In August 2017, a few sisters in the Tshwane (Pretoria) Church of Christ had an idea: let us start a ministry of mature sisters in the church who have always been single, are widowed, went through a divorce, are single mothers, or whose husbands aren’t part of the church. With the blessing of the leaders, Themba & Zamalinda Xulu, the ministry launched in November 2017. In January 2018, God sent a widowed sister, Tshidi Tlale-Malao, to Tshwane to serve in this ministry.
Fast forward 2½ years later. The Jewels Ministry of the Tshwane Church organized a Southern Africa Women’s Conference for the mature sisters in the church who have always been single, are widowed, went through a divorce, are single mothers, or whose husbands aren’t part of the church. The conference was held on 15th and 16th of August, 2020. Over 300 sisters from across Southern Africa joined for an inspiring weekend of lessons, classes and workshops on being “Women Rooted in God.” YouTube and Zoom allowed us to meet virtually and really, for the first time, bring together all the churches across the 11 Southern African countries.
Saturday morning, we were welcomed by our hostess, Tshidi Tlale-Malao, who shared a beautiful poem depicting who the Jewels are, after which we sang in different languages and danced in our living rooms along with the song leaders. We were inspired by Keynote Speaker Dee Fontenette from the Dallas, Texas church.
Dee has visited the churches in South Africa and Mozambique personally, and as a disciple, has been married, divorced, a single mom, and is now married again. She called us to anchor our hope in God alone, inspired us with her vulnerability about the struggles she has faced and overcome. She helped us see ourselves as God sees us and shared her list of self-esteem Scriptures. She closed by calling us to have vision for ourselves and showed multiple vision Scriptures to inspire us.
Zamalinda Xulu, Women’s Ministry Leader in Tshwane, closed out the first part of the conference by sharing Psalm 68:3-6 and Isaiah 61:3: how God has a vision for each one of His children and sets us all in families – His Church. She commended the approximately forty women in the Jewels Ministry for being a refreshing place where people are able to use their gifts and stories, not only to heal but to do all the work of God.
In Part Two of the conference, we broke into five Zoom groups. Two sisters each shared on “Unrelenting Faith;” “Mental Health;” “Grief & Grieving;” “Single Parenting,” and being a “Christian Wife,” followed by Q&A. Here, too, we were inspired to listen to women who have walked and are literally walking in our shoes, and to be reminded that we are not alone in our phase of life.
The second day of the conference started on Sunday afternoon, when we related to, laughed with and learned from 5 sisters sharing about “Caring for, Recognizing and Meeting Our Needs.”
A panel discussion followed where sisters could get practical, Godly advice on particular situations such as how to inspire our (grown) children to want to know God, dealing with bullying, how to have open-ended discussions on difficult topics with our teens, and forgiving ourselves so we can move forward for God.
We closed out our weekend with workshops based on our life phases: always-single mature sisters; single mothers; women who have gone through a divorce; married and widowed women. Scheduled for an hour, most went on much longer as we shared our needs that aren’t necessarily being met, examples of what is working in our ministries, as well as solutions, ideas, and dreams we have to meet not just our needs, but to bring glory to God.
This amazing weekend full of vulnerability, realness, positivity, spirituality, and excitement all started with a few sisters who had an idea and didn’t give up until that idea became a reality. Now more than three hundred women are inspired to take their idea(s) and make it a reality. Over and above that, there were 1,500 viewers on YouTube.
The organizing team is currently collating all the feedback to present a report to the ministry leaders across Southern Africa so we can help our churches understand, not just what we need, but equally important what we can give.
Thank you so much to the Tshwane church for hosting us and to the team who organized this incredible conference.
My name is Deanne de Vries and I believe in living life to the full – be that hiking to Everest Base Camp, baking cookies, studying the Bible with friends in cool cafes, raising others up, having friends over, sailing to a friend’s wedding, laughing or teaching the “why” behind things. I love authentic people and bringing my whole self to whatever I am doing. I am 56 years young and have always been single.
I like to say that my nickname is Esther because “for such a time as this....” God has moved me where I can bring Him the most glory. Amsterdam, the Netherlands is my 14th city and 10th country as a disciple. I became a disciple in New York City in 1988 and 8 months later moved to Nairobi, Kenya on the mission team where I worked for the UN for 2+ years before joining the full-time ministry. Five years later I relocated to South Africa, after which I moved to the USA and joined the corporate world again. God then used my career to move me to seven more countries – mostly in the Middle East and Africa. In addition, my career required a lot of travel through which I was able to visit and encourage churches in over twenty countries through teaching, spending time with disciples and sharing the lessons I’ve learned, and experiences God has given me.