by Dana L. Robert, editor
Women missionaries have represented the cutting edge of the Western Christian movement in non-Western societies.
Orbis Books, P.O. Box 308, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0308, 2002, 256 pages, $25.00.
—Reviewed by Marguerite G. Kraft, School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University, La Mirada, Calif.
Women missionaries have represented the cutting edge of the Western Christian movement in non-Western societies. Until recently scholars have failed to recognize their contribution and insights. Robert notes, "While missionary women have found personal liberation and spiritual inspiration from sharing the gospel across cultures, they have often found themselves struggling against gender limitations."
These contrasting ideas are reflected in the rich variety of essays in this reader.
In this volume, Robert has collected recent scholarly work on missionary women in the twentieth century. The authors represent diverse theological traditions and scholarly training, and include some non-Western and ethnic-minority women. The book is arranged chronologically in two sections: The Integration and Fragmentation of Women’s Missions, 1920-1945 and Evangelization, Liberation, and Globalization, 1945-2000. The essays deal with specific women’s work and the limitations and obstacles they faced.
Robert, with her wealth of scholarly research on women’s mission involvement, presents in the introduction a solid historical framework for the essays. The valuable contribution women made in the expansion of Christianity at the beginning of the twentieth century is characterized by unity, holism and the motto, “women’s work for women.” Women led the churches in missions and outnumbered missionary men by nearly two to one in the major mission fields. Women worked together in ecumenical projects on the home front and on the field they were involved in founding schools, hospitals, orphanages and in leadership training.
Some of the essays focus on the work and life of a variety of individual women missionaries. Others analyze the part women fill in specific movements, for example the holiness revivals and the founding of the Maryknoll Sisters devoted to foreign missions. Another shows how women missionaries in the absence of male leadership trained indigenous preachers and released them for leadership, though they were later replaced by male missionaries.
One very informative essay describes the effects on the Indian Church of financial problems in the States coupled with the loss of autonomy of an American women’s mission board. As the process of devolution where Americans step back and leadership is given to the Indians, the role of the American women missionaries and the Indian women is greatly changed.
A very insightful essay on the Indonesian setting shows clearly how preconceived ideas about gender equality cannot be used effectively for the church. Rather an “inside-out” approach is described and recommended with learning through listening as the guide.
Robert has presented a valuable book for understanding the male/female dynamics of mission work with women’s involvement in focus. Understanding women’s part and limitations more clearly will enable us to strategize more effectively for missions today.
Check these titles:
Bowie, Fiona and Deborah Kirkwood and Shirley Ardener, eds. 1993. Women and Missions: Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions. Providence, R.I.: Berg Publishers.
Robert, Dana L. 1997. American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press.
Yohn, Susan M. 1995. A Contest of Faiths: Missionary Women and Pluralism in the American Southwest. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
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