A nurse from Zambia is awarded the Sylvia Michel Prize of the Reformed Churches

Agnes Lisulo Mulemwa of Senanga, Zambia received the international Sylvia Michel Prize for her extraordinary work for the education of women. She was awarded the prize in the German Church of Murten, Switzerland by the World Communion of Reformed Churches in cooperation with the female presidents of Switzerland’s Reformed churches.

Deeds speak louder than words when a nurse from Zambia spends her retirement on a project to change the lives of the women of her rural community, improving their income and teaching them health and leadership skills. On Sunday March 20, Agnes Lisulo Mulemwa of Senanga, Zambia will be awarded the international Sylvia Michel Prize by the World Communion of Reformed Churches, in cooperation with the women presidents of Switzerland’s Reformed churches, for her extraordinary work for the education of women. The prize will be awarded in the German Church of Murten, near Bern, Switzerland.

The Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Fribourg was the host of the award ceremony as part of a celebratory worship service with well over 100 attendees. The Sylvia Michel Prize included a certificate and 5000 dollars, sponsored by the current and former female presidents of Switzerland’s Reformed churches, which the prize winner received with visible emotion and the words “I am humbled, it is too much.” The prize is named after the first female president of a Protestant church in Europe, Sylvia Michel, who was elected church president in Aargau, Switzerland in 1980.

Agnes Lisulo Mulemwa, a former head nurse, was honored for her life work at the Liyoyelo Batik Centre in Senanga, southwest Zambia. The project trains women to earn their own income by producing goods such as batik and candles and by growing fruit and vegetables. Mulemwa works with the “Anamoyo” Network of women who are known for their commitment to community service on behalf of the church.

Hedwig Schneider, the first female synod council president in Fribourg, nominated Mulemwa for the prize. The women first came to know one another decades ago when Schneider travelled to Zambia for aid projects. The aid packages included materials used in the making of batik, which in turn led to the founding of the Liyoyelo Batik Centre. The project was later expanded to support people living with HIV and AIDS in growing fruit and vegetables. The women walk long distances to care for the area’s sick, carrying fruit and vegetables with them, and often arriving “with swollen legs,” as Mulemwa explained.

Martina Zurkinden, vice president of the Synod Council of the Fribourg Church paid homage to Agnes Lisulo Mulemwa, quoting a motto of her work: “When you teach a woman, you teach the whole world, because women pass their knowledge on to others.” Zurkinden said that we can only progress with our churches and our society when we recognize the skills of women. With “Anamoyo”, she added, Agnes Lisulo enabled other women to lead lives of their own choosing in their own responsibility.

Isabelle Chassot, a member of the Fribourg Cantonal Council, praised the farsighted work of Agnes Lisulo as a teacher of women in batik, gardening, fishing, health, and nutrition, saying: “When I read of your accomplishments, I have the sense of being in the presence of a universal woman.”

Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, executive secretary of the Department of Partnership of Women and Men of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, praised Mulemwa and the women who work with her for “sustaining, nurturing life and bringing hope to their community”. The main Bible text for the service was taken from the Gospel of John on the copious catch of fish, and was explained by Simone Wüthrich, the Mission 21 director of study, and Jaques Küng, general secretary of Département missionaire. The Evedyah Gospel Choir of Estavayez-le-Lac sang African songs, evoking the deep religiosity of African churches in the service.

The ceremony was held on the 120th anniversary of the first time Swiss women were given a vote, which was in the church elections of the Reformed Church of Geneva, many decades before women were allowed political equality in the country.

The WCRC was created in June 2010 through a merger of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). Its 230 member churches, representing some 80 million Christians, are active worldwide in initiatives supporting economic, climate, and gender justice, mission concerns, and cooperation with Christians of different traditions.

The FSPC is a federation of 26 member churches (including 24 Reformed cantonal churches as well as the Evangelical Methodist Church of Switzerland and the Free Church of Geneva), representing around 2.4 million Protestants according to the 2000 census. The organization represents the concerns of Swiss Protestantism at the national and international levels. Organized as an association, it is run by a Council of seven headed by Rev. Gottfried Locher. The FSPC has its headquarters in Bern.