Christian women around the world will call for healing and justice on Friday, March 6, as they lead more than 140 countries in the annual World Day of Prayer (WDP).
A global, ecumenical and women-led effort with roots in the 19th-century missionary movement, the WDP invites participants to learn about issues faced by women in their own countries and abroad, pray together and raise funds for mission projects. A working group elected by national WDP committees meets every five years to choose themes and “writer countries” who prepare resources for international use.
Women from the Zimbabwe WDP Committee prepared the program for this year’s day of prayer, which is themed “Rise! Take Your Mat and Walk.”
The theme is a reference to John 5:2-9a, in which Jesus meets a man who has been ill for 38 years. Lying on a mat near a pool believed to have healing properties, the man is unable to get into the water himself. Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” and then tells him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” The man immediately finds himself well and does so.
For Zimbabwean WDP committee members, this gospel story carried particular relevance. In 2017, members of Zimbabwe’s governing party ousted long-time ruler Robert Mugabe. Since the coup, Zimbabwe has experienced continuing unrest, including mass protests, a 2019 general strike and subsequent crackdown by government forces.
Rosãngela Oliviera, executive director of the WDP International Committee, visited Zimbabwe to help the women develop resources contextualizing the theme from their own perspective. The resulting Bible study interprets the gospel passage as signifying that “we should not be afraid to act on the word of God,” who offers the steps for personal and social transformation.
Along with “faith” and “reconciliation”, the Zimbabwean women added “love” as a value highlighted in this year’s prayers. That emphasis, Oliviera says, reflects Zimbabwe’s history of colonization and independence; its hopes for self-determination and dignity; and the dashing of those hopes by the country’s leadership amid growing political violence and widespread economic struggles.
“The women shared some of [their] stories, of how they need society to come together and heal and…the encounter with Christ, which can be the channel for healing,” Oliviera says.
The Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada (WICC) coordinates WDP events across Canada. As with every national committee, the WICC uses the prepared resources to help people learn about conditions faced by women abroad as well as in their own country.
WICC Executive Director Catherine MacKeil points to poverty, human trafficking and matters affecting Indigenous women as issues highlighted at Canadian WDP events, while noting that such issues are also worldwide concerns.
Grants to support mission projects are another component of the WDP. Given Canada’s relative wealth, the WICC is one of only a half-dozen national committees that receives enough offerings each year to run a grant program.
Each year the WICC gives away around $80,000 in small grants. Approximately 40% support Canadian projects such as transitional housing, support for Syrian refugee women and leadership development programs for young Indigenous women. The remaining 60% go to overseas mission projects, such as programs combatting female genital mutilation.
“A lot of our donations are under $20,” MacKeil says. “But we can put them together and make a big difference.
“If we can get the grants into the right hands, it’s absolutely amazing what they can do with $4,000 or $5,000 … I think we calculated last year that over 10,000 [people] were directly impacted by our grant funding.”
Ecumenical WDP services will take place in churches across Canada. Anyone wishing to organize their own event can find supporting materials on the WICC website, including artwork, videos, information about Zimbabwe, Bible studies and children’s programs.
To find the closest WDP service in your area, ask your local worship leader or contact the WICC at wicc.org/contact or by calling 416-929-5184.