The short answer is that there are many opportunities for women. They comprise about two-thirds of the missionary force. In some agencies their roles are limited. In others there is virtually no limit.
In some ministries, women cannot plant churches or pastor churches or become part of leadership. In others they can do virtually anything.
In WEC the answer is you can do almost anything. In a few cases we have not let a woman go into a situation that seemed especially dangerous. Difficult is not an issue, but danger can be. We have women doing almost every kind of ministry in WEC, and we have some women in leadership positions.
Most women in WEC don’t want to be leaders. Most men don’t either. A good leader has to give up much of his or her personal ministry in order to lead, and most of our people love to serve on the frontlines.
Answer from David Smith, director of mobilization with WEC International. David has been a missionary twenty-five years, first as a field worker in West Africa and now at WEC USA headquarters.
“Women’s roles vary by agency and country.”
In her book Guardians of the Great Commission, Ruth Tucker reminds us, “The role of women in the modern missionary movement has been phenomenal. No other public ministry in the church has so captured the interest and commitment of women in the past 200 years.”
Tucker notes that by the early decades of the twentieth century, “women outnumbered men on the mission field by a ratio of more than two to one.”
Just as in other walks of life, there are many instances where women have received neither the freedom to do what they would like to do nor the due recognition of what they have accomplished. However, there are exceptions, and Tucker’s book will inspire you with what women have accomplished in the context of cross-cultural missions.
There are two important variables that you need to take into account. Mission agencies have their own “personalities” and offer a differing range of opportunities for women. The context of service would also be an important factor. For example, in Muslim cultures, local customs (which vary) will greatly influence the freedom of women’s public activities and the way they dress.
Answer from Jack Voelkel, missionary-in-residence with the Urbana Student Mission Convention; originally published on the Urbana website. Previously Jack served thirty years with Latin America Mission in Peru and Columbia. Find other answers and articles from Jack and others on the Urbana blog.
Editor’s Note: Readers might also be interested in the book Frontline Women: Negotiating Crosscultural Issues in Ministry, by Marguerite G. Kraft.
“Whatever God calls them to do.”
In our agency, World Indigenous Missions, women are allowed to do whatever they are called to do. The history of missions is full of wonderful examples of women being successful in mission work. From Lottie Moon to Gladys Aylward, ladies have been used mightily in God’s work. We do believe that in some cultures and places there are safety issues to look at and cultural situations that need to be dealt with carefully, but we can and do allow women to fulfill their call.
Answer from Dale Pugh, international coordinator of World International Mission, who served long-term in Mexico. Dale is author of How to Survive on the Mission Field.
“Come as you are.”
This question must be more specific to get a helpful answer for you. I don’t think single women and married women have the same opportunities anywhere in the world!! We each have our part to play. And of course, in various parts of the world ALL women’s opportunities are a bit limited. We have been on the field in Asia for five years and I have seen single women impact this society tremendously, as well as having the privilege of doing a bit of helping as a married woman!
If God is calling you to the field and you are single, don’t wait for a husband. Come “just as you are” and God will give you all the opportunities you can handle.
Answer from Lori, serving in Asia.
Numerically, many Hindu and Muslim families who have immigrated here came with multiple wives and hence many children. Naturally, women tend to begin relationships and overcome cultural barriers through relating on transcending life issues such as being a mom. I would add that being a stay-at-home mom opened up more mission opportunities than trying to juggle family and a full-time job ever would have. Also naturally, women are not seen as a threat to other women and children. No man would have had free reign to play outside and conduct a kid’s Bible club as I have. Culturally, most Muslim women and some of my Asian women would never so much as shake a man’s hand, but they will embrace me and welcome me into their lives, the lives of their children, and the lives of their elderly parents. Through this “in,” God has given me opportunities to share the gospel with all members of the family, the men just seeing my thought-provoking questions, Bible stories, or scripture quotes to be non-confrontational or non-threatening since I’m “just a woman” talking to his wife.
Some Bible-believing Christians have the thought that since a woman can’t be a pastor, that what she does is “not real missions”. Little do they know that the relational foundations God gave me with internationals as a woman was the only door opener for my husband to interact with many a man! Here are just 3 of my “non-mission” missionary experiences with eternal ramifications: 1) While on a plane to India many years ago sitting amongst wealthy Indian and probably Western businessmen, the typical “What do you do for a living?” question came up. Highfalutin people were giving their responses regarding their careers, and I was starting to (wrongly) cringe thinking it would soon be my turn to answer. As God would have it, my sheepish answer of giving up a career to home-educate my children not only became the highlight of discussion, but it also allowed me to incorporate spiritual things into what became the spotlighted conversation for much of the flight. 2) The 6’2″ president of the tri-state Ahmadiyya Muslims asked me one Saturday what I was teaching to the children in the community surrounding his mosque, and this opened up an opportunity to share the gospel with this man. 3) Finally after several years of prayer, one of my little Brahmin boys came to know the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior. Who knows? He could be the pastor that we have been praying for?! The Bottom line? Obey God’s plan for your life as a woman, and watch as He opens up incredible missions opportunities for you, single or married.
Answer from Steph in PA, who has served with current tentmaker (soon going with CMC) in Niger (while single), India (Short term), and U.S. (long term/lifetime) for 20+ years.