Courage — resolve — perseverance — strength of character. That’s grit! Come and run with me through history. Promise you, it is exciting to see what Christian women have been up to through the centuries. And you might be inspired too ...
A cursory look at the Bible shows that women have shone in diverse and often prominent roles, from the Old Testament right through to the New Testament. Let's start at the beginning: Eve ate the apple ... ok, lets move on. There is Moses’ sister Miriam, a worship leader and prophetess. Judge Deborah excels as a prophet and military leader. Naomi mentors Ruth, who becomes part of Jesus’ lineage. And then there is Esther, the Queen. The Samaritan woman at the well becomes an evangelist. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, and Jesus promises that “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matt 26:13, NIV). Lydia and Phoebe are house church leaders. Priscilla (with husband Aquila) join Paul as missionary partners. Grandmother Lois, and her daughter Eunice, disciple Timothy.
The list goes on …
By the fourth century a woman named Paula helped the church father, Jerome,to establish monasteries, and became an abbess for all the women’s monasteries of that time. She also initiated, and helped Jerome, to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.
Susanna Wesley lived during the late 1600s. She had nineteen children —yes, nineteen! Only ten survived, and one of them was a cripple. She diligently home schooled and discipled them, and managed the household on her own. Her relationship with God was the most important part of her life, but she struggled to find a place to spend time with God. So, she told her children that when they saw her with her apron over her head, she was talking to God, and they should not disturb her. I need an apron like that!
Two of her sons, John and Charles Wesley, became famous and left an amazing legacy. John Wesley preached to nearly a million people in his day. He brought revival everywhere he travelled.His brother Charles wrote over 9000 hymns, many of which we still sing today. If you think your life doesn’t have that much impact, look again at her life —‘only’ raising and discipling her children led to the development of two remarkable men who helped change church history for ever.
Rebecca Protten was born a slave on the island of St Thomas, but was freed when she was a teenager. When Moravian missionaries came to the island to bring the Gospel to the slaves, she joined the movement, and became one of the leaders of the ministry on St Thomas. She later left with some of the Moravian missionaries who returned to Germany. There she married Christian Protten. In 1763, they moved to Christiansborg (present day Ghana), where they spent the rest of their lives teaching African children. Was that a big deal? You bet it was — in 2015 the literacy rate in Ghana was over 70%.
During the nineteenth century Hudson Taylor established the China Inland Mission with a radical policy. He sent small teams of unmarried women into the China interior on their own! These women became known as ‘Bible women’ and had a profound impact on the growth of the church, especially amongst women in China and Korea. Most of these amazing women remain unknown today, even though they had a huge impact on the growth of the church.
But, we know of one ‘Bible woman’, Dora Yu,who became one of the first female medical missionaries to do work in China and Korea. Most Christians usually recognize the name of Watchman Nee, but how many of us know that it was Dora Yu’s preaching that led Nee to Christ? He became a prominent church leader and teacher in China, published many books and trained bible students and church workers. He spent the last twenty years of his life in prison — and died there — after he was persecuted for his faith.
And the list goes on …
What about Lilias Trotter? She started volunteering at Dwight Moody’s London campaign meetings while in her twenties. Despite suffering from poor health her entire life, she felt that God had called her to North Africa. A few years later she and two other women went to Algiers as missionaries. The group grew to seven workers, and became known as the‘Algiers Mission Band’. Trotter became the leader of this group, and within only a few years they grew to thirty full-time missionaries.
Have you ever heard of Henrietta Mears who lived during the twentieth century? This woman was amazing! She had a profound impact on evangelical Christianity. She was one of the founders of the National Sunday School Association in the USA, and influenced many prominent people like Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, and Billy Graham. Literally hundreds of men and women went into full-time Christian ministry after being students of her Sunday School program.
I bet you don’t know who Edmonia Moon was! She went to North China in 1872, and was the first single female Baptist missionary to China. But it was her older sister, Lottie Moon, who followed her a year later, who became well-known. Lottie spent nearly forty years in China as a teacher and evangelist. After she basically starved to death, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention instituted the Lottie Moon Christmas Fund, laying the foundation for solid financial support for Southern Baptist missionaries from America.
The list goes on ...
Then there was Bola Odeleke from Nigeria, the first female African bishop.
Evelyn Harthcock who went with her husband to the mission field at age sixty-five. They served in six countries over a period of thirty years. While they were living in Cambodia, she baked birthday cakes for the Buddhist monks, and they loved her so much that they allowed her to hug them — a big taboo for women to touch monks! Many monks became followers of Jesus because of her love for Jesus, and for them. She lived out her years ministering, even while suffering from Alzheimers, until she died in Thailand at the age of ninety-four.
It is very obvious that since the early church, women have beenvery active in ministry and missions.Yet this fact is not widely known, and not widely documented. Most of these courageous women remained unnamed and unknown. SJ Escobar describes this phenomenon as “the strange loss of memory about the massive involvement of women in missions” (1996:18).
Lastly, I want to inspire you with a quote from Margaret Kraft.
“Women, stirred by the task that lies ahead, can mobilize, devoting their skills, their accessibility, their knowledge, their tenderness, their intuitiveness, their own distinctive fervour to the work. The pioneer spirit, full of dedication and faithfulness, which women throughout history have shown will set the standard.”
Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (NIV).
What is keeping you from running the race?
Awanohara ML 2011. Seven extraordinary women travellers with a passion to save souls.
Cunningham L and Hamilton DJ 2006. Why not women? A fresh look at Scripture on women in missions, ministry, and leadership. Edmonds, WA: YWAM Publishing.
Escobar SJ 1996. Mission studies past, present and future. Missiology 24(1):3-29.
Fanning D 2009. Brief history of methods and trends of missions. Trends and issues in missions. Paper 1.
Grenz SJ and Kjesbo DM 1995. Women in the church: a biblical theology of women in ministry. Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic.
Kraft M and Crossman M 1999. Women in mission. Mission Frontiers Jan-Mar.
Pierson P 2009. A history of transformation. In RD Winter and SC Hawthorne (eds.), Perspectives on the world Christian movement: a reader(4thed.), 279-285. Pasadena CA: William Carey Library.