Rosine: My voice is my power

Lea Gabay listens to and records Rosine’s story, whose powerful efforts for change begin from a place of faith. Here is Rosine’s story in her own words.

When you look at me, what do you see? When you listen to me, what do you hear? I consider myself to be a strong, God-fearing woman, living one day at a time. My name is Rosine, and I am still discovering the power that I have through my faith inJesus. I see myself as the last woman standing when everyone has given up.I will bend the rules if I need to, and I separate myself from old traditions that belittle women, children, and marginalized communities. Throughout my life’s journey, I have been faced with incredibly difficult situations, but that has never stopped me from forging ahead. Indeed, I will continue to use my voice and my faith to fight for justice, equality, and human rights for all, in particular for women.

My upbringing
I grew up in a traditional family in Togo. As the first daughter and middle child of the family, I knew from an early age that I was different: I would rebel against any kind of expectation tied to my gender by speaking more loudly in order to be heard and defending my right to get an education. My outspokenness caused my Mom to fear for my life. In her mind, women shouldn’t be too educated, for they risk being ostracized by the community and not finding a good husband.

To me, Togolese women are brave and are go-getters, yet they have to submit to men so as to comply with the male-dominated gender norms in our society. I mean, do not get me wrong, I agree with the Biblical order about family and marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33); however, I do not believe in abuse of power. Ephesians 5:21-33 in the Bible mentions mutual submission: Wives submitting to their husbands and the men loving their wives, as Jesus loves the Church. How did He love the Church? He died for the Church. So, if you love your wife, like He loved the Church, you will not hinder her progress, belittle her, or create traditions that cause her to lose her voice. I didn’t want to be like that; I didn’t want to lose my voice and my dignity to serve a man. 

My calling is intertwined with my voice. So, a godly man should not want me to lose; rather, I would like him to support me and my voice. I can only be good to him and our loved ones if I am walking in my purpose. Telling young girls and women to avoid higher education for the sake of finding a good husband is the reason why many African countries are suffering. An African proverb says, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” If I know my rights, my body, and I can handle my finances, I will not have to be a liability to a man.
Another important aspect of my childhood was that I was raised Catholic. However, I also discovered early on that I didn’t like the way that the Catholic faith was imparted to me. The Catholic education that I received contradicted my understanding of my faith. I didn’t see myself in it, and I disagreed with the way that Jesus was portrayed. 

In my view, Jesus neither oppresses nor punishes; the Jesus whom I know is gentle and forgiving. He supports and uplifts women rather than tears them down; he stands for justice and wants to know who you are. He listens to you before responding. From his teachings, I have learned to stand up in the face injustice, which is why as a child, I refused to stay silent when I would witness injustices, causing me to get into many fights. To this day, I continue to fight for what I believe in, for it is what my faith has taught me. Funny thing is that now my fight is with those who cannot choose Jesus over their political views or patriotism...

My academic journey
I left Togo as a teenager and moved to the United-States where I am pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Leadership and Ministry with a concentration in Psychology. It was at the university that I began to reexamine and question the religious beliefs that had been inculcated in me as a child.

Through classes that focused on leadership capstone and evangelism I became more aware that some religious leaders from the Christian faith have abused their power in order to inflict pain and suffering onto others (e.g. colonialism). Moreover, they have exacerbated divisions among various religious and racial communities all in the name of religion. I also found out that many missionaries and evangelists travel long distances-some for a good cause, and some for popularity- to help others; yet, they are reluctant to engage with members of their own community, in particular people of color, and embrace differences. According to 1 Timothy 3:5, ministry first starts at home and then, your communities before the ends of the Earth(Matthew 28:18-20).

With the knowledge and experience that I have gained, I would now like to raise awareness of how people can become genuine Evangelists and missionaries by drawing from the words of the apostle Paul, which states that when we go into other countries, neighborhood, communities, our characters should take precedence over our religious views. The apostle Paul sat amidst the people, learned their ways, and ate what they served him before he shared the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). He never manipulated them, nor did he put them in chains, and dragged them to a foreign land to be oppressed for centuries. That, my friend, is the true reflection of Jesus Christ.

Challenges along the way
While I have been involved in activities and initiatives meant to promote the positive values of my faith, I have also observed the ways in which some church leaders and members have a history of oppressing and rejecting people of color, especially African-Americans, making many of us feel unwelcome in their places of worship. I have seen examples of hypocrisy in the ways that certain white American Evangelicals treat individuals based on their skin tone, background, and marital status. More often than not I have been judged because of my outspokenness and directness, my status as a single mom with two sons, and my race and nationality. It has pained me to see that this kind of treatment is still not challenged; so much so that I pray that I will treat everyone with respect and dignity for the rest of my life.

My goals for the future
My goal for the future is to be the best version of myself. This may mean that I will have more enemies than friends for doing the right things and speaking out, but I accept this fate-I already face this in the ministry.I am called to use my voice where religious people do not go: places that require bravery, integrity, and an uncompromising faith in the face of opposition, and places where love comes before religion and patriarchy.

Further, I aim to use the teachings from my faith to start an NGO that supports a variety of marginalized groups (e.g. survivors of human and labor trafficking and domestic abuse). I would like to be a motivational speaker, life coach, preacher, and counselor, who is not tied to the four walls of a church. Indeed, I believe in person-to-person connection so as to be able to build relationships and establish trust with the groups whom I will be serving. I also want to show those who have experienced significant challenges in their lives that they can start over and pursue their goals, whatever they may be. Their past does not have to dictate who they will become.

After years of trying to look for answers, I have finally found my calling: I am called to love people for whom they are and to bring them the gospel. Even if our beliefs differ, it does not break our relationships. I am called to keep fighting and create a world that is more just, peaceful, and loving.