April-Hero(ine)s of the Faith
Many of us have heard the stories of great missionaries like Adoniram Judson, William Carey, and Hudson Taylor. Their stories have served as springboards for our own decisions in the work of the gospel. Only a select few of those stories are women. Women are and have been an essential part of the advancement of the Kingdom of God. However, in history they have often been overlooked. To counter that, I would like to introduce you to some women who have been an essential part in spreading the good news.
In John 4, Jesus has his longest conversation in Scripture with an individual-the woman at the well. In this conversation Jesus explains to her the secret of the Living Water. He "airs her laundry", that she has had five husbands and the one she has now isn't her husband at all. She realizes he is a prophet that he offers something great in this living water and asks for it. He reveals that he is the Messiah to her. Because of this intimate conversation she became an evangelist to her people. She left her jug of water that she had come for and went into her town testifying to the power of Christ. Her influence on her community brought many to faith in Christ. "Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me all that I ever did.'" (John 4:39) A Samaritan woman evangelist!
Women were the first to see Jesus after the resurrection!
"Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the weeks, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb…The angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead…'So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, 'Greetings!' And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.'" (Matthew 28:1-10)
Jesus gave the honor of announcing His resurrection to these faithful women followers. These women were the ones who told the disciples that Jesus is risen. Their response to seeing him was to immediately worship at his feet. We can learn a lot from the faith of these women and their devotion to the Lord. They were spending their Sabbath going to the tomb of Christ. Where were the disciples? These women were also part of the pioneering of the Church of Jesus Christ. Mary and Mary are our mothers in the faith! Let us take away conviction and encouragement from the favor God has shown them and their faithfulness to him.
Heroines of History
Perpetua and Felicitas 202AD
You may have heard of the woman named Perpetua. In 202/3 AD she was martyred along with her servant Felicitas under the persecution of Septimius Severus because of their faith in God. They were both killed during a gladiator event in something like you have seen in the movie "Gladiator". The servant Felicitas had just given birth days before being slain and Perpetua had a young child of her own. As the crowds cheered for their deaths the two women did not shrink back from the gift they believed their martyrdom to be. As the gladiator's sword came reluctantly towards her, Perpetua guided his reluctant hand and sword to her neck, afraid that if he was unable to kill her because of his reluctance she might not have the courage to let it happen later. These women did not shrink back nor deny Christ in the face of extreme torture and death on account of their faith.
Catherine Booth is one of the most remarkable women of history. When she and William Booth married, they began a life of evangelism and revival among the English first and eventually the world. As a woman in the 1800s, one would expect less leadership to be expressed from a woman. However, the influence of John Wesley and the holiness movement in England at that time and with the support and encouragement of her husband gave Catherine great courage and conviction to preach the gospel. She is considered one of the first to campaign and implement equal rights for women in ministry. The Salvation Army, which her and her husband co-founded, commissioned women evangelists from the very beginning including their daughters and entrusted them with the work of the Kingdom no less than any man. The result of the work of the Salvation Army began with reaching the working class and the drunkards in the East End of London. They continued throughout their history to sponsor evangelistic meetings, marches through the streets, and the sharing of testimonies from those newly converted through their ministry. Countless numbers of people have come to Christ under the leadership of women in the Salvation Army including the unsinkable Catherine Booth.
Amanda Smith (1837-1915) was born a black slave in Maryland and experienced hard work and intense religious emotion. She heard the Lord call her to preach. She would spend her ministry in opposition from both black and white, but it would never deter her from following the voice of the Lord. She spent 14 years evangelizing in England, India, and Africa. What a remarkable Mother in the faith we have in Amanda Smith. Although she was doing the work of a preacher and evangelist, she never had an official ordination like we might see today (and during her time as well): "The thought of ordination had never once entered my mind, for I had received my ordination from Him, Who said, 'Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you might go and bring forth fruit." This small word from Amanda Smith reveals her passion and faithful obedience to the call of God on her life. Whatever circumstances may have looked like obstacles in Amanda's life-slavery, ethnicity, gender, finances-were but small hills to climb with the Lord. What obstacles do you see in your life or other's lives that lead you to discouragement or doubt? Remember Amanda and her ministry and move with courage in the direction God has called you in.
Today, the mission force is made of two-thirds women. Women who may never be known in our history books or our culture but who are advancing the Kingdom of Christ to the ends of the earth. Single, married, widowed, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, friends; no obstacle prevents them from responding to the call, "Here am I, Lord, send me!" My plea to you sisters and brothers is to consider the women in mission, their extreme devotion to the Lord and His work, and honor them with re-telling their stories, encouraging them with honoring words, seek their counsel whether you are male or female, and humble yourself in your debt to them for blazing the path before you.
1. Amanda Smith, An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord's Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist (Chicago: Meyer & Brothers, 1893), 199-200