Mandela made a surprise visit to The United Methodist Council of Bishops meeting
Calling herself a child of the Methodist Church, Gracia Machel told the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church this evening that it was the teachings of the church that led her to see that she, a girl living in poverty, could become educated and lead. She spoke of her education in United Methodist schools and the empowerment those schools encouraged.
Ms. Machel is the former minister of education of Mozambique and widow of Mozambique liberation leader and first president Samora Machel. She married Nelson Mandela in 1998 and they live only blocks from the hotel where the bishops were meeting. Their presence came as a welcome surprise at the end of a long week of deliberations.
Ms. Machel spoke of the importance of education for all children, but especially for young girls. She said education was a tool for them to exercise their rights.
She spoke of the progress the country has made since the end of its internal war some ten years ago. She told the bishops twenty-five percent of the primary schools across the nation were destroyed in the war. She started the Foundation for Community Development to give hope and a future to children in Mozambique who might otherwise be left out of the country’s forward progress.
Ms. Machel gave startling statistics about the rate of infection of women in Mozambique with HIV/AIDS. She told the bishops that between the ages of 15 to 24, 76% of those in Mozambique infected with the virus are women and girls. Her foundation concentrates on women and children because they represent the future, she said.
“Just to grow food, women have to be healthy,” she explained. “If we are to reduce the rate of infection, we must empower women.”
She said gender relationships are the key to women’s empowerment and she has concentrated on fairness for women and access to education. She thanked the bishops saying, “We, young men and women, had the opportunity to go to school due to your generosity and solidarity.”
Speaking tongue-in-cheek she said she regards herself as “a sort of a bridge between Mozambique and South Africa.” She then said that when she learned she was coming to speak to the bishops she wanted to introduce another “Methodist child.”
Referring to her husband, she told the group, “I don’t know whether you know this” but Mandela attended Methodist schools in his youth in South Africa, “so please welcome your child.”
Mandela, walking with a cane, approached the speaker’s podium as he received a standing ovation.
He spoke of the importance of doing good work while here on earth so that in the future he would not be banished when he knocked on the door of heaven. Picking up on the theme of empowering women, he brought chuckles to the crowd when he spoke of heaven’s gatekeeper as a woman.
He re-emphasized the importance of gender relationships, telling the group to listen to women and learn from them. He said it’s OK to disagree with a woman using words, but not to “beat her with a stick,” a remark he has made before when addressing African men.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, President of the Council, thanked Mandela and Machel, telling them that tonight “the bishops know that we are in the presence of the saints.”
Bishop Joao Somane Machado, bishop of Mozambique, asked all the women bishops to stand and be recognized, and closed the gathering by saying he thought it was providential that Mr. Mandela and Ms. Machel were able to address the group. Bishop Felton May closed the meeting with a moving prayer.