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