As a graduate student at Baltimore Hebrew University, my advisor told me about an academic conference in which she would be participating, the Society of Biblical Literature. The conference was being held locally that year and she suggested that I attend. The student membership and registration fees were nominal. So, I jumped at the chance to be introduced to scholars and students in the field of biblical studies. The conference book was THICK but I spent a few hours reading the abstracts and outlining the session topics that interested me as well as those featuring people whose writing I’d read. (What I found more beneficial was locating the sessions where people of color were presenters and sliding into the back row.) While sitting in a joint session offered by the Units on African Biblical Hermeneutics and African American Biblical Hermeneutics, a panelist invited everyone to attend her next panel. Intrigued by the scholarship of these African Diasporic women theologians, I wandered over to the session. After a lofty introduction, in walked this unassuming African woman and the room which was filled to capacity (with people standing along the walls) erupted in thunderous applause. And that’s when I met God’s Mercy.
For the next 45 minutes, highly respected biblical experts of all races, creeds, and colors lauded the accomplishments, the mentorship, the courage and the heart of Mercy Amba Oduyoye. Mama Mercy, as she is affectionately called, is a Ghanaian theologian, Director of the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana, and founder of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. The Circle convened in 1989 to create a collaborative space for African women to share their insights, hone their research skills, and to document their voices through publishing. Mama Mercy became the Harriett Tubman of African Diasporic women, leading many to the freedom of broader audiences. She promoted women theologians on the Continent and supported their respective causes. Mama Mercy is a cheerleader, a champion, and a respected leader in the fight for justice for women and girls. The conference session that day was the national release of the festschrift that bore her name, African Women, Religion, and Health: Essays in Honor of Mercy Amba Ewudzi Oduyoye (Women from the Margins). I was in awe of this woman and grateful to have stumbled upon that panel, that room, God’s Mercy.
Imagine the swirling wind that engulfed me six years later when I stepped on the campus of Trinity Theological Seminary and into the Talitha Qumi Center for the Consultation of African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology and stood next to Mercy Amba Oduyoye. I didn’t understand the full significance of that moment and perhaps I still don’t, but what I did understand is that sometimes, God gives us glimpses of our journey…snapshots of the road ahead to encourage us during the difficult times and to give us hope when struggle leaves our reservoirs depleted. Sometimes, God eases us into the full awareness of who we are becoming.
I met God’s Mercy as a student, enthralled by the wisdom of these women scholars, brown like me. Next month I will return to Ghana, a scholar in my own right, brown and budding.