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Motivated by health and faith

Generating a new crop of young dynamic women to help lead the church

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Virginia Wanjiru’s passion for health and faith motivates her toward a career path that involves working in rural and underserved areas to deliver health care — and faith. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — This month marks Women’s History Month. While there are many Presbyterian women who have made history throughout the years and deserve to be celebrated, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries is helping to generate a new crop of young dynamic women to lead the church.

Virginia Wanjiru is certainly one of those young women. Wanjiru currently lives in Uganda and has been there for the past eight months as a Peace Corps volunteer. She attends Highland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is located within the Presbytery of Donegal and the Synod of the Trinity.

Her initial involvement with the Young Women’s Ministry came through her selection as a PC(USA) delegate for and attending the United Nations’ 60th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in 2016 as well as the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in 2018 and 2019.

The lessons Wanjiru gained from those events remain with her to this day. “(The Rev.) Mark Koenig (formerly director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations) mentioned this to a group of PC(USA)-CSW women a few years back in regard to the issues concerning civil, marginalized and immigration rights,” she said. “‘Our work is not to be the voice for those who are not heard. Our work is to create a space for those who are silenced to finally express themselves and tell their stories.’”

“I’ve held on to this shared message for quite a while,” she said, “and I think of it often as I go about my work in the United States and currently as I work in Uganda. I have learned that there are stories that we ourselves cannot tell but can make room for those who need to be able to share.”

Wanjiru says another benefit of her participation in the leadership event was the opportunity to understand how the church can also be a space for advocacy.

“Prior to attending the events, my knowledge of church limited itself to my personal faith and fellowship with my church community on Sundays and through missionary work,” she said. “Through these events I learned of the broader perspective of the work that the PC(USA) does and how I could take a step further in being an active member of the church. I have found an interest in policy and activism. The Office of Public Witness has become one of my major interests and I would love to look into that area after my service in the Peace Corps.”

When asked how the training at the CSW and Ecumenical Advocacy Days helped her develop leadership skills, Wanjiru answered, “I have felt very empowered as a woman, and it was during these events that I found the encouragement to be confident within myself. To be an advocate for others as a woman, an immigrant, a person of color, I came to learn that my voice matters, and my voice has influence.  The experiences I have for myself can be a witness to others. During the CSW60 I was constantly surrounded with women from all backgrounds who have the burning desire within themselves to change the world we live in — to change it for those who otherwise don’t get the ability to have platforms for advocacy. That inspired me to also feel that one more voice can be loud.”

“It is so encouraging to see how the opportunities provided by the Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries is having such a positive impact on the lives of the young women who have been a part of the programs offered by this ministry,” said Jewel McRae, Associate for Women’s Leadership Development & Young Women’s Ministries, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. “And in turn, they are making a tremendous impact in the communities where they live and serve.”

Wanjiru has been able to transfer some of the information and the skills she acquired at the leadership events into the work she is currently doing as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda and says she has finds great value in all the trainings she’s attended. “The events I have attended have pushed me towards advocacy and in this way, I have found a passion for civil rights, immigrant rights, sustainable development and women’s rights,” said Wanjiru. “While other skills I acquired at the events may not be tangible, they are now a part of my personal belief system which I use on a daily basis to guide my decisions in the work that I do here.”

She says Uganda is a developing nation and in many ways a society that is still deeply rooted in patriarchy. “There are many women here who do not have access to body autonomy, the right to negotiate salary, sex or children,” Wanjiru added.  “While I won’t change the world overnight, behavior change takes roughly six to eight months to become a habit. So my job has been to educate and encourage men, women, young girls and boys to take up safe health practices and impart life skills to secure the future they want to have for themselves.”

At this point in her life Wanjiru does not see herself in a traditional role as it relates to working for the church. Her family is heavily rooted in the Christian community. Her father is a pastor, her mother is part of the Kenyan Presbyterian Women’s Guild, and her older brother is pursuing his calling in youth ministry.  But Wanjiru’s passion is health and medicine. She says she wants to serve others, to be compassionate to others, to be kind to others in challenging times — in times where we find ourselves most human and most vulnerable.

“My fusion of health and faith really motivates and inspires me to share my experiences and to be a person who can motivate others to be their best self,” she said. “I personally haven’t discovered how my passion for medicine and professional work in the church can be tied together, but I would always be willing to explore that avenue if the opportunity comes my way. My career will involve working in rural and underserved areas to deliver health care and with this I will have a church community to serve and fellowship with.”

Wanjiru’s passion for activism and public witness drives her to be a part of the Social Justice Committee at Highland Presbyterian Church. She is also a part of the mission team at her church.

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