Tamie Davis and her husband Arthur are missionaries with Church Missionary Society (CMS) Australia based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Arthur is staff coach with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES), which aims to share the gospel with university students. Tamie is doing a PhD on the theology of TAFES women graduates.
If there’s any book of the Bible that lends itself to allegorical interpretation, it’s Revelation! In chapter 12, a pregnant woman appears, clothed with moon and sun and a crown of 12 stars. She’s pregnant and about to give birth.
There’s a great dragon too, which we’re told is Satan, trying to get the son she’s about to bear. The son is snatched up to the throne of God, the dragon battles some angels in heaven and is hurled down to earth where he pursues the woman, but the earth saves the woman, so the dragon goes off to attack her other offspring instead, those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. Interpreters vary on who the woman is: Mary, the new Eve, the people of God, all of the above. I was at a kitchen party this week where she was an allegory of any Christian woman.
Let me set the scene. In Tanzania, when two people get married, the wedding reception is the groom’s family’s deal. The bride’s family has a Send Off the week before and it is just as big a deal. In Dar Es Salaam, think massive hall, 20 tables decked out white tablecloths, MC, DJ, speeches, dancing, cakes, loads of food. The bride’s father is the host of that. The week before the Send Off is the kitchen party and it is the bride’s mother’s deal. While the Send Off is about the family celebrating the bride and eventually being officially introduced to the groom, the kitchen party is for advice. It is mostly the mother of the bride’s friends who attend and they are all-female events.
With my friend Irene at the kitchen party
The kitchen party I went to this week was a sit-down affair held outside in a garden of a hotel. The dress code was white. After introductions and welcome, there were a series of advice speeches on various topics: handling extended family, managing money in a marriage, differences between men and women, how to grow your relationship with your husband, and some general advice.
As we were finishing dinner, we had a word from a lady pastor on what a wife needs: intelligence in her brain, Jesus in her heart, and money in her pocket! It was in the course of this that Revelation 12 came into it.
For this pastor, Satan was thrown down after this woman birthed the child. She wanted us to see how powerful women are when they are productive, how dangerous to Satan. And so she asked us, ‘What is inside you, ready to come out?’
For this pastor, the woman in Revelation 12 is every woman, and a woman may not only be pregnant with a baby; she can be pregnant with ideas, plans, businesses, achievements. All of these are part of her capacity and potential. Much of her sermon was advice-giving about how to achieve this. (A substantial portion of that was given over to keeping your husband happy by having sex with him.)
In Tanzania, childbearing and marriage are closely tied together. Most couples fall pregnant in their first year of marriage, not for lack of birth control. It raises serious questions if you don’t. Being a mama is a massively important part of a woman’s status. And yet, being a mama is never only about childbearing. Women are productive, and childbearing is one way in which she does that. It’s a sacrosanct, non-negotiable part of womanhood, but it is part of a larger whole. And so, it makes sense, when thinking about a Woman whose childbearing threatens Satan to ask, what else does a woman produce that threatens him?
In Tanzania, God is the source of life and Satan the source of destruction, so anything you do which is life-giving or productive can be seen as threatening to Satan. Women thus engage in spiritual warfare when they bring life into the world through childbearing and when they are productive in the world in any other way.