Mercy Amba Oduyoye

Mercy Amba Ewudziwa was born to Revd. and Mrs Yamoah at Asamankese, Ghana, in 1933, during the harvest season. She was educated in Methodist schools at Asamankese, Achinakrom, Effiduse and Mmofraturo, Kumasi. She went to Achimota School and then to Kumasi College of Technology for teacher training. She read theology at University of Ghana and Cambridge University, UK. She is a certified teacher who has taught in several schools in Ghana and Nigeria. In 1968, she married Adedoyin Modupe Oduyoye, a Nigerian, Christian publisher.

Mercy Amba Oduyoye is the first woman in Africa to obtain a university degree in Theology and with his training, she taught in several universities in Africa – Ibadan, Cape Town and the USA. In the USA, she taught classes and gave talks in institutions such as San Francisco Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and many other USA theological institutions as a commencement speaker.

With her theological educational training, Mercy Amba Oduyoye served many departments of major ecumenical organizations including the All Africa Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, where she ended up as Deputy General Secretary. During her theological journey and ecumenical service, she became aware that she was Esther in the Palace of King Xerzes; she was Ezra in exile, weeping for the broken walls of Jerusalem; she was a Joseph in Pharaoh’s palace – for she became more aware that while African women patronize religion, they were marginalized from theological thinking; from leadership and many times religion was also used against women. ‘The need to have religion play a positive role in women’s development; not subordinating them to patriarchy, but transforming their lives so that they could discern what cultural norms were humanizing and which ones were obstacles to women’s flourishing,’ became imperative. Mercy Amba Oduyoye became a file lady during her ecumenical journeys. She went about looking for African women studying any religion to undertake the task researching, re-reading and re-interpreting all faith traditions for the empowerment of women. In 1989, after more than a decade of behind-the-scenes work, The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians was launched in 1989 in Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Accra. Mercy Amba Oduyoye initiated the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians and mentored many women in the theological field. Her aim was to get women to participate vigorously in seeking fullness of life for all. She has been especially active in the area of what Religion and Culture do in women’s lives.

The establishment of the Circle and the Women in Religion and Culture Institute moved her back to Ghana after serving as Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, a seat she held in Geneva, Switzerland. Back in Accra, together with the members of the Circle in Ghana and many other concerned women, both Christian and Muslim, she threw herself into the world of the NGOs working for the human rights of the marginalized members of the society. With them, she continued to advocate for the recognition of the full humanity of women and to urge women not to shy away from using their God-given gifts. Her favorite saying was “To bury your talent is to show disrespect to the one who gave it to you.”

This has been the aim of the Women in Religion and Culture Institute at Talitha Qumi Centre that has built at Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon. In building the Talitha Qumi Centre, she continued with the file strategy. She went around trying to collect one million names of women to raise one million US$ by asking those who recognized these women to donate a dollar for each of the significant women in their lives. With this strategy, Mercy Oduyoye was in a project of raising funds for the building and this educational center – a center for hosting events on women, religion and culture.

Someone said those who make themselves of no account for the sake of raising others up shall have everyone taking account of them. At the 2015 graduating ceremony of Trinity Theological Seminary, the then President of the Seminary, Rt. Rev. Prof. J.O.Y. Mante named Mercy Oduyoye the Matriarch of African Women’s Theology. Auntie Mercy has been honored with doctorate degrees from Asia, Europe and the USA. Significantly, even in her own homeland, where it is said that prophets are usually not honored, the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture in Ghana, considering her contribution to both the ecclesia and the academy, gave her two honorary doctorates at a sitting, a Doctor of Divinity and a Doctor of Theology. Three universities in South Africa have also honored her with Doctor of Theology. So, Auntie Mercy forgoing opportunities to work for an earned doctorate now has TEN honorary doctorates; four Doctor of Divinity and six Doctor of Theology.

Auntie Mercy has authored five books; edited four anthologies and authored numerous articles. But above all, she had given birth to the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians which has produced at least 150 books and more than 1000 articles, and still counting.

This distinguished woman has gathered us in the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians from all regions, countries and the African diaspora to celebrate our lives by researching, writing, teaching, training and mentoring one another in the academic spaces and Faith Based Institutes. We celebrate her compassion, her mentoring, her selflessness, her passion for justice and empowerment of women and all the oppressed. She says that, “I am not a mother… but I have children…!” Her children are the Daughters of Anowa and she remains in the delivery room, laboring for their salvation.