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Challenges for Missionary Women

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Based on you readings and the lecture materials this week, share one important concept that stood out to you and explain what impact it has on you as a missionary. (Respond in about 150 words). Article is listed belo.
Challenges for Missionary Women
Married Women
Missionary wives make their finest contribution as they model how a Christian family can live in their new culture. However, most women find a way to engage in their own active means of ministry. In almost any missionary sending organization, there will be a clear expectation that women will be involved in some way to help local people and to witness to them. Single Women
Over the years, God has called many single women into his service overseas as missionaries. Whether like Lottie Moon they turned down would-be husbands because they were not ready to go with them as missionaries, or whether they had other motives to remain single, these women have made an incalculable contribution to the cause of missions. While in some ways they may be more vulnerable because they lack the support of a full nuclear family around them like their married counterparts, these ladies have been particularly successful in going places others dared not go, and in achieving influence in areas where others had not yet gone.
Many times single women would bond with local families or groups in which they became like family to them. This meant that often they had a deeper understanding of cultural nuances and societal expectations than other missionaries. The fact that they were not distracted with the need to spend a significant amount of their time in home-making, caring for their children, and providing them with an education has meant that single women had considerably more disposable time to devote to their work—often with tremendous results. Where would the world be without a Mother Theresa, and countless other single women who have served alongside her as missionaries in all the world!
Single women on the field do face special challenges. These may include loneliness, pressures to marry, unclear social status in the host culture, lack of clout in decision-making, finding appropriate living arrangements, and having to cater to multiple sets of role expectations.
One area in which women may face special challenges is tied to the culturally assigned roles for men and women in their host culture. Obviously both men and women equally will have to make important cultural adjustments, and every society defines gender expectations distinctly, so that men will have to learn how men behave in their adopted society, and women will have to learn how women behave in their adopted society. In practice, however, the harder challenges seem to fall upon women. Sometimes dress can be a challenge. In Muslim societies missionary women often debate whether to wear a burkha which covers them totally. Is that simply cultural dress, or a religious identifier? Does wearing a burkha also mean submitting to a role for women that is in many ways diametrically opposed to the values that are instilled in their own home churches? In a good many cultures, women suffer from a lower social status, and from clear restrictions to their roles that can seem very difficult for women raised in the West. Does identification to the local culture imply subjecting oneself to those practices as well, or should the missionaries model a different way to live in these areas? These are contextualization issues that influence women in a very direct way in terms of daily life-style on the field. It is important for sending agencies and churches to provide not only structural and spiritual support but also moral and emotional support for women on the field as they navigate the additional challenges of role and identity clarification in their cross-cultural assignments. Training for women missionaries should include orientation to the perceptions of their host cultures toward women and the expectations they may encounter in their host communities. Recommendations for improving the quality of missionary care for single women in particular are provided in your reading this week from the Hoke and Taylor text. These include increasing the frequency and personalization of communication with them, sending care packages, conducting pastoral visits, and providing prayer support for them.
Opportunities for Missionary Women
As can be seen in the following account, women missionaries may also enjoy unique opportunities as a result of their perceived roles within their host culture: (iii)
I feel that I was well accepted as a woman in the rural Tanzanian village culture. I was teaching in a school at the time, which is a common profession for both men and women there, so my presence was not seen as too out-of-the-ordinary in that realm. Additionally, I lived with another American woman and two Tanzanian women teachers, which allowed for quick acceptance because we did not separate ourselves from locals; rather, we lived alongside them and shared aspects of daily life including details like food and food preparation (cooked over a fire), water acquisition (buckets at the local stream), type of shelter (mud-brick huts), etc. This provided an important sense of commonality between us and the native Tanzanians.
Since I was officially there as a teacher of English and mathematics, teaching was obviously one thing that was expected of me! Many of my students, however, came far distances to attend school and either lived with other students or in rented rooms or houses in the village during the school sessions. Even those students who lived in the village often did not have both or any parental figures in their lives whether due to work, abandonment, illness, or death. As a result, an additional role that seemed to apply naturally to me in the community was that of a general caregiver and helper for children who were in need of love, guidance, and basic parenting. I found that this role, more so than that of a teacher, really defined me during my time spent overseas.
I do not feel that being a woman hindered my effectiveness while serving in Tanzania. If anything, it perhaps helped me to bridge gaps that would have been more difficult to otherwise bridge. Students, even if they did have two living parents, often would not see their fathers for weeks or months on end due simply too far-off work opportunities and the like. As a result, women, children, and the sick and elderly comprised the main population of the village at any given time. In such an environment, being a woman seemed to carry with it an automatic safety and welcome into any home. I typically tended to form faster, stronger, and deeper relationships with villagers than many of the men who served alongside me.
The sense of fulfillment based on developing deep and significant relationships with local people would be typical for many women missionaries—perhaps even more for the singles ones. For many reasons, women on the mission field enjoy success in some hard-to-reach places. They are able to reach out to women and children in places where male missionaries may be forbidden or restricted from interacting with women due to cultural norms. In addition, single women missionaries often form bonds more quickly with the local community due to their availability or perceived “ vulnerability.” (iv) Women may also find inroads in certain cultures because they are perceived as nonthreatening. Kraft and Crossman share a real-life example of such a scenario: (v)
In a nomadic Muslim group in sub-Saharan Africa, a single woman is effectively training Imams (Islamic teachers) in the Gospel. They perceive her to be nonthreatening, “just a woman.” Building upon a foundation of interpersonal relationship and Bible knowledge, she does not give them answers herself. She simply shows the Imams how to find them in the Word. The Lord has confirmed her teaching, giving dreams and visions to these leaders. As they have been converted, they are now training many others. She is accepted as a loving, caring elder sister, who gives high priority to their welfare.
Curiously, in this example as in many other cases, where a male missionary might be considered a rival to be challenged, a woman is seen as weak and not worth opposing. That underestimation of her potential influence by local leaders often has allowed missionary women to play a really key role in helping to make astonishing and significant changes in the lifestyle of the people they serve.
We are reminded by this story that availability and obedience, not special expertise or ability, are the important requirements for the called missionary; for it is God who does the actual work of turning hearts to Himself. Missionaries, whether male or female, need to learn humility. Throughout history, God has been in the business of accomplishing His purposes through human beings in spite of apparent “inhibitions.” Indeed, the Great Commission is a mandate for every believer, regardless of age, gender, or status, and the community of believers must wield every tool at its disposal for making disciples of all nations. Side by side, men and women will continue to devote themselves to building God’s Kingdom, for as long as Jesus delays His return.

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