiana M. Tuidrakulu.
Perelini, Otele, 1999. “The Emancipation of Church Women: A Biblical Reflection- Luke 13: 10-17” The Pacific Journal of Theology 22: 1ssues 22, 1999.
Russell, Letty M. 1979. The Future of Partnership. Philadelphia: The West minister Press.
Sakai, Penerika,2009. “Ia So’ole Fau ma le Fau (Let the Arched –Purlin be connected in the Arched – Purlin): a contextual theology of Mission in the Samoa context” The Pacific Journal of Theology 11: Issues 41, 2009.
Sanford, Linda Tschirhart & Donovan, Mary Ellen. 1985. Women & Self Esteem: Understanding and Improving The Way We Think And Feel About Ourselves. Doubleday: Penguin Books
Soronakadavu, Meresiana.2003. “The Traditional Role of Fijian Women with Reference to Christian Justice.” In Weavings: Women Doing Theology in Ocenia, edited by Lydia Johnson & Joan Allelua Filemoni-Tofaeono, 161-164. Suva: SPATS & Institute of Pacific Studies, USP.
Vaai, Upolu. 2017. “Theological Hermeneutic.” Unpublished lecture notes.
Webb, Pauline, eds. 2002. Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement. Geneva: WCC
[i] Social policy of the Methodist Church of Fiji under the sub heading “statement on Christian family life.”
[ii] Interviewed by author 23rd May 2017
[iii] Interviewed by author 5th September 2016
Articles by Deaconess Litiana Maituriwai Tuidrakulu
The Silent Dauniveiqaravi in the Church (28/06/2017)