by Carroll Ferguson Hunt
Missions history bulges with womanly doers, some of whom gained great notoriety. Life magazine’s special bicentennial issue, “Remarkable American Women, 1776-1976,” includes Lottie Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary who went to China in 1873.
Missions history bulges with womanly doers, some of whom gained great notoriety. Life magazine’s special bicentennial issue, "Remarkable American Women, 1776-1976," includes Lottie Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary who went to China in 1873. There she worked at educating Chinese women until 1911 when famine struck. Lottie Moon gave away her rations and died of starvation, earning a place among the magazine’s widely disparate collection of remarkable women.
Lottie does not stand alone, for before her and following after are hundreds of women who may not make Life magazine, but whose ministries are equally useful in drawing people to God. Teachers, doctors and nurses, children’s workers, secretaries. These occupations spring to mind when one thinks of lady missionaries.
But women pioneer as well in church-planting and evangelism, often in remote and difficult areas, there influencing masses of people with the concepts of Christianity. Women wade into foreign cultures crusading against neglect and wrong-doing, putting feet to the precepts Jesus taught. The woman missionary often performs what is considered a man’s ministry in sending countries.
This was true from the beginning of Protestant missions in Korea and so the Korean Bible woman, intrepid disciple of her missionary mentor, pastors the remote congregations to which a man cannot be persuaded to go. Looking at it in the best possible light, he probably could not go because his family will not be sustained economically nor his children educated. But the Korean Bible woman pulls her hair back into a knot, shortens her flowing traditional dress to a length suitable for mountain climbing, gives up all chance of marriage, and carves out and shepherds a group of believers. This she learned from the foreign ladies who helped introduce Christianity into Asia.
But what is the purpose in repeating all of this? The fact that women missionaries evangelize, plant churches, teach, practice medicine, found and administer institutions is known by everyone who pays much attention to the Christian world mission. It is part of the warp and woof of missions and not considered noteworthy
BY-PASSED AS EXECUTIVES
The purpose is this: although women missionaries have been at the front edge of what has happened in missions for more than 150 years, they are regularly by-passed for executive opportunities and not expected to participate in the decision-making process, even though it controls their lives and ministries. Men assume exclusive leadership for a task force whose majority is feminine.
That women are an integral part of missions is obvious. That they are often asked to assume a man’s role both in their homes during a husband’s protracted absence, and in ministry (advising, teaching, building, and fund-raising) is well known. But the maximizing of their abilities and the strength of their contribution is an issue overdue for consideration. The following simple suggestions could revolutionize relationships within mission groups, if given a chance.
1. Acknowledge women’s contribution to world missions. Give the unsung heroines their due. The problems ladies create are publicized and dramatized in sermon and study seminars out of proportion, I believe, to the equally disruptive and at times even more serious difficulties introduced by men. So how about emphasizing the good at least in the same proportion to the problematic?
Mission board executives could take the initiative here. Include women in the dissemination of information given out from headquarters. Let them in on what is going on. Make them aware you know it matters to them as well as to the men. An individual’s sense of personhood is remarkably strengthened by being treated like one. Along the same lines, letters of commendation or guidance that seem so natural to send to the men on the job overseas would be deeply appreciated by the women who work just as hard, but regularly get ignored. Try asking a woman’s opinion on something other than Christian education, or the best time for VIP receptions. Her insights apply equally well on some of the knottier problems of evangelism methods and church-mission relationships.
When furlough time comes for the average male missionary, he is given report and interview time with his leaders at headquarters. A woman deserves equal time. Listen to her with equal attention. Don’t cut yourself off from her intelligence and experience. In return, give her the same careful counsel and commendation you would offer her masculine counterpart.
2. Let mission board leaders study women’s potential. The gentlemen who gather to deal with issues and pool information relevant to world evangelization are ignoring one of the richest and most readily available resources, the woman missionary. Give some seminar time by male leadership to that subject. Don’t, however, consign this to a group of ladies asking them to report back to you. Allow yourself some opportunity to learn what women have done in the past in Christian world missions. Learn about their strengths and problems. Find out what draws them into missionary service. Are their abilities maximized? Their weaknesses anticipated?
Check your personnel files for high IQ’s and natural leadership qualities and plan how to develop and encourage these God-given abilities. When one of your lady missionaries talks, listen to her. Don’t let your eyes glaze over, pat her shoulder, say, "That’s nice" and look at your watch. Her insights may impress you and will surely improve with use, just as a man’s do. Wasting a woman’s intelligence is bad stewardship.
3. Include women in decision-making. This is a hard one. Mission executives seldom think to include women in the decision-making process, and it might be said we have gotten along fairly well without it, even when decisions controlling women’s lives and work are made without consultation with them. Problems inherent in this sort of action should be obvious. And there are times when field committees and headquarters leaders take action that could be improved upon with some additional insights from the feminine block of the missionary team.
Let mission executives be aware of special women with administrative and leadership gifts. Some women do not see themselves in such a role, but when one appears, don’t fear her or ignore her in hopes she will go away. Make her your ally. Encourage the development of her skills. If she is acknowledged and understood, her contribution to decision-making can be extremely valuable. Look for women who would be assets to your boards or in executive positions. You might have to do a little lobbying on their behalf to get them nominated after you find them, because, as we have seen, women are not used now as mission executives and thus when positions open, no one thinks of putting a woman in the slot.
These are times of increased sensitivity regarding human resources. The discovery of the missionary woman’s potential for leadership and her inclusion in mission decision-making could ‘improve effectiveness and reduce careless waste in ways we have yet to realize. I suggest it is worth a try.
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