Cradling Abundance, Monique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna with Elsie Tshimunyi McKee. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: An autobiography of a lay leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, describing her work with women addressing their education, helping them develop usable skills, and addressing the gender violence and health issues they face.
Maman Monique, as the author is spoken of, is an amazing woman. As a student of twenty, she was on a transport home when stopped by an illegal military barricade, with soldiers intent on confiscating their luggage. Instead of complying, she demanded to see their orders, knowing such barricades to have been declared illegal by President Mobutu. They all were permitted to leave with their luggage, and when they arrived home, the others told her father, “She is a man!” Her father told her, “That is good! You must always be like that.”
This is the account of how this Presbyterian lay leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo fulfilled her father’s words, to the betterment of many other women in her country. She narrates her life from childhood, her student days, her marriage to Tatu Mukunu, her work as an educator and entrepreneur. Her big business idea was making clothing, the wraps women wore and other accessories. First she learned to do this herself, and then to train other women. Her work grew as she was asked to lead women’s ministry with her church.
It became ever clearer that the way to empower women in a highly patriarchal society was for women to be educated and equipped to earn their own living through training in practical skill, having access to microloans, and learning how to run a business, all this out of her home in the early years. She expanded her work by launching Woman, Cradle of Abundance/FEBA to both educate and advocate more effectively.
This is hardly a story of going from success to success. Her accounts describe the setbacks of political upheavals, opposition from other church leaders, often protecting the misappropriation of funds. Yet she met these challenges with faith and strengthened others, eventually giving leadership to women’s groups in a network of African countries, and engaging in efforts for the restoration of neighboring Rwanda. We also see the structures of patriarchy at work in stripping women of economic resources, barring their empowerment and inflicting sexual and physical violence against them, not only in the culture, but sadly in the church as well.
Yet she persisted. The hardest blow was the death of her own husband, and being stripped of family belongings by his family, a cultural practice. She is forced out of leadership in her church.
Amid all this Elsie McKee, a Princeton Theological Seminary professor becomes a friend, supporter, and advocate, help Woman, Cradle of Abundance to expand its work. McKee also translated this narrative from Maman Monique’s French into English. Having never heard Maman Monique, I can only speculate, but McKee translates but doesn’t get in the way. One has the sense of sitting in a room as Maman tells her story–there is a distinctive voice to this narrative that carries both the faith and force of this woman who has done so much to empower other women. I’m glad to have been able to listen to her story and grateful for the woman who gave us her story in English without getting in the way of a good storyteller.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.