United Methodist Women in Mission Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Part 2 of 2)
Address to Mission Forward Symposium April 19, 2010, St. Louis, MO
IV. Conclusion: Faith, Hope, and Love in Action Today
A century ago, North American women organized themselves into missionary societies to support the work of women like Grace Stephens, Clementina Butler, and Martha Drummer. What do the lives of these women tell us about mission today?
1. First they remind us that women organized for mission represent "faith in action." As was the case in early Christianity, the majority of Christians in the world church today are women. Today women are taking a leading part in what is probably the greatest expansion of Christianity since the conversion of Europe. At least 70% of Christians in African churches are women; 70% of house church members in China are probably women; and Latin American pentecostalism is growing fastest among women, who typically bring their men into the church rather than the other way around. Without women in mission, there would be no church.
2. Second, they remind us that United Methodist Women represent "hope in action." Women's groups remain the foundation for love and care in our churches. Through spiritual growth, prayer, study, fellowship, and fundraising, the women of UMW look to the future with hope rather than despair. Yes the world is full of problems, but women's loving concern for each other makes the world a better place.
3. Third, their work reminds us that the mission of UMW represents "love in action." Women and children still have special needs today. Whether it is the issue of basic needs for education and housing and child care, human trafficking, health crises like malaria and HIV, or family problems, United Methodist Women bring the Good News of Jesus Christ into these situations. As the description of UMW states, "True to our Wesleyan heritage, mission cannot be solely charity, but involves empowerment and advocacy for social change. By combining the two, we can be witnesses to the love and life of Jesus Christ.
"Faith, hope, and love in action." These are the gifts and the goals of United Methodist women past, present, and future.
i: Didascalia Apostolorum, written in Syria, translated by G. Homer, 1929, chapter 16. womenpriests.org/traditio/didasc.asp
ii: When John R. Mott, who grew up to head the world YMCA and to chair the Edinburgh 1910 conference, was asked how he first got interested in world missions, he recalled learning about missions at his mother's knee, as she read to him from her woman's missionary magazine—Heathen Women's Friend, the forerunner of Response and New World Outlook.
iii: See Isabella Thoburn on women and service: "The Jewish woman of the Old Testament received a degree of consideration in law and in custom. Notwithstanding Semitic polygamy, she had a place in the family, and family life had more vitality among the Hebrews than among other people around them, and though held inferior by the law that still gave her a place, yet the Hebrew woman could rise to the dignity of a judge, a military leader, and a prophetess. The Greeks had a Sappho, but no Deb orah. Yet still the nation that produced and obeyed a Deborah let its women grind at the mill, and glean in the fields, and water the flocks. When Christ came he found them so, and had nothing to say about the right or wrong of it, nothing to say about woman s place at all. They ministered to him of their substance, following him from place to place on his itineraries, and probably served him with their own hands, and he accepted it all. They washed his feet, which he not only accepted but ap proved, in words, which, he said, would never be for gotten, and accordingly they encourage our hearts to-day. He elevated woman, not by commandment, but by elevating her service. He came down and served with her, and her lowly place became holy and beautiful, so that it was made to shine as though lifted on high. And so it will always shine to those who walk in Christ s footpaths, and will thus become a way of peace as well as a way to power to the lowly in heart. When we only seek eminence and position, how few avenues are open ! When we seek service, how many all with wide gates, and loud calls, and pleading invitations, to come where work, and room, and reward await all !
Quoted in James Thoburn, Life of Isabella Thoburn, 245-246.
viii: See pamphlets in the Archives of the Committee on Christian Literature for Women and Children, Record Group 90, Special Collections, Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut. Ruth Robinson, "The Treasure Chest," (n.d.); Clementina Butler, "A Quarter Century of Service to the Christian Home.,"
(CCLWCMF, 1939), RG 90, Box 7, File 124. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the CCLWCMF conducted writing workshops for indigenous women around the world, but these activities are outside the chronological framework of this paper.
ix: Quoted by Clementina Butler, "Report of the Committee on Christian Literature for Women and Children in Mission Fields, Inc," (November 1939), 9, CCLWCMF Archives, RG 90 , Box 4, File 65. This material on the CCLWC is taken from Dana L. Robert, "The First Globalization" IBMR April 2002.
xi: Butler, "Report," 4. The filmstrip of the Life of Christ used to evangelize the Chinese was a forerunner of the phenomenally successful "Jesus Film," seen in 665 languages by over four billion people as of May 31, 2001. See www.jesusfilm.org/index.html. The progression from indigenization to the globalization of Christianity during the twentieth century was evident in the history of multimedia as well.