Some years ago I was asked how I'd define mission. I replied, "Mission is the work of the church, pioneered by women, to give positions of leadership to men." It was a tongue-in-cheek reply, of course, but this book illustrates the point I was making: whilst the men in the church huffed and puffed and polished their VIP Leader Badges, the women were simply getting on with the task of taking the gospel to the world. It's no wonder that the first person Jesus appeared to on that first Easter morning, to whom he gave the amazing task of proclaiming the resurrection to his demoralised disciples, was a woman: he knew she'd do it.
And here we have the powerful and remarkable stories of some of the women who have followed in her footsteps since: specifically, some of the western women who took the gospel to China in the 19th and 20th centuries, who dedicated their lives to God's call and gave "not less than everything" in the process. They're women who can't be stereotyped, some married, some single, of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds ordinary women with an extraordinary passion for God's Kingdom.
The book has been meticulously researched over several years, drawing on materials from OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship) and on A J Broomhall's multi-volume Hudson Taylor and China's Open Century amongst other works (a five page Select Bibliography gives some idea of the amount of background material used). This makes it heavy going at times but it's clear that the topic is very close to the author's own heart: Valerie Griffiths worked with OMF herself for 23 years in the Far East, albeit in Singapore and Japan rather than China.
For me personally some of the most compelling material comes in the Appendix, a few brief pages describing the American Women's Missionary Societies and the conflicts the women often faced when men felt threatened, afraid of a hidden "women's rights" agenda: "but nothing could be further from the truth," we're told, "These women were not fighting for their rights but laying down their lives in Christian service." (p.335). A quote from Helen Montgomery's Western Women in Eastern Lands, written in 1910, stands out:
Are men ready for it? Are they emancipated from the caste of sex so that they can work easily with a woman, unless they be head and woman clearly subordinate? Certainly facts seem to indicate that in spite of the rapid strides undoubtedly made in this direction we have still a long stretch of unexplored country to be traversed before the perfect democracy of Jesus is reached. (p.336)
There's still a long way to go. If you're interested in the history of mission, of women's involvement in mission and, in particular, mission to China, this is a book you won't want to miss.
Phil Groom, January 2005
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.Monarch | Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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