TC Verbum No 6 October 2006

By Beulah Wood

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Why Single Women in Mission?

Beulah Wood, D.Min., a New Zealand member of Interserve, based in Bangalore, India, who has worked in Nepal and India as both a married woman and a widow, teaches and writes on preaching and family.

Is there any special reason for single women in mission other than the work they can do? This question keeps raising its head for some women, and harries them even more when the women and men in the communities where they go fail to accept their status. 'Why doesn't your family arrange your marriage?' they ask, not only curious but almost demanding. It is 'improper' to be single, almost as if a woman is only half human. And yet again the hurtful question invades the spirit: Is there a purpose in the pain of aloneness that some, though not all, feel?

Let me tell a story. I was invited to teach on issues of women and men at a country annual conference of my mission; I spent part of one session on the accountability before God of both men and women. That sounds obvious, said like that, but this Bible truth is theory rather than practice in thousands of homes where women must obey their husbands, and the more so in Asia and the Middle East where our mission works.

To show up the flaw in the thinking, we examined three Bible marriages, imagining the couple later standing before the judgment seat of God as in 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Romans 14:10, 'For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.' First, Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1) would not stand behind Elkanah and say to God, 'My husband made the decisions in our family.' She made decisions without her husband and won God's approval. Then, Sapphira could not stand behind Ananias and tell God, 'I obeyed my husband. Isn't that what you wanted?' Acts 5 shows in no uncertain terms that God made a wife accountable for her actions as much as a husband. In contrast, Joseph the husband of Mary put himself out for the good of his wife and child, leaving his vocation as a carpenter for two years to take his family to Egypt because his wife had a task to do for God. Surely this is one of God's models for family.

I was teaching about couples and the respective roles of individuals within such relationships, but a strange thing was happening, as I learnt later. A 38 year-old woman doctor told how she learnt for herself as a single. 'Yes, I am responsible. We all are. This society thinks there is something wrong with me when I am not married, but I'm valid and valued.' Two days later this woman asked me to talk to a group of single women on coping in Asian society as a single and as a foreigner. They wanted answers. We talked of spiritual exercises, physical exercise, hobbies, but the question still hung in the air. 'What is God's purpose for as singles?' We needed more than a work answer. They pushed harder.

Then came the corollary of the teaching two days before. If in God's economy all women, married or single, with or without men in their lives, are equally valid compared with each other and with men, then we are here to make that point. Women around us need this truth of God visible and modelled in front of them. We are here in this Asian society to say, 'You do not have to be married to be somebody for God, and to be somebody God loves.'

A sigh of relief escaped. We had reached a significant insight. To male readers it may seem a small matter, but to our half of the human race, we had a deeply necessary conclusion. Women in Christian work, whether single or married and carrying out a task in their own right, have the vital task of demonstrating that God asks service, good decisions and accountability of all humans. Let us take this on board in the valuing, commissioning, employment and salary structures wherever we go in God's work.