Responsively Yours: What if We
- What if We... : Audio version (MP3, 5MB)
- Cover of Response, November 2007 (PDF 540KB)
- Content of Response, November 2007 (PDF 116KB)
- Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
All Saint’s Day has come and gone, but I am deeply aware of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses in the amazing work of United Methodist Women. The women who preceded us left a heritage of faithfulness, good works, vision and just plain stubbornness. This legacy teaches me every day — when I’m in my new office amid the pictures, records and artifacts of 138 years of service, or on the road meeting with members of United Methodist Women, deaconesses, church and community workers, missionaries or members of the communities they work with. These encounters prompt me to think: “What if we ...”
Here’s an example. Our work with people who are immigrants in the United States or migrants in other parts of the world — including our neighbors from the Americas highlighted in this issue — is clearly connected to our work with immigrant women and children a century ago. As a temporary resident of the Alma Mathews House in New York City, I often think of the women and girls who came from the nearby docks to the Immigrant Girls Home, as it was called when they ventured into a new world and found a safe place in a strange city. Today we study and speak on matters of immigration policy as with our recent support of non-racist immigration dialogs — see the article "Division Joins Campaign for Non racist Immigration Debate" at www.UMWmission.org.
What happens when we work with women who are immigrants in our own communities — whether they come seeking opportunity or seeking asylum? What would this look like for United Methodist Women units in rural areas? What are the special needs in suburban and urban areas where folks have settled or resettled? What could United Methodist Women add to the sometimes frayed web of services available to immigrants in our cities and towns?
Health care is another example of our presence in the United States and around the world. Think about women like Isabella Thoburn traveling to India in 1869 to care for women and children. The community centers we support in the United States have provided varieties of clinics and training in health care to the people they served for over 100 years. Our current Bible Women program includes its own emphasis on health care and training. What if we could extend our work with women across the continent of Africa through our sister organizations? What if we play a larger role in improving global health and eliminating diseases?
Health insurance is another illustration of work with a long history. Betty Thompson, retired staff of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, noted that at the 1961 annual meeting of the Woman’s Division of the Board of Missions: “The Department of Christian Social Relations called attention to the 50 million Americans without health insurance, 16 million of these over 65.” Forty years later we are mobilizing women around the United States to support health care for our poorest children through support for negotiation on a viable State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) bill that puts children first.
Our work on issues related to the Girl Child is similar. From opposition to foot binding in China to supporting and providing education for women and girls in the United States and around the world, we have been a potent force against the cultural impositions that would make women and girls seem “less than” their male counterparts. The early organizing work of women’s societies in all our churches took place at a time of ferment in the United States, and we were at the forefront of pushing back cultural limitations on women’s independence, work, speaking and leading. Where are those boundaries today? Our resolution entitled “The Girl Child” will help to focus this continuation of our historical work in this important area.
This reflection would be incomplete without mentioning learning. The process of reading, researching, sharing papers and bringing in speakers to inform, challenge and equip is a foundation of our organization. Schools of Christian Mission, the Reading Program and Response magazine continue this heritage. We’re pushing out into newer methods with the United Methodist Women’s website, www.UMWmission.org, and the United Methodist Women’s Online Community, www.UMWonline.org. These are places for information, education, dialog and critical reflection. What will be next?
We are surrounded by saints — from our past and our present. What a wonderful platform for our future.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : Jan. 09, 2008