A crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord
By Marie-Angèle Balandele
Women have a role in God’s mission. In fact, women have comprised two thirds of the worldwide missionary force, shining like strings of gems threaded through two centuries of modern missions history. As such, they have been called the “guardians of the great commission”, and the “backbone of the missionary effort.” The Dictionary of African Christian Biography (dacb.org) shares some of their stories.
It takes more than one gem to adorn a crown and more than one pearl to make a necklace. Community is key not only about surviving, but thriving, in mission.
First, think about who will care for you!
Before a woman follows God’s leading into mission, choosing the right agency is important. Every organisation does not offer adequate training and good care for missionaries. So, do your research. Does the agency help their most valuable resource – people – thrive amidst challenges? The goal is not to avoid risks, but to enable a missionary to walk through trials resiliently. Choose well, as your agency will be one of your new communities!
Bond with your new communities
Ghanaian missionary Grace Setor has served with SIM in Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi and now the USA. Life in Malawi was very different from Ghana. But her diverse mission team was a new family, helping the Setors shop for food, choose a school, find a car and understand a new medical system, especially since their child had asthma.
After a break-in attempt on the Setor’s home, the SIM team made it more secure. “In Malawi we were all there for each other,” said Grace. That is the kind of mission group to look for!
Grace was involved in church work and recruited for Sunday schools. Her advice to any female missionary is: develop skills to contribute to your team, listen well to everyone, and spend time with local women. Be available, break the ice and discipline yourself to really hear them.
“Women want to talk and eagerly seize the opportunity to meet in groups. Learn their language and allow them to share about daily problems. If you gain their trust, they will consult you as ‘Mama Pastor’ and be open to your teaching.” Grace came to a meeting with a basketful of lemons to teach women how to use them as a personal cleanser and deodorant when they couldn’t buy those items.
Grace counsels to hold to John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” “Make this your goal,” says Grace, “It will allow you to become the type of missionary through whom Jesus can love others.”
Keys to acceptance in new communities
“Cultural challenges that a female missionary will meet depend not only on the destination she goes to (for example, Canada, Vietnam or Morocco offer vastly differing cultures), but also on the nature of the home area she is from,” says Brigitte Marcellin, anthropologist and retired SIM missionary from Senegal and France who served in Niger and Quebec. Know where you come from and how it has shaped you. Learn where you are going and the differences you can expect.
“In most countries,” says Brigitte, “a foreigner is not expected to adopt all the customs. What is to be avoided is outward ‘pretense’ without inwardly valuing the people. Of course, local people will be happy to see you wear their clothes sometimes — but what really matters is whether you love them.” Brigitte’s advice is, “Be yourself with love; do not conform externally while lacking love.”
Married women’s communities
If you are married, consider the basis of your call. Did you receive it directly from the Lord or through following your husband? Either way, be convinced that God is leading you both. Otherwise, when things become difficult, you may be tempted to blame your husband. If you both have assurance, then you can face challenges together, trusting God.
Build a strong marriage based on mutual respect, open communication and non-accusatory conflict resolution. Grace Setor’s son couldn’t bond with his relatives far away, but Grace’s good marriage became even better as she and her husband raised Isaac, shared ministry and faced trials together.
Learn the language well; it is key to understanding culture and making friends. Mother, even if you must leave small children in others’ care, diligently study the language! It will reward you. Then, model a Christian family through motherhood and ministry, explaining fluently how Jesus makes marriage and child-raising different.
Also, consider ministry outside the home, however small. It will give you visits to look forward to, purpose to carry you through trying days; and opportunities to listen, learn from and edify others.
Mutually supportive couples plan well. A missionary husband stayed home with their five children one evening a week so his wife could fellowship with other women. Other couples trade “babysitting.” One couple cares for both families’ children so the other couple can spend quality time together.
It takes more than one gem to adorn a crown and more than one pearl to make a necklace.
Single women’s communities
“A single woman needs to be qualified in a profession that will justify her presence and status in a foreign country, especially in cultures that consider that a woman should be married and protected,” says Brigitte Marcellin. To avoid embarrassment, learn the rules for relating to the opposite sex in your new culture.
Suzanne Kouassi, long-time SIM missionary, points out that while a single or divorced women can participate in most church ministries, roles of authority are often reserved for married women. A single woman, alternatively, has space in her home, schedule and heart for relationships with people of all ages. Scripture say, “more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband” (Is 54:1, Gal 4:27).
While community is often God’s way of taking care of us, Suzanne reminds us that “God is with us in our single state. He is our friend, the first one we turn to for help in every situation.”
God has created us to shine as gems for Him and He chooses to mount us in settings: marriage for some, but for all, our organisations, our church at home and on the field, our ministry communities. He polishes us through challenges and grows us through His body, the diadem He is perfecting, so that we can reflect him to those living and dying without Christ. Stay close to Christ; bond with communities; grow through challenges, thrive and shine!
For our male readers:
Pastor’s wife Jill Briscoe says to men, “The opportunities we have are yours to make, because women are not now in a position to make those choices… I have seen many men who are very prominent speak up for women. My husband wrote an article for Moody [publisher] on women’s gifts and how we must not bury our talents – as in the parable. He asked in the article, “What would happen if we buried somebody else’s talent?” And then he talked about how he did not want to stand before God and hear God say: “You buried your wife’s talent, or your daughter’s.” And so he began to see his responsibility as head of our home as making sure we were equal. You should have seen the letters he got from women thanking him for affirming them – for using his influence to encourage their gifting.”
Marie-Angèle Balandele is editor of AfriGO’s sister publication Allons-y ! She has been a missionary for 38 years with Mid-Africa Ministry and SIM.
1 Ruth Tucker, 1988; 2 Stan Guthrie, “A woman’s place in missions” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July 2000, p. 356; 3 “Women Ministering”, Christianity Today, April 8, 1996