Mission Strategy Bulletin, New Series, Volume 3, Number 3

Special Issue: Missionary Woman

Joyce Hardin


According to a recent survey by MARC, Monrovia, California, there are over 1,623 missionaries of the Church of Christ scattered throughout the world. Since these figures include both men and women, it is safe to assume that approximately half of these are women who, with their husbands or alone, have accepted the challenge to take the gospel to a lost and dying world.

It is interesting to note that while women are almost always counted when numbering missionaries, very little consideration is given to their qualifications, preparation, or ministry. Often the only obvious qualification for the missionary woman is that she "hath married a man." Her preparation is perhaps limited to deciding what she needs to take to make life more liveable in a new country. And, the question of a ministry is not met or answered until she faces it in the context of a new and different environment.

It is generally assumed that a man who decides to become a missionary has made a commitment. The same is true of the single woman entering a mission field. Also, the missionary wife is often expected to have the same feeling of commitment that her husband has. Fortunately, in many cases, this is true. However, there are those who enter the mission field coat-tailing their husband's commitment. It is his desire to evangelize that takes them from the United States to a foreign country. It is his need to communicate that enrolls them in a language school or hires a tutor for long hours each day. It is his ministry that makes it necessary for her to teach her own children or struggle to feed a family 50 miles from the nearest town or market. When the commitment is his alone, the failure is often hers. She rebels at learning to communicate. Her own ministry to her family becomes more important than her husband's ministry for the Lord and his desire for evangelism cannot ease the desire to return home. The result is unhappiness, guilt, frustration and, eventually, a ministry that is either hindered on the field or given up altogether.

With the millions of unreached peoples throughout the world, it is tragic to lose even one single missionary family. Therefore, it would seem necessary to challenge missionary women, both those on the field and those preparing to go, to accept for themselves a true commitment.

Commitment is defined as an act of committing to a charge or trust. Another definition is that of a state of being obligated or emotionally impelled. Religiously, it implies a dedication and determination to completely give oneself to the Lord, combined with purpose to carry out His will. Commitment, in the religious sense, can have many facets and implications. For the purpose of this discussion, we limit ourselves to five:

First, a missionary woman must have a commitment to EVANGELISM. She must recognize that Christ's words . . . "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you . . ." are intended as much for women as for men. True, a woman cannot preach publicly, nor can she assume the leadership that belongs to the man. However, this does not limit her commitment to the principles of evangelism. As a student of missions, she can study the theories of church growth and be conversant as to how the world might possibly be converted to Him. As a wife, she can support, wholeheartedly, her husband's efforts for evangelism and become his partner in work as well as marriage. Finally, as a Christian herself, she can seek ways to teach others. This may be through seemingly chance contacts with neighbors or villagers or through a definite program of classes and special personal work.

When every Christian must be about his/her Father's business, there is no excuse for the wife who says in word or deed, "My husband is the missionary. I am just here as his wife. The ministry is his, not mine." Neither should the single missionary woman be content only to type letters, dispense first aid, or teach the missionary children. As important as these tasks might be, they are no substitute for the daily and consistent contact with people that results in true evangelism.

Second, the missionary woman must have a commitment to SERVICE. One of the beautiful things about God's world is the uniqueness of its inhabitants. There is no one person exactly like any other. Likewise the service of one Christian individual is like no other. There is a unique quality about service that demands individual attention and individual talent. No one can dictate to another as to the kind of service he or she should perform as a Christian, but neither can anyone deny its necessity and importance.

Service lends credibility to evangelism and adds a third dimension to Christianity that makes it alive and true. It may be expressed by giving food to the hungry or clothing to the naked. It may be demonstrated as an ability to listen, to write, to teach, or to create. Or, it may be toil of hands and feet that considers others first and self last.

In the last few years, the word "ministry" has become a part of our religious vocabulary and is used in a way as to be synonymous with service. Each Christian, according to his or her talents, should find a ministry or ministries through which to translate Christianity to the world. The missionary woman should find and fulfill her own unique ministry.

Third, the missionary woman must have a commitment to LEARNING. Someone has said that when we stop learning, we are dead. It sometimes appears that many people are already dead. The missionary, of all people, must continue to learn. First, he must prepare himself to become the best missionary possible. This means study before going into the field and continual study on the field as to the best methods and techniques to be used. This study must not be limited only to male missionaries.

We have already pointed out that 50 per cent of the missionaries on the field are women, women who do very little study in the area of missions. At the Summer Seminar in Missions at Abilene Christian College, there are two men to each woman in attendance. Often, married men attend but their wives do not. This is tantamount to teaching the pilot to fly but expecting the

co-pilot to get what he needs by osmosis or some similar process. Husbands need to be aware that their wives need preparation as much as they themselves. Elderships need to insist on preparation for both members of the mission team.

Commitment to learning does not end with mission training. It must also include a willingness to learn a new language and to study a new and continually changing culture. It involves not only learning what might be found in textbooks or from teachers but also an openness to experience that recognizes that each individual that one contacts is an opportunity for learning. The missionary who goes only to teach and fails to learn from those he teaches will fail as a missionary and as a teacher.

Learning is defined as changed behavior. Christianity is also a continually changing and growing behavior. There cannot be true Christianity without growth and learning.

Fourth, the missionary woman must have a commitment to IDENTIFICATION. So much has been written about identification in recent years that the missionary sometimes groans at just the sight of the word. However, regardless of how overworked the word might be, the need is still very real. The missionary must identify in order to be successful.

The process of identification is often more difficult for the woman than for the man. Although the man changes his environment, his status usually does not change nor does his function in that environment. However the missionary woman who may already be searching for an identity in her own society, must face an identification in another culture that may include a change in status and role as well as in physical surroundings.

Identification is defined by Webster as the unconscious placing of oneself in the situation of another person and assuming the character of that person. It involves human relationships and presupposes that there is something worthy of respect and acceptance in the society or individual with whom one is identifying. Although the act of identification itself may be unconscious, the process of acquiring identification must be fostered and encouraged.

The secret to identification can perhaps be summed up in the statement that the missionary must feel a genuine regard and respect for the people with whom he or she is working. It involves a commitment in the lives of individual people and includes a continual study of customs and culture as well as the seeking of opportunities to share experiences.

As with service, identification is a unique process with each individual. Talents, interests, hobbies, needs, and the entire personality determine the kind and quality of identification. Although identification can never be complete, it should be continuous. The longer one is in the field, the more identification is possible. The missionary woman should commit herself to a continuous effort for closer and closer identification.

Finally, the missionary woman must have a commitment to SPIRITUAL GROWTH. Most missionaries are dedicated Christians before entering the field. However, this is not always the case. Some feel that becoming a missionary will make them dedicated, give them the incentive to study the Bible that they have never quite had before, or provide that time for prayer that they could never seem to find at home. Unfortunately, this does not happen. Dedication will be hampered by culture shock. Bible study may be limited to elementary lessons in a strange language and time for prayer will continue to be the elusive element that is has always been. Even dedicated spiritual people can lose their dedication and spirituality when faced with the myriads of adjustments and frustrations met daily on the mission field. To grow spiritually will take a deep and strong commitment.

One who grows stale, spiritually, cannot hope to encourage others. The missionary woman needs to take time for Bible study and for prayer. She needs to continually renew her relationship with her Lord. The result will be spiritual growth combined with a deeper dedication and satisfaction that cannot be lost in the face of frustrations.

The need for commitment is present in the life of every Christian. The missionary is no exception, whether he be male or female. Rather, the added frustrations and different problems create an even deeper need for a continual renewal of commitment. Sometimes the sight of the goal of tomorrow is lost as one faces the barrier of today. Commitment helps the Christian to focus once again on the true and real goal.


In today's modern world, the very mention of a liberated woman is bound to bring an immediate reaction. Some will eagerly seize the term to support a view that gives woman a new role of leadership in the home, the community and the church. To others, it represents a threat to the very principles that have founded the Christian home and the Church. To still others, it simply means a new look at the ways in which women are able to contribute to society by utilizing the talents and opportunities that God has given them within the framework that He has also set. Regardless of which view one may lean toward, one thing is certain. The world, for women, is changing.

The missionary woman has always been a little more "liberated" than her sisters. Certainly it took a great deal of courage, fortitude, and even forwardness to even get to the mission field, especially in the early days of mission work. This was particularly true of the early single missionary woman. Once on the field, in order to be effective, she also had to assume a more direct role than she might have had back in the continental United States.

The church itself even regarded the missionary woman in a different light than the Christian woman at home. In the early fifties, for example, a working mother in the U.S. could only justify her working if her family were faced with starvation. Working mothers were said to contribute to the breakdown of the home, juvenile delinquency, and the entire moral decay of our nation. Yet, the same people who condemned the working mother at home expected and even condemned the missionary wife who did not contribute to the mission effort outside her own home. Articles were written condemning "lazy, stay-at-home missionary wives" and ladies Bible classes expected their visiting missionary wife to tell them of her many outside activities. Missionaries received support and sponsorship based on the reports of the activities of both husband and wife. This "two-for-the-price-of-one" attitude was a complete paradox to expectations of the Christian family at home.

This attitude was by no means limited to the fifties. It is still present today and may be very detrimental to the Christian missionary family. Most new missionaries are young in years as well as experience. They are often just beginning to raise their families. Young children need mothers and need them at home. Missionary children face more problems than their American counterparts and therefore need the constancy of parental presence even more. Yet, pressures are put to bear on the young missionary mother to leave her home for outside activities such as teaching classes, operating clinics or even doing secretarial work. Pressures come from the home church which eagerly awaits her report of successes; from her husband who may feel that the work needs her more than her children; and from herself. After all, she is a missionary and must be about her "Father's business."

Sometimes we forget that our family is the Father's business. In fact, presenting an example of a true Christian family might be the greatest contribution to the world mission effort that a missionary family might make. Time when children are small is very short. The time will quickly come when children are in school and then the mother will be free to extend her ministry in many areas.

There is no doubt that a missionary wife should prepare herself for a special ministry such as teaching, nutrition, translation, or whatever. This may not be as necessary from God's point of view as because the missionary woman will demand it of herself. Unhappy missionary women are often those whose families are no longer in need of their constant care and who have no outside avenues of service.

The single missionary woman has a unique opportunity for service. She does not have a family to demand her time and energy. She has more freedom in movement and opportunity. Yet too often, such a missionary will find her freedom bound by tasks such as typing, babysitting, or grading correspondence courses. Here is a wealth of energy and talent yet untapped by the church. Although she cannot preach or assume church leadership, the single missionary woman can be a powerful influence for evangelism. Churches are often reluctant to sponsor or support a single woman. Perhaps they are afraid that she might be too "liberated". Yet with direction and guidance, there is no limit to the amount of service the single missionary woman can render.

The liberated missionary woman is not one who uses her liberty to assume a role of leadership which was not intended for her. Neither should she be a threat to Christian principles. Rather, she should accept a challenge to utilize her talents and opportunities to serve her Lord. James 1:25 sums it up by saying:

"But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of
liberty and abides by it, not having become a forgetful
hearer but an effectual doer, this man (or woman) shall
be blessed in what he does."


From time to time, the Mission Strategy Bulletin has answered questions of particular interest to women. This month, I would like to attempt to discuss another such question. This one, however, differs in two ways: First, it was not received in letter form, but has been asked to me verbally by three different individuals during the past year. Second, in each of the three cases, the question was asked by a man.

The question is not one of a deep spiritual nature. It does not involve a point of doctrine nor does it even directly apply to mission theory or methods. However, the way a missionary family answers the question for itself may very well affect their identification process and their tenure in the field. The question is simply: "We are going to be working in an area where servants are available. Should we, as missionaries, employ servants to work in our homes?"

The question is not an easy one to answer because there are so many factors to be considered: availability of servants, cost, size of missionary family, and ministry of the wife outside the home, to mention just a few.

As I discussed this question with the three prospective missionaries mentioned alone. However, it would seem that a decision to have or not have servants which so deeply involves the wife and her role as homemaker, should not be made entirely by the husband. It is the wife who must cope with a new and difficult family living situation. It is she who must provide food and water for the family consumption and maintain a household in a different environment. The decision whether or not to employ a servant may depend on her ability to cope with these problems and her need for special assistance. If there are no modern conveniences available, housekeeping can become a 24-hour task leaving no time for any special ministry. There is nothing sacred about peeling potatoes or scrubbing a floor. A homemaker certainly must see that these tasks are done, but she does not necessarily have to do them herself. The worthy woman of Proverbs 31 rose early to give tasks to her servants, leaving herself time to buy a field, plant a vineyard and reach out her hands to the needy.

The decision of whether or not to have a servant depends very much on the culture in which the missionary will be working. If servants are not common to the culture, the missionary family may alienate itself by hiring one even if the cost is well within the family budget. In other cultures, servants are so much a part of the living situation that the missionary family would appear strange if they did not use local help. In Korea, for example, the housegirl is a part of almost every household. A servant for a wealthy family may in turn have a servant to work in her home.

Middle class Americans who are unfamiliar with the use of a servant except in movies or TV may feel very strange when faced with the possibility of working with one. One man told me that he could not in clear conscience hire local help even though servants are a natural part of the culture in which he would be working. One reason he gave was that he had never had a servant and none of the Christians from his sponsoring congregation had servants. It might seem that in this case, he was applying his American values, attitudes, and customs to a situation that was by no means middle-class American.

The decision as to the use of servants in a missionary home must be answered by each family involved. However, it might be well to consider the results of a decision to have servants. Basically, having servants can be a blessing, a curse, or an opportunity for the missionary family. In many cases, they are all three.

Servants can be a blessing because they help relieve many of the difficult problems of everyday living such as carrying or boiling drinking water, daily food shopping, fighting rodents and insects, etc., etc., etc. In this way the servant can give the missionary wife time to teach classes, meet people and devote more time to the emotional needs of her family.

Servants can be a curse, as anyone who has worked with one can testify. There are few "Hazels" to be found overseas. Rather, servants can be difficult to communicate with, frustrating to work with and an ever constant source of irritation. One missionary wife said that she had prayed for patience and God had sent her a servant to practice it on!

Even a perfect servant can become a curse if they are allowed to assume the role of homemaker as well as housekeeper. The wife may be tempted to delegate too much of her own responsibility to the servant and many missionary children have spent more time with the Amah than with their own parents. A servant should be an aide, but never allowed to assume duties that belong to parents alone.

Finally, the servant can be an opportunity. She can interpret the culture to her employers in a unique and personal way. Also, the servant herself represents an ideal opportunity for in-depth teaching by the missionary family.

As with most problems faced by missionaries, the question of servants can best be solved by a realistic evaluation of the individual situation in the light of the local culture and the needs of the family itself. The situation and solution should be periodically reviewed. The need for servants in a developing country, for example, may disappear as more modern conveniences become a part of the local scene. A decision once made is by no means binding forever. The family may want to go into the field with an idea as to how they might resolve this question but a real decision should not be made until they have had more experience in the field.

One of the primary factors involved in missionaries remaining in the field is the health and happiness of the family itself. If servants can help promote this, then they should by all means be used. If they contribute in any way to family unhappiness and frustration, or to a lack of identification with the local people, they are too expensive for the missionary to afford.

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Direct questions and comments to Ed Mathews, mathews@bible.acu.edu

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