The Contribution of Women in Mission

The world-wide Moravian Unity is planning a Unity Mission Conference in November 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. The theme of the conference is :

The Moravian Unity in Mission: Giving heed to God’s call in the 21st Century.

I thought it a good idea to visit the contribution of women to mission. Instantly the mind reflects on the biblical examples of women who diligently responded to God’s call. There is Miriam, the sister of Moses, Deborah a judge chosen by God to rule, Huldah a prophet, Esther and many more unnamed women. In the New Testament we find that women travelled with Jesus helping and supporting the spread of the Gospel with their own means. A Samaritan Woman became a missionary after meeting Jesus at a well. The women were also the first to spread the news of Jesus’ resurrection.

In the early church many women were active in mission. Lydia responded to God’s word and opened her home for believers to meet. Priscilla was inspired by God and brought many people to faith.

During the first two centuries of Christianity women continued with missionary work and many of them were martyred – they were jailed, persecuted and condemned to death. Women in the Catholic tradition had to join a celibate religious order to fulfill their call to mission. They did excellent work among the sick, poor and marginalized people all over the world.

Unfortunately the Reformation brought about a change in the role of women in mission. The Reformers were of the opinion that a woman’s role was in the home supporting the husband. Women lost their opportunity to pursue the heed to God’s call in the organized and structured male-led church. Some women were attracted to serve God in mission work where there were not such restrictions and joined mission organizations where the focus was more on fulfilling the Great Commission.

As the Protestant mission progressed most women went to the mission fields as wives of missionaries. The male missionaries soon discovered that contact with women in non-western mission fields was impossible and were compelled to consider their wives as very capable missionary pioneers to reach out to women, girls and children with evangelistic work, bible translations, educational and health programmes. This is also very true of our very own Moravian sisters, the wives of Moravian missionaries.

An interesting missionary event took place in 1910-1911. It was the fifty-year Jubilee of the founding of separate women’s mission boards.  These mission boards were formed In the 1800’s when laywomen organized to form mission societies following the footsteps of Mary Magdalene and Tabitha the early biblical deaconesses. At this jubilee celebrations a collection was taken for interdenominational women’s colleges in Asia, the founding of the Women’s World Day of prayer took place and the founding of a Committee on Christian Literature for Women and Children in Mission fields.  Women were heeding God’s call to be of service in very profound and significant ways.

At the time of the Second World War women’s missionary movements were forced to amalgamate with the male-led denominational boards. This merger and the decline of women’s missionary movements surely led to a decline of missionary passion and enthusiasm.

Kraft (2000) mentions that “women’s mission theory was holistic, with emphasis on both evangelism and meeting human needs” Women in mission had a deep concern for the education, health, social, economic and religious needs of women and children.

 Women worked in slum areas where they reached out to immigrants, opened kindergartens and hospitals. They vehemently opposed racial discrimination and oppression of the less privileged. Their goal was to make the world a better place.

“Despite the limitations of colonialism and missionary paternalism, women in mission steadfastly worked to improve women’s lives through education and advocacy”  wrote Prof. Dana Robert in a 2014 New World Outlook magazine.

Many women continue to heed God’s call in a very difficult globalized world facing challenges of migration, refugees, economic meltdown, racism, violence, unemployment, poverty, etc.

The Unity Women’s Desk strives to support, affirm and encourage women in this noble task of being obedient to God’s call and purpose and in some way contribute to revive the role of women in mission.

As women we have to seriously rethink and revisit our missionary strategies in an ever transforming world. We must develop a fresh vibrancy and urgency to bring about justice, equality, renewed morality and Christian faithfulness that will empower women, the poor and the oppressed.

Let us fervently pray that the 2017 Unity Mission Conference will stimulate a new wave of missionary endeavours to a church that was once in the forefront of mission.

To God be the glory for He has and will continue to do great things!

Your sister in mission.

Angelene Swart

Selected Bibliography

Kraft  M 2000. “Women in Mission” Moreau AS ed. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. Grand Rapids,MI. Baker Books

Robert Dana. Women in Mission: a Protestant tradition. March-April 2014 edition: New World Outlook Magazine

Standing With Our Sisters–March Kick Off Event

“Standing with Our Sisters”

Southern Province Kicks-off Campaign for the Unity Women’s Desk

            As soon as the Christmas holidays were over, the Special Events Sub-committee of the Unity Women’s Desk (UWD) “Standing with Our Sisters” campaign met to begin working in earnest on a special kick-off event to announce the capital fund drive for the UWD.  We wanted it to coincide with the International Women’s Day Celebration being planned for Winston-Salem on March 8; however, we did not want to interfere with the Day of Prayer services which are held each Wednesday in Lent. The date, March 12, was finally decided upon to be the best day, and Fairview Moravian Church graciously agreed to host the event then.

            Under the direction of Sr. Cynthia Tesh, chair of the Special Events Sub-committee, small groups of women began making twelve tri-fold posters to tell the story of what the UWD does and where we do it.  Sr. Ann Radford, co-chair of the Home Moravian Albania Task Force, was asked to bring a wheel barrow full of the foods that are provided each month for residents of Bathore, Albania.  Somehow she was recruited to help with the posters as well.Sr. Elizabeth Geis Johnson of Salem Kitchen, a local gourmet catering and take-out business, using Br. Daniel Crews’ Around the World: Unity Cookbook,began experimenting with recipes found therein.  Brochures and invitations were designed to publicize the event in the Southern Province churches. A worship service was planned.  Sisters Carol and Sandra Gray were asked to provide special music for the day, along with Sr. Norma Nifong, accompaniest.   Sr. June Edwards was asked to compose a special song for the event. Sr. Laura Watson, of the Moravian Ministries Foundation of America, began assembling all relevant information that could be given to everyone who attended.

            All seemed to be going very well until the week before March 12.  A major snowstorm was forecast for our area with four-to-six inches predicted—a major snowstorm for our area! We waited and watched the news, hoping for the best but prepared to call off the event the day before it was to happen.  What to do in the midst of Lent?  No other Sundays were available to the area where the largest Moravian Easter Sunrise service takes place—band practices, days of prayer, special study groups, etc. were filling all the available Sundays for weeks to come.

            The Saturday before the event came with mild temperatures and unspecific forecasts.  We decided not to cancel as the snow was supposed to be over by daybreak and Fairview had a good snow-clearing crew. Were we ever glad for that decision!  It turned out to be a lovely day with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine and not a flake of snow.

            We had a good turn-out of very interested people who wanted to know more about the work the UWD is doing.  The posters were very informative and the food was excellent and plentiful—the best rice and beans ever, smoked salmon canapes (made with salmon brought from Alaska by Sr.HelenGulledge), samozas, watermelon and pineapple, Sisters’ Kisses, and coconut balls (which proved so popular that Sr. Johnson is considering adding them to her catering menu!).  There was also plenty of Salem Kitchen Tea, Salem Kitchen Cheese Straws, and Mrs. Hanes’ Cookies—all Southern Province favorites!  To help people better understand how difficult it is not to have running water, there was even an opportunity to see what it is like to have to carry five gallons of water in plastic milk jugs on a broomstick across one’s shoulders or in a plastic 5-gallon pail balanced on one’s head.

            The response to the program was overwhelming.  For some people it was the first time they had known exactly what the UWD does.  For others, it was an opportunity to see how far we’ve come in the six years since the UWD was started. Many were inspired to learn how many girls and women were being helped by the UWD.  Sr. Patty Garner gave a brief history of the UWD and a recounting of the women and girls we have helped. Perhaps the highlight of the day was Sr. Sallie Greenfield’s story of her mother going to Nicaragua as a young woman and how that had created a life-long desire to be a part of Moravian missions in her.  When Sallie thought that perhaps she was past the stage of life when it was important to continue to be involved, the mission of the UWD spoke to her and told her that this was important and that she needed to be a part of it (in fact she is a member of the Advisory Board of the UWD and is also the co-chair of the capital campaign). Dr. Phil McKinley, the other co-chair, was in-between medical mission trips to Haitiand Cuba so we had to video his appeal to the assembly.

            All in all the day was a great success.  People in the Southern Province are excited about the ways in which they can help and gifts both large and small are coming in already, even though the Province-wide appeal will not be made until September. We hope to raise $250,000.00 that will be used to continue to offer scholarships, micro-loans, and project support to women around the world, to continue to hold Consultations every seven years for gathering women from around the world to evaluate what we are doing and set direction for the years to come, and to employ a coordinator after Sr. Garner retires (again).

            The Unity Board has encouraged every Province and Mission Province to find ways to support the work of the UWD, which helps women in every Province, Mission Province, and Mission Area.  A capital fund drive, investing in the greatest “capital” the church has, our women, was the way chosen by the Southern Province.  We hope that other Provinces will follow suite or incorporate the UWD into their annual budgets or whatever ways work best in their areas.  We pray for the Lord to continue to bless the work of the UWD as we seek to improve the lives of Moravian women everywhere. 



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Standing With Our Sisters

“Our Lord Jesus entered into this world’s misery to bear it and to overcome it.  We seek to follow Him in serving His brothers and sisters.  Like the love of Jesus, this service knows no bounds.”

            –This statement from our Moravian Ground of the Unity reminds us that we are called to share the boundless love of Jesus by serving others, and that in this way we truly follow Christ. Standing With Our Sisters, the capital campaign for the work of the Unity Women’s Desk, enables all of us to serve in every province, mission area and undertaking of our Moravian unity. 

The Unity Women’s Desk, since 2011, has worked to improve the lives of women, girls and the places where they live and work. Scholarships have enabled students to attend primary and secondary schools, college and seminary. Loans have helped women to start business enterprises to support their families and thereby positively impact their wider community. Grants have funded programs which minister to the physical and spiritual well-being of both church members and those touched by the mission of the church. Wonderful things have been happening and it is a joy to share in the success of each student, each business, and each outreach project. There is also opportunity to increase our efforts to enable women around the world to be the people that God created them to be.

In order to expand this vital work and fund the ongoing ministry, we are all invited to “stand with our sisters” and contribute to this campaign. The Southern Province of the Moravian Church in America began the campaign in March of 2017 with a celebration and time of worship, thanking God for what the Unity Women’s Desk has been able to do and envisioning what God’s call may be for the future. The following words are from the inspiring hymn written by June Wood Edwards for the occasion:

Jesus stands with women who work and pray and preach.

He stands with girls and women who learn and those who teach.

Jesus stands with women in our community,

so we will stand with women throughout the Unity.

Standing with our sisters, our daughters and our sons,

standing with the family of God, that’s everyone.

 Standing with our children, and teaching them the way

 to live out his kingdom, each and every day.

  In September, each Southern Province family will receive information about how they can participate. Please join us by prayerfully considering how you can stand with your sisters around the world with your contribution to this campaign and by your prayers for the many ways we are called to share the boundless love of Jesus. 



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