what the women of Exodus teach us about freedom

defiant: what the women of exodus teach us about freedom


There would be no Moses, no crossing of the Red Sea, no story of breaking the chains of slavery if it weren’t for the women in the Exodus narrative. Women on both sides of the Nile exhibited a subversive strength resisting Pharaoh and leading an entire people to freedom. Defiant explores how the Exodus women summoned their courage, harnessed their intelligence, and gathered their resources to enact justice in many small ways and overturned an empire. Women find themselves in similar circumstances today. The Women’s March stirred the conscience of a nation and prompted women to organize with and for their neighbors, it is worth reflecting on the resistance literature of Exodus and what it has to offer women.

Defiant is about the deep work women do to create conditions for liberation in their church, community, and country. The women of Exodus defied Pharaoh, raised Moses, and plundered Egypt. We are invited to consider what the midwives, mothers of Moses, Miriam, Zipporah and her sisters demonstrate under the oppressive regime of Pharaoh and what it might unlock for us as we imagine our mandate under modern systems of injustice.

Kelley Nikondeha presents a fresh paradigm for women, highlighting a biblical mandate to join the liberation work in our world. Women’s work involves more than tending to our own family and home. According to Exodus, it moves us beyond the domestic territory and into relationship with women across the river, confronting injustice and working to liberate our neighborhoods so all mothers and children are free. Nikondeha calls women to continue to be active agents in heralding liberation as we organize and march together for one another’s freedom.





Defiant is exactly how I felt after reading Kelley Nikondeha’s book about the subversive women of Exodus. This eye-opening work disrupts the all-too-common habit of skimming over biblical female narratives to get to “the real action” involving men—in this case, the burning bush and the showdown between Moses and Pharaoh. Finally the female side of this story gets its due, not as a matter of fairness, but because we need these courageous female role models to embolden women and girls today. God paved the way to emancipate his enslaved people through the defiant actions of his daughters before Moses was even born. Three times these women saved Moses’ life. Without their defiant actions there would be no Moses. Defiant combines solid scholarship, creative imagination, current events, a global perspective, and Kelley’s own remarkable multi-cultural story to salvage examples of strong women whose holy defiance, I pray, spreads to God’s daughters in today’s world where oppression, abuse, and injustice seem hopelessly entrenched. Let the reader beware: Defiance is contagious!”
Carolyn Custis James
— author of Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women and Finding God in the Margins
“Kelley Nikondeha fiercely embodies the work of loving solidarity, and this book is proof of that reality. So many of the women mentioned in this book have been forgotten, our own eyes tainted by patriarchy. Kelley invites us to look deeper, and her words give me renewed hope in what has been covered up again and again by empire— the enduring power of defiant, feminine resistance. Buy this book, and be renewed by the power of story and the fire of fierce love.”
Kaitlin Curtis
— author of Glory Happening and Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God
“In Defiant, the mixture of personal, political, and devotional blend to create a work that transforms our imaginations to see the possibility of shalom everywhere we look. Kelley Nikondeha shows herself to be a prominent voice of liberation theology, illuminating the twelve women of Exodus who have lingered in the shadow of patriarchy for too long. Her work transcends the usual genre of women’s ministry to invite all of us into the story of partnering with God to liberate the world. It is intoxicating, refreshing, devastating, and ultimately challenging. You, like myself, will walk away from this book understanding there is a long line of women to partner with as we seek to liberate ourselves and others from a world desperate to baptize inequality and injustice as the norm. Together, we will march towards liberation in an age of fear.”
D. L. Mayfield
— author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith and The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety and Power
“I dare you to read Defiant and not be moved to daring. For any woman who has fallen asleep in her own life, Kelley Nikondeha’s fierce words, fleshy stories, and fecund imagination will wake her up to the Pharaoh-defying power that is her story, our sisters’ story, both ancient and now. Next time someone pushes a Bible study on me, this is the book I am going to push back with; even the footnotes are a revelation.”
Erin S. Lane
— author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe
Defiant is a profoundly hopeful and deeply inspirational exploration of the extraordinary when in Exodus as well as the brave, imaginative, justice-seeking, coalition-building, truth-speaking women and girls of today. Nikondeha has given us a great gift to help us through these troubled times.”
Debbie Blue
— author of Consider the Women: A Provocative Guide to Three Matriarchs of the Bible
“Subversive. Collaborative. Glorious. Kelley Nikondeha offers a theological lens for the liberation work women have been part of since ancient times. Now wherever there’s an oppressive pharaoh with dehumanizing decrees, let’s look for the Nile Network of women collaborating for freedom and justice. Better yet — let’s be them. ⁣⁣”
Idelette McVicker
— founder and editor-in-chief of
“The best storytellers know how to locate the characters that are hidden in plain sight ad bring them to center stage. Kelley Nikondeha is such a person. She locates the “hidden figures” in the book of Exodus-the defiant women- and gives space for their narratives. She masterfully weaves the witness of Exodus women with women of our present era. In the weaving of these stories, Kelly invites us to see what we have failed to see and to listen to the ones whose voices are often overlooked. Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach us about Freedom is a generative book. It ignites the prophetic imagination and calls us to participate in God’s mission of healing & liberating broken creation.”
Cheryl Bridges Johns
— professor and practical theologian at Pentecostal Theological Seminary



The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World


Adoption is one of the most radically inclusive aspects of God’s kingdom. All of us belong to God’s family—Jesus as God’s son and the rest of us as his adopted children.

In Adopted Kelley Nikondeha explores how the Christian concept of adoption into God’s family can broaden our sense of belonging. Drawing on her own story as both an adopted child and an adoptive mother, Nikondeha invites readers to a rich, biblically grounded understanding of adoption that reframes the way we perceive family, friends, and those in need of rescue.

As Nikondeha unpacks the implications of adoption — and especially its potential to cross socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries — she offers new ways to approach conversations about family, adoption, connection, and the mystery of what it means to belong.





“Part memoir, part theological exposition, Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World expands our understanding of what it means to be the family of God. As both an adopted person and an interracial adoptive parent, Kelley Nikondeha writes with transparency, tenderness, and racial awareness. . . . This wonderful book will illuminate a path for all people to experience sacred relationships.”
Christena Cleveland
— author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart
“Kelley Nikondeha writes with the heart of a poet and a theologian, and as an adopted child and an adoptive parent. Who could have guessed that her story could give such rich insight into theology, family, society, racism, fear, and belonging?”
Brian D. McLaren
— author of A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith
“We need to hear Kelley Nikondeha’s voice these days. Her Adopted will deeply shape your own prophetic imagination and create pathways of belonging in our world. I’ll be recommending this book to everyone.”
Sarah Bessey
— author of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith
“Kelley Nikondeha is my favorite kind of theologian—a hybrid of poet and prophet, both mystical and yet very much planted in our world. This book is a radical look at belonging, and it will change all of us who are looking for ways to expand our tables.”
D. L. Mayfield
— author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith
“Nikondeha effortlessly interweaves her lived experiences of adoption with provocative biblical stories and a daring theological imagination. So good!”
Drew G. I. Hart
— author of Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism
“As an orphan, daughter, and adoptive mother, Kelley brings a depth of experience and clarity of pen to this work of lived theology. If you’re looking to adopt a holistic theology of orphan care, grab this book.”
Seth Haines
— author of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith
“Through the metaphor of adoption, Kelley Nikondeha calls us to a vision of family that is generous, inclusive, and always ready to add another chair. This is the vision of the family of God I long for.”
Idelette McVicker
— founder and editor-in-chief of
“I am so thankful for this work from the brilliant mind of Kelley Nikondeha. Theologically rich yet entirely accessible, her Adopted will surely become a favorite among church leaders and laypeople alike. It’s easily one of my favorite books of the year.”
Nish Weiseth
— author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World