We have recently had another annual visit from pre-Med Students attending Davidson College, North Carolina. About 10 young people arrive for a three week stay with their tutor. While they are with us they keep a journal and reflect on a particular aspect of the hospital and its work with the Community which is of interest to them and later write it up as a paper. Once it is corrected and printed the hospital receives a copy.
However, it is not all academic work for them; they also generally turn their hand to something more practical and creative in an artistic sense. Some good artwork has been done over the years and they have decorated various wards and walls in the Hospital and Out-Patients with murals.
This year we have been building a new Maternity Ward, to help meet the Government Development Goal of having more babies delivered in hospital especially where there is substantial risk to either mother or child. Money from the Beit Trust was received for this and the building is now nearing completion. In the Coptic and Ethiopean Christian traditions, Mary is honoured as the black Madonna, applying an image from the Song of Solomon (1:5) “I’m black and beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem…..” So it was suggested that a Black Madonna and child be painted in the ward of the new Maternity Unit.
We are painfully aware that it is only really fairly recently that those of us from the Reformed tradition began to appreciate Mary for her faithfulness, her purity, as the Mother of God and for her suffering as the Mater Dolorosa. However, the key ideas, we think, that are contained in the undisputedly stylised painted image of mother and child is that God’s Spirit blesses women of faith and God’s Spirit is active in the creation of new life.
Mary has been portrayed on our wall as an icon but for our women and mothers here she is much more. They share much of Mary’s identity as an impoverished peasant woman, living in a patriarchical and tribal society, a typical wife and mother of the time in an often drought- stricken, and politically and economically unjust society. We all tend to have a partially true image of Mary being quiet, humble and self-denying but from her appearances elsewhere in Scripture, Mary also emerges as a strong woman of ability and wisdom. Through her God brought down the proud and lifted up the lowly.
Woman are often seen here in Zambia as silent servants but their ministries reach out and touch many. As daughters, mothers and grandmothers they will agree with Mary that: "Surely from now all generations will call me blessed.” Luke (1:48)