In just a little over 20 years of professional life, I have worked in a variety of roles and environments: US Navy Hospital Corpsman, Administrator, Paralegal, Division Petty Officer-In-Charge, Training Program Supervisor, Curriculum Developer, Wife, Stay-at-Home Mom, Homeschool Teacher, Women’s Bible Study Leader, Book keeper, Writer, and Missionary. I don’t share that out of pride or to garner applause.
Rather, I struggle as I look at that list noticing that in each and every one of those roles EXCEPT missionary, I have been accepted by my peers, coworkers, and, let’s just be frank, the men around me, as a hard working, driven, and an equal contributor to the work. It upsets me greatly to know that by and large, I am not viewed as an equal, am under-utilized, and not even respected enough to even be considered for a job where I have actual skill and experience.
I wrote a paper* a couple of years ago looking at the roles of missionary women as seen from the both the biblical and historical perspectives. I further conducted my own informal research project from among my own women missionary coworkers. The historical examples [shown], with the exception of Lottie Moon, were sent out at a time when women were not even appointed separately to missionary service by sending organizations. The husband was the single employee of the organization and appointed as such. Yet, they valiantly shared the gospel through the variety of roles and their work was instrumental in long-term strategic engagement.
Though the paradigm has shifted slightly and I was appointed as part of a “missionary unit”, paradoxically, I am still not viewed as a completely independent employee. (Just take a look at my nonexistent W2 or my Social Security benefits…) More than ever, I feel misunderstood and outright ignored many days by the men in my own organization. How easy it was to be labeled a “trouble-maker” rather than invited to the round-table discussions on strategy development or training. Places I actually have experience, gifting, and skill. I can’t remember one time where I have been given an “equal voice in missionary affairs” as Diana Lynn Severance refers to it.
But there are voices out there now, that are starting to create small waves of change. Voices like Carolyn McCulley and Kristal Wilson who are speaking out specifically in some of my own denominational circles on the importance and value of women at work. Or take the creation of the Society for Women in Scholarship at my own university. A place for women to not just feel heard but become equal contributors. As a participant in this year’s southeast regional Evangelical Missions Society meeting, I was thrilled to find out several other presenters were women and in fact a couple of their papers discussed the “missing female voice” in the theological arena.
Speaking for myself and other missionary women, our organizations often confuse women with their designated and stagnant “missionary” roles. And though we have women gifted in leading, administration, strategy, etc, we don’t use them. Leadership micromanages families so much so that over and over I have heard from women who are perplexed, frustrated, angry, and hurt about their inability to choose their own role. This greatly affects their ability to engage community and share truth!
I have spent most of my years on the field buried under the weight of neglect. I’m not a hard-core feminist looking to overturn biblical mandates or create a new anti-scriptural paradigm. I am simply a woman that would love to be valued and respected for the gifts and talents bestowed on me by Christ. More than that, I just want to be a part.
History has often judged some of the determined missionary women who have gone before us as domineering, lacking submissiveness, and forceful in their desire to work and care for their given ministries. They have been misunderstood, under-represented, and redefined from a man’s perspective as less than normal women who do not conform to the natural paradigm. Yet, God used these women in their failings, in their illnesses, in their strong voice, and convictions.
And upon their death, when they met their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ face to face, they were held accountable for how they used the gifts, talents, and skills in their seasons of life. When the men proceeded to damn their work or effectiveness, Jesus presented them with jewels for their ingenuity and steadfastness, the meals they served, the countless hours read to children from His word, the land they tilled, the miles they crossed on foot, the budgets they balanced, their leadership and administrative abilities, the precious children they cared for and buried, their language skills and their lack of language skills, their persistence in sharing the gospel, and their toil and hard work, all in His name.
*The full paper I wrote on women’s roles can be read here.