Women Missing in Church History: Filling Out the Historical Record – Week 11

This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.

Based on Women in the Mission of the Church, by Dzubinski/Stasson
(Used by permission: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021)

A Taste of Chapter 9: Faith Missionaries, Evangelists and Church Founders
By Rebecca Hopkins www.rebeccahopkins.org

Dora Yu wasn’t just the first modern female Chinese cross-cultural missionary. She was the first Chinese missionary. She was also a medical doctor in Korea, a founder of a girls’ school, a founder of the first Chinese faith mission and one of the preachers whose teaching led to the conversion of famous Chinese evangelism Watchman Nee.[1]

She’s also a good example of how women all over the world have found ways to work outside of male-led denominations to serve as missionaries in modern times, wrote professor Leanne Dzubinski and historian Anneke Stasson in their new book, “Women in the Mission of the Church.”

While 100 years ago denominations were closing female-led missionary societies from the west, faith mission organizations were being founded and were recruiting women. Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission and the Christian Missionary Alliance’s predecessor Evangelical Missionary Alliance were two such organizations. Also, with this shift came another. Women weren’t just sent to reach women. They were initially sent as evangelists and ministers to larger communities. [2]

They still faced obstacles to truly serving as full-fledged and equal missionaries. Later, some organizations relegated women to so-called “women’s work”—sometimes caring for children of their male colleagues, for example. [3]

Meanwhile, Chinese women like Yu were leading revivals in their country that influenced a generation of male evangelists…who soon took over the movement. Women continued to find ways to influence these men, but usually within gender constraints. [4]

In Africa, a revival led to egalitarian culture for men and women. Then women were active—and the biggest influencer—in the new African Initiated Churches movement, which had a sensitivity to women’s issues like barrenness and witchcraft in ways that western missionary-founded churches didn’t understand. [5]

“AICs—particularly those founded by women—were known for welcoming barren women, praying over them and healing them,” the authors wrote. “Women flocked to these new churches and healing centers because, whether healed or not, they found their burden lightened by the presence of the church community.”[6]

However, a similar pattern continues with women-initiated ministries around the world. Men often took over the leadership for the work. The two-person career model for western missionary women—in which one salary goes to a husband while his wife’s efforts are also needed to fulfill all the ministry responsibilities—has caused the women’s works to go unseen. [7]

“The dissonance between women’s actual experiences of working as missionaries and organizational messages that overlooked, ignored or subsumed their work under a male husband or colleague created stress, yet the women, like women in previous times, remained committed to mission work and to their organization,” the authors wrote. [8]

And without these women, modern missions wouldn’t exist, the authors wrote.[9]

“Despite these obstacles, Christian women around the globe continue to experience a call from God to serve in the mission of the church,” they wrote. [10]

As we end this summary series on the many women who contributed significantly to the historical mission of God’s church, we hope you will read the whole book to see much more about these amazing women!  Women in the Mission of the Church, by Dzubinski and Stasson.

[1] Leanne Dzubinski, Anneke Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church, Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 185-188.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 186.

[4] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 187-190.

[5] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 191-196.

[6] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 193.

[7] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 197-199.

[8] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 199.

[9] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 200.

[10] Dzubinski, Stasson, “Women in the Mission of the Church,” 201.

This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track.  Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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