International Women’s Month inspires reflection: Spiritual gifts impact the mission field, families and faith

By Hannah Lounsbery, Faith Co-Editor

I sat through many hot, sticky tabernacle services in an adolescence saturated in the traditions of the Southern Baptist Church.

These services called me and my comrades to service for the Kingdom, telling us all how Christ has equipped us to serve.

Even though all of those lessons, one man’s words stand out to me as I look back.

“Men,” one speaker said, shouting over the stage band’s impassioned melody. “Tonight you may be called to be missionaries, youth pastors or pastors. Women, you may be called to be pastor’s wives.”

In two sentences, this man relegated half of his audience to a position in which they would be unable to fulfill a call to ministry without a man to guide them.

Women who, even in high school and middle school were already feeling the pressure to marry, were told their marriages would bring them into real, full-time kingdom service— not their spiritual gifts, not their hearts for Christ, but their husbands.

Of course, marriage is sacred and blessed by our Creator.

Of course, women can serve as part of a partnership and be unified with their spouses.

But. . .many still believe that a woman can only serve Christ effectively if she is a “helper” of sorts.

Women have been proving this idea wrong for nearly 170 years. In fact, in 1849, the first single female missionary was sent to China by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Harriet Baker did not serve long, and after she returned to the United States in 1853, the “experiment” involving a single female missionary was considered highly unsuccessful.

This is true, in part, to her poor health and inability to start a school while she was there.

According to an analysis of women and missions by the Baptist Press, the Foreign Mission Board even declared officially in 1859 that they would generally avoid sending single women into the field.

This didn’t entirely exclude women, however, and left the door open to ministry for Edmonia Moon in 1872 and, a year later, her sister Charlotte.

Charlotte “Lottie” Moon was 32 when she left for China.

She was an accomplished woman in the states, according to the International Mission Board’s biography of her.

Moon was one of the first women in the South to earn a master’s degree. When she left for China, she left a proposed marriage, a teaching career and her family.

In her 39 years of ministry, she suffered with the people of that nation through war, famine and extreme loneliness before her death in 1912.

Lottie Moon was not alone in her service.

Annie Armstrong was the first executive leader of the Women’s Missionary Union in 1888 in a Southern Baptist Convention that was still unsure of female service in a public setting.

As Moon served overseas, Armstrong was a champion for missions on the home front, traveling the country visiting missionaries and using their stories to raise funds across the nation.

She wrote unceasingly, forming letters and leaflets to support the WMU as well contributing to various missions publications and Sunday School curriculums.

These are women that we know; the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering are staples of Baptist holiday tradition.

There are so many more Christian women, both single and married, whom we don’t hear about.

For example, Ann Judson was the first female Ameri-can missionary when she left with her husband for India in 1812, then Burma, where she and her husband learned Burmese so to write tracts that would help the people understand the concept of an everlasting God.

She faced the death of a child, personal sickness, and the imprisonment of her husband before dying at 37 in the wake of their struggles.

Her contribution was just as valuable as her spouse’s, and her legacy has endured just as well.

Other missionary role models include Helen Barrett Montgomery, who studied Greek and was the first woman to have her translation from Greek to English published professionally in order to make the text more accessible to young boys from the street.

She worked alongside Susan B. Anthony for social reform and advocated for education for women.

She was licensed to preach in 1892 and was the first woman to be elected president of a religious denomination in America, in this case the Northern Baptist Convention.

These women and so many more fought for their right to serve the Lord as they were called.

They worked to prove that a woman’s “place” can be just as impactful and lasting as their male counterparts.

Their actions and tenacity prove to modern women that we can serve the Lord in many ways, and in many countries.

Scripture also encourages both genders to seek God’s will and embrace our evangelical potential.

Galatians 3:28 embraces the idea of unity in purpose and action.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Women and men have specific gifts and purposes within their gender, yes, but above all, men and women are servants of Christ and heirs to the kingdom as one body and one church striving to be more like Jesus.

In honor of International Women’s Month, take a moment to recognize the women who have impacted you—and try to emulate their fearlessness, tenacity and kindness.

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