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January 10, 2011Interviews, Leadership

Monday is for Missiology: Women, Missions, and Missiologists

From what I can tell, the majority of missionaries and those who actively support them are women. Historically, women are always listed in the hall of great missionaries. Ruth Tucker has written a book on the very subject: Guardians of the Great Commission about women in missions. (By the way, Dr. Tucker has also written From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, which is well worth your time.)

Every mission board I know says most of its missionaries are women, yet I see less writing and teaching on the unique role and situation that women have faced in the mission endeavor.

Elisabeth Elliot Leitch wrote:

What is the place of women in world mission? Jesus said, "You [and the word means all of you, male and female] are my witnesses. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world." And there have been countless thousands who, without reference to where they came from or what they knew or who they were, have believed that Jesus meant exactly what he said and have set themselves to follow.

Today strident female voices are raised, shrilly and ad nauseam, to remind us that women are equal with men. But such a question has never even arisen in connection with the history of Christian missions. In fact, for many years, far from being excluded, women constituted the majority of foreign missionaries.

She explains her own story later in the article:

When my husband was killed by Indians, I found myself in some indefinable positions. There wasn't one missionary man left in Ecuador who spoke the jungle Quichua language. There was no one to teach the young Quichua believers, no one to lead the church, no one but women to carry on where five missionary men had left off.

The door to the Auca tribe had slammed shut for those men and was, to our astonishment, opened to two women. It didn't look to me like a woman's job. But God's categories are not always ours. I had to shuffle my categories many times during my last eight years of missionary work. Since coming back to the States I've done it again. I've had a career of sorts, I've been a wife and housewife once more, and again I'm a widow.

But it is the same faithful Lord who calls me by name and never loses track of my goings and reminds me in a still, small voice, "Ye are my witnesses, that ye might know and believe me, and understand that I am he." (Is. 43:10). There is our primary responsibility: to know him. I can't be a witness unless I've seen something, unless I know what it is I am to testify to. And it is the Lord of the Universe who calls you - you women, you men - and offers you today a place in his program. Your education or lack of it, your tastes and prejudices and fears and status or ambitions, your age or sex or color or height or marital status or income bracket are all things which may be offered to God, after you have presented your bodies as a living sacrifice. And God knows exactly what to do with them. They are not obstacles if you hand them over.

She wrote and taught in areas of missions, challenging many others.

There are so many stories of great women missionaries. So, here is my question. Why are there so few evangelical, women missiologists? I am not saying there are none, but their are disproportionally few. (A missiologist is generally considered someone who has academic (Ph.D.?) training in missiology.)

For the term evangelical, I am using Larry Eskridge's definition:

* The need for personal conversion (or being "born again")

* Actively expressing and sharing the gospel

* A high regard for biblical authority, especially biblical inerrancy

* An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Part of the reason may be that many of us mission-minded evangelicals tend to be complementarian in regards to gender, but that view should not preclude women serving as missiologists.

I think we need to hear more from women missiologists and mission thinkers. I am making a point of trying to highlight women thinkers (among others) in my Thursday is for Thinkers. And, I personally have encouraged one of my team, Lizette Beard (a gifted thinker, former missionary, and researcher), to do her Ph.D. in missions. She was noticeably absent from work last week while she started the missiology program at SEBTS this week, building on her missions experience in Alaska and Africa and her Masters in Missions. You'll be hearing from Lizette on the blog soon.

So, here is my question again: why are there so few evangelical women missiologists (while most missionaries are women) and what is the best way to address that? I recognize my readership is broad and not all agree on gender issues, but I think we can still have a good discussion. If you are an egalitarian, you can blame complementarianism one time -- but then you have to suggest some other ideas. In other words, this is a discussion of missiology, not an argument about complementarian / egalitarian views-- that won't be solved here.

But, I do think there are some important voices and lessons that need to be shared and I'd like to think about how we can share them more clearly from hearing from men and women in missiology. Tell us some of the best women thinkers and missiologists you would recommend -- particularly evangelicals, even conservative evangelicals!

The floor is yours.

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Monday is for Missiology: Women, Missions, and Missiologists