Toromare Mananato has struggled to understand God’s role for women in the church. “Women are the backbone of our society,” she asserts, yet her home country of Madagascar, along with many other countries in Africa, still offers few opportunities for women.
When Toromare was a young woman in Madagascar, she asked her father, a pastor, if she could study theology but was rebuffed and told that Paul the Apostle stated that women are to keep silent in church. However, she continued to wonder. After her father died in 1988, she sought to pursue theological study. And, through her home church of the Malagasy Lutheran Church, Toromare was nominated and received a scholarship from the ELCA International Leaders program. Today, Toromare is a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, one of eight ELCA seminaries.
During Toromare’s studies at Wartburg, she examined many biblical passages in order to understand what God wanted from her. Some texts seemed to confirm her father’s arguments, leaving her disillusioned. “I was angry with God,” Toromare said, “because I thought that in God there was no gender and justice.” However, she suddenly realized God’s true vision when she read another letter by Paul:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Emboldened by these words, Toromare returned after graduation to the Malagasy Lutheran Church, prepared to contribute to her church and spread the message of Christ’s equal love for all. Upon her return, the church appointed her the national executive of the Women’s Desk, responsible for coordinating the work between 23 synods.
Toromare is now married and has four children. Her family lives more than 600 miles south of her workplace in Antananarivo, Madagascar, but she continues her work out of the desire to improve the lives of women. “If I leave my job to join my family,” she says, “that means no way for women ordination. I have to advocate for my fellow women.” Even so, she keeps in touch with her family.
Having recognized the importance of women’s rights in the church, Toromare is determined to improve the lives of women in her church and community, and better connect them to Christ’s love. Borrowing on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she says, “I have a dream that in the future my church will ordain women like the ELCA, and my church will be the light and salt of our country.”
Through Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, our church has committed to help 200 more international women like Toromare gain access to educational opportunities through the International Leaders program. To make a gift or learn more, visit www.ELCA.org/InternationalLeaders.