Pan African Mothers’ Fight for Life Before and During COVID-19

Angelique Walker-Smith

By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith

“[S]he took him [Moses] to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.” Exodus 2:10a

The disproportionate numbers of illnesses and deaths related to COVID-19 in the Pan African community are alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one-third of those hospitalized with the virus in the United States are of African descent. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports a 43 percent jump of reported COVID-19 cases in Africa. They warn that Africa is poised to become the next epicenter of the virus. Despite this—and despite the historic inequities that have contributed to this—Pan African mothers are fighting for life.

But this fight is not new. The deliverance story in Exodus illustrates this. This story begins with mothers and midwives in the first chapter. Biblical scholars say that it could have been Egyptian women or Israelite women who were the midwives. In either case, they resisted the government policy of killing male Israelite babies and jeopardizing the lives of mothers (Exodus 1:15-17).

Exodus 2:1-10 builds on this spirit of resilience and courage. Here the biological mother of Moses, Jochebed; her daughter, Miriam; and his adopted Egyptian mother, Bityah, fight together for the life of Moses. Life is saved because of the refusal of the mothers, joined by Jochebed’s daughter, to accept the unjust policies of Bityah’s father, Pharaoh. Moses’ life is spared for future years when Bityah adopts Moses and raises him as her son, thereby making him an African Prince of Egypt.

This extraordinary commitment to life has and is exhibited by mothers throughout the world. But in the case of Pan African mothers, this has been further challenged by the combined societal biases of race, ethnicity, and gender. This was also seen in the Exodus narrative when Moses’ Ethiopian wife, Zipporah, experienced this among the Israelite people (Numbers 12:1-12).

The bitter fruit of systems and attitudes of colonialism, racism, and gender biases remain with us—before COVID-19 and now. Such systems and attitudes summon us to a faith response that cries out for equitable public policies and a deeper spiritual understanding of what it means to live out love for and with all of our neighbors.

This response invites us to fight for life with our Pan African mothers. These mothers are essential workers fighting for life on the frontlines of healthcare and farming; bringing and retailing food at grocery stores; and caring for children, families, and elderly in caretaker institutions and in their own homes. Many are faith leaders—with or without clergy profile.

Bread for the World is committed to fighting for life with Pan African mothers and all mothers in this Mothers’ Day season. This fight includes advocating together to end hunger and to address hunger-related issues in the recent and upcoming stimulus packages, including global nutrition and child and maternal health. Won’t you join us? Please visit our Mothers’ Day web page to celebrate Mothers and Mother figures.

Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.


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