Angelique Walker-Smith

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% 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 as we especially appreciate mothers this month. 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 health care 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 during the COVID-19 pandemic. This fight includes advocating together to end hunger and to address hunger-related issues. Please join our upcoming Pan African Consultation during Bread for the World’s virtual Advocacy Summit on June 8 to learn how you can help.

Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox church engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.

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