With an outgoing personality and an opportune moment, Elieshi Ayo Mungure became a natural leader in her local confirmation class in Arusha, Tanzania. Once, when the pastor was about 15 minutes late, Elieshi jumped to the front of the class and began leading the recitation of Luther’s Small Catechism. That was in front of 500 fellow students. From that point on, she was asked to lead the group as a “class monitor”. It was a position she enjoyed, and her role grew into leading the class each week for 15-30 minutes.
The pastor who asked Elieshi to assist him helped her to see herself in a position of leadership for the first time in her life. She recalls having other male pastors who were also very encouraging to her as a child.
Raised by her grandmother, Elieshi was encouraged to learn all aspects of work in life. She remembers doing many things as a child, considered unusual for a girl, like climbing trees, cutting wood and repairing small appliances. Elieshi's parents had a hard time imagining their daughter as a pastor, and encouraged her to become a teacher or a nurse. There were no other women pastors at the time. Her father was especially against the idea, saying, " Who will we compare you to?"
It has not been easy for Elieshi to be a woman pastor in Africa, working with male pastors and bishops who are “struggling to accept me.” In fact, she said, there are many churches not ordaining women yet.
“I’ve found in my experience, it is easier for a secular society to change than the church. The church is tied up in the sacred beliefs. Patriarchy is a system that furthers a certain group—a group favored has power—and it is blinded and they can’t see it,” she said.
From the days Elieshi was the dean and professor at the seminary in Arusha, she has believed that students need to have “gender lenses” when they look at Scripture and issues of faith. She insisted her students wrote their papers using gender-neutral language. “What does it mean to be ‘church’? As the body of Christ, we (women) are equally counted. How do we want to be seen? As a body with divisions, or as a united body of Christ.”
In her position with the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland, the Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure is in a position to help to encourage more women in ministry. She is living into a legacy of mentorship of young women: “I would like to be seen as a mother hen who collects and nurtures and empowering them and let them take their leadership role. So many gifts young women have – it takes an eye that is willing to see. I need to use my role to see who else is out there and bring out others. We have a church of yesterday – we want a church of tomorrow.”
The Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure biography
Dr. Mungure is a graduate of Luther Seminary '07 with a Ph.D. in Pastoral Care and Counseling with a focus on Conflict Transformation in the Family. Dr. Mungure is an ordained female theologian from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), where she served as parish pastor for a number of years. She then joined the faculty of Tumaini University Makumira as a lecturer from 2007-2011. In 2011 was called by the Lutheran World Federation based in Geneva to serve as area secretary for Africa, the portfolio she is currently heading. Dr. Mungure is married and blessed with three children.