by Elizabeth C. Jackson
Considerable progress has been made, but problems due to a clash of the sexes remain to be solved.
The following statement was printed in the New York Times, "The Census Bureau says there will be 6.35 billion people in the world by the year 2000 if assessments and mortality trends hold up … about 90 percent of the growth would occur in poorer countries inhabited mainly by black, brown and yellow skinned people."1 In view of this projected population increase the mandate of Christ to the church requires a greater spirit of urgency than ever before. if, indeed, the population of the world is to be doubled in the next twenty years, the major mission of the church, the proclamation of God’s great redemptive plan, must gain new impetus through the recruitment of committed men and women who reflect the true spirit of servanthood as revealed in the life and ministry of Christ. Further, when we hear that among the four billion people in the world today there are three billion who do not know Christ as their Savior, we realize the immensity of the task facing the church.
This is an hour to combine our individual gifts in a united advance rather than to divide our energies in debilitating arguments; an hour to capitalize on our mutual strengths rather than to suffer inertia brought about by quibling; an hour to complement and support one another rather than to strive for independent identity and thus dissipate our united force through endless discussions over issues such as "equality." We are all the children of God – male and female – through faith in Christ Jesus and the call of God rests equally upon each one of us, as does also the awesome responsibility to obediently and effectively answer that call by sharing the gospel with the billions of people who do not know Christ.
The role of women in mission is to sacrifically serve as colleagues and coworkers in the evangelization of the world. This is not to say that we can blindly ignore the current emphasis placed on the exciting new opportunities afforded to women in ministry, nor does it say that all of these new roles are necessarily appropriate and acceptable. Actually, many of these functions are not new at all; the attention given today simply indicates the growing recognition of the gifts, abilities and competencies of one of the greatest task forces in the world: women.
Many of the present conflicts are attributable to clashes of personalities and unfortunate confrontations, rather than to the traditional "battle of the sexes. " Christian men and women stand on common ground with a common mandate, common objectives and common goals. The various avenues of implementation are interesting, innovative and inspiring; these goals can be reached as men and women coordinate their efforts with a fresh realization of what can be accomplished as we work together supporting, reinforcing, encouraging, protecting and defending one another.
Our high calling is to be first a servant of Christ, then a servant to one another, and finally, through mutual dependency, effectively serving the "lost billions. " Then let us not be unduly preoccupied with pedantic considerations, such as the use of the generic term "man" in the context of "mankind," for as cogently expressed by Jacques Barzun of Columbia University, "This is a passing fad which will soon be extinct. ‘Mankind’ will always be referred to as ‘man.’"
However, in order to establish a firm, harmonious, productive united work force, it can be helpful and appropriately constructive to give special consideration to the role of women in mission. The overall thrust of this article represents the broad, general viewpoint of many missionary women who have been personally interviewed or polled by correspondence, as well as information gained from lectures, panels, seminars and printed material. There have been, of course, a few specific exceptions to the position taken by most of the women who participated. It is to be recognized that missionary mothers enjoy a very privileged responsibility in the care and rearing of their children and thus represent a special category that is not specifically treated in as much detail as the category of women, both married and single, who because of more freedom of time and mobility are able to engage in a wider ministry.
WOMEN HAVE "COME A LONG WAY" IN MISSION
In writing on "Women in World Mission" Dr. R. Pierce Beaver states that "women have not received sufficient recognition of their important place in the enterprise."2 As early as 1800 Miss Mary Webb, a Bostonian invalid confined to her wheelchair, organized women in the financial and prayer support of missions, conducting "a thousand activities" from her wheelchair. It appears that the earliest American missionaries were men whose faithful wives accompanied them or followed after; whose responsibility in most cases was to encourage their men in the good work.
However, courageous, committed women desired a more active role in missions and thus came about the founding of The Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes in 1800. Dr. Beaver writes: "By the 1820’s women were generally conceded the right to organize for fund raising, for prayer, and for educating themselves and their children with respect to mission." 3 It was not until 1826 that the first unmarried woman, Miss Cynthia Farr, was appointed by an American agency to serve overseas. Her appointment as an "assistant missionary" came in response to an urgent request for a single woman made by the Marathi Mission of India.
Today, the church clearly acknowledges the fact that thousands of women, both married and single, have effectively served overseas and given their lives in faithful love to Christ and the building of his church. Fortunately, women missionaries in general are no longer considered to be "assistants" but are regarded as fulltime workers. The recently-conducted interviews and polls seem to indicate that women workers are not aggressively demanding the right to take over positions of dominant top leadership, but they are asking to be given appropriate recognition for the work they are accomplishing; to be treated with respect coworkers; to be regarded as human beings capable of making intelligent decisions, sound judgments, and contributing important insights to the overall program of foreign missions. The wide variety of roles filled by women in mission today reflects the versatility, adaptability and competency with which they serve.
CONTEMPORARY ROLES OF WOMEN IN MISSION
Considerable progress has been made in recent years in the proliferation of roles made available to women in mission. Although a few tasks remain predominantly carried on by men, women are now able to explore more avenues for the expression of their gifts and abilities than formerly. Many of the frustrating, persistent barriers are due to cultural factors rather than male dominance. For instance, in Islamic countries female missionaries often are limited to a ministry among females, especially when working outside of large urban centers. Physical strength sometimes presents a natural obstacle, although many women have proven their mettle in rugged, demanding circumstances with amazing physical endurance. Travel and overnight housing can present difficult problems to a single woman who is serving in a male-oriented culture.
Natural limitations such as these must not be confused with restrictions imposed by a mission agency. In general, restrictions on women’s roles are being lifted. The wide range of contemporary roles available to women may be seen by a quick glance at a representative grouping which is far from being all-inclusive. It is not possible to cover the broad scope of women’s activities in one brief presentation. Some of the major roles will be considered.
Education. Women have traditionally been accepted in the general field of education and have contributed immeasurably to the training and development of Christians around the world. Women are involved in many different kinds of educational work, such as: schools for national children and orphanages; Bible schools for national workers; schools for missionaries’ children; schools for women; government secondary schools; universities; short term schools; home bible classes; TEE; correspondence courses; teacher training; medical schools.
Health Services. These services are many and varied, sophisticated and primitive, and are performed by highly trained personnel as well as by isolated missionaries located in remote areas who pore over medical books by kerosene lamplight: physicians, dentists, eye doctors, neurologists, gynecologists, nurses, midwives, medics, clinicians, researchers, lab technicians. In this field the list seems endless. Women have founded hospitals, leprosariums, clinics, mobile health centers, and first aid stations.
Women’s Work. Only women can reach women in some countries and this ministry, one of the oldest in which women have engaged, is still flourishing. Bible women, in their own unique way, have engaged in church planting. Housemothers in Missionaries’ Children Schools. Many missionaries are dependent on dedicated women to serve as spiritual mothers to their children, as well as providing an example of appropriate Christian behavior. Receiving Home Hostesses. These are true "Martha’s" who provide warm hospitality and perform many tasks for missionaries and guests. Clerical Workers. Secretaries, bookkeepers and office workers are the unsung heroines of mission work. Their work is indispensable to the program.
Linguistics. Witness the Wycliffe women! Many boards use women in this work. Literacy Work and Translation Work. Journalism. An Australian journalist, Mary Fisher, has been studying Cantonese in Hong Kong and has been accepted for study in the Institute of Linguistics in Peking. She is only the second missionary to be selected for this program, the first being a Jesuit priest. Publication Work.
Radio Ministries. Women serve as script writers, announcers, program planners, station managers and short wave radio operators. The FEBC operation in Japan is directed by a woman.
Music Ministries. Some women are especially gifted in teaching music, organizing musical groups, conducting and composing. Ethnomusicology, a relatively new field in which the music pattern of the distinct culture is preserved, is being developed by women in some fields. Recordings: What missionary can forget Gospel Recordings, founded by a woman?
Counseling. New demands are being made for the services of Christian psychologists, psychiatrists and lay-counselors.
Relief Work. The management of relief projects, including the handling of funds as well as distribution programs, is now being successfully carried on by women in some countries.
Christian Education.As larger churches are developing in urban centers, missionary women are assisting in setting up programs and training workers to run them.
Administrative Assignments. Occasionally women receive appointments to fill administrative positions, acting as a field representative, serving on the field executive committees and in other administrative roles.
Even this minimal inventory reveals the wide range of ministries in which women are serving. Interestingly, one of the first MAF pilots was a woman, Betty Green. She represents quite a leap from the wheelchair of Mary Webb in 1800.
CURRENT ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO WOMEN IN MISSION
As previously stated, frequently problems are attributed to a poor working relationship between a man and a woman, when actually they grow out of a clash of personalities. The same kinds of problems develop between people of the same sex. However, in the opinion of women, there are some problems that seem directly related to a clash of the sexes.
Leadership. When a woman is asked to chair a committee on which men are serving, occasionally it seems as though her leadership is resented by the men working with her, thus creating tension and limiting the productivity of the group.
Program Planning. At times it seems as though the ideas presented by women are either ignored, or belittled. Many women would like to be involved at the program planning level, but are reticent in voicing this desire for fear that they might be considered "pushy."
Policy Making. Women, in general, are perceptive, practical, realistic and innovative. They like to see things work. They like to make things move. Often they are able to see down-to-earth solutions to confusing problems. However, they feel reluctant to express their ideas, lest they be considered too aggressive.
Mission Finances. Many a missionary family would be on the rocks financially were it not for "the little woman" who miraculously manages the budget. Yet seldom do women missionaries serve on committees that make financial decisions.
Allocation of Missionaries. Women are creatures of intuition and sensitivity who usually respond quickly to interpersonal relationships. They seem to "sense" the possibilities or problems developing between certain personalities. They would enjoy an increased opportunity to make suggestions as to station assignments.
Spiritual Ministry at Mission Conferences. Frequently women are asked to give station reports, but rarely are they given the privilege of sharing God’s Word with the conference in a message or even a morning devotional. Women, from their quiet, personal walk with God, have much to share that would be profitable to all. Some women would appreciate such an opportunity.
Work Assignments. Most women would like an opportunity to express their feelings about work assignments. With many it is a matter of a deep conviction about being involved in a certain kind of ministry. They would like to feel that they can have some influence in making decisions that affect them. This is especially true of single women, many of whom are specialists in a specific occupation or profession.
Responsibility in Ministry. Many women have had extensive training in a wide variety of skills and would appreciate having special consideration given to their abilities. These would enjoy a position of increased responsibility, one that would be demanding, challenging and fulfilling. There is, at present, a great reservoir of untapped human potential in this category.
Advanced Training for Ministry. Many single women would greatly appreciate the opportunity to obtain further training/ education during their term on the field by attending special seminars and leadership conferences, such as are frequently sponsored by mission agencies. Advanced study opportunities during furlough time could be utilized to great advantage for both the individual and the mission being served
Communication Channels. Women need to know that their voice will be heard, their suggestions received and their ideas respected. They need the assurance of a two-way communication channel. They need to be encouraged to voice their views and share their insights with the same freedom as their male colleagues.
Top Leadership Roles. Not many women, if any, aspire to become a field chairman, field director or to fill the top position of leadership. However, many women would enjoy serving in leadership roles as directors of special projects, managers of special departments such as publications, and so on. many women are extremely competent in these areas traditionally filled by men.
Opportunities such as these would give a sense of worth an personal fulfillment, especially to single women, and their valuable services could greatly enhance the total program of mission. Women like opportunities to function according to their abilities, rather than merely filling the traditional women’s roles.
CONTINUING EXPECTATIONS AND ASPIRATIONS OF WOMEN IN MISSION
A "Caring" ministry. Western women are specially equipped "to care" because of a social system wherein the "virtuous woman" is still revered to some extent. Most women in mission regard the role of servant as a special privilege which calls forth warmth, tenderness, faithfulness, and sacrifice. They find fulfillment in "serving. " To many it is an aspiration based on the life and ministry of Christ.
The Cross of Inequality. Women expect to find many inequalities, even injustices, especially in countries where women are not considered equal with men. For the most part, they are prepared to bear this cross, to work’ realistically with the situation at hand. They do, however, expect to be able to earn the respect and appreciation of male colleagues. They expect to be treated with appropriate dignity which is commensurate with their individual person and positive contributions. Their stance in crossbearing is not that of martyrdom, but rather that of high privilege. They are willing to take these things for the sake of him who came "to serve and give his life a ransom for many. "
The Expectation of Explanation. Most women prefer to know exactly what is expected of them in terms of a job description as well as their personal life. Often they are not adequately informed and stumble into unfortunate situations unawares, thus possibly invoking a mild rebuke which is both embarrassing and humiliating. Women expect to be able to "take it," whatever "it" may turn out to be.
The Expectation of Appreciation. Women want to be appreciated, not on the basis of their sex, but rather on the basis of their personhood, their abilities, and their productive contribution to the total program. They would like to be appropriately recognized for a job well done, and sincerely respected for their conscientious services.
The Aspiration of lndependence. As a means of healthy survival single women must develop an independent spirit. Often they find greater freedom to express their independence and resourcefulness on the mission field than in the homeland where they are more restrained and boxed in by American cultural patterns. A single woman must develop the ability to "make it on her own," thus becoming self-confident and self-reliant and this is usually evidenced in a healthy self-respect. Occasionally the temptation arises to become overprotective of their independence when it seems to be threatened. Kindness, consideration and sensitive understanding on the part of coworkers will help them handle this problem.
THE EXPECTATIONS OF NEW ROLES
New women recruits are excited about the possibility of developing new ideas, new methods, new forms of presentation; as well as being eager to competently fill new positions of leadership. They are highly trained, keenly intelligent and articulate in their total commitment to Christ. They have already received considerable recognition and respect for their scholarship and spirit of involvement. Many have advanced degrees from graduate schools, seminaries, medical schools, and highly specialized training programs. Some are highly trained in such fields as journalism, photography, counseling, social work, business management, public relations and other disciplines. They are anxious to use their gifts and abilities in the service of Christ on the mission field. They aspire, above all, to be faithful servants of him who has called them. They recognize their lack of experience and are anxious to be taught, but expect to be accepted and respected for what they are. What plans are being made to accommodate and integrate these young women into the overall program of foreign missions?
As we view the future in faith, surveying the vast population projection with the full realization of Christ’s mandate to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation," let us combine our resources, consolidate our programs, and cooperate in a strengthened, vigorous effort to evangelize the billions of people in the world who do not know Christ as their personal Savior.
1. "Population Explosion" New York Times, Feb. 2 2, 1979, p. 1.
2. R. Pierce Beaver, All Loves Excelling, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968, p. 7
3. Ibid., p. 78.
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