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Too Good Looking to be Missionaries? February 12, 2017

Posted by P, J, or J in Uncategorized.

In the 1990’s a female colleague in Wycliffe explained how she was often treated as an honorary man by people from a culture where people didn’t know quite how to deal with her being in a traditionally male role and acting ‘as if’ she was equal.

She was referring to her work on a different continent, but sadly at times she could have easily been referring to how the church in her home culture treats women.


Wycliffe USA has a whole section aimed at women https://www.wycliffe.org/women

The rest of the site is aimed at everyone regardless of gender and there is no section labeled https://www.wycliffe.org/men


Unlikely Heroes in Bible Translation

Recently I read that when Florence Hansen and Eunice Pike declared they wanted to work as Bible translators in Mexico in the 1930’s some were hesitant. Objections centered on the danger of sending single women into a potentially dangerous situation and even the suggestion that they were “too good looking to be [missionaries]”.

It’s not clear how their looks would have been a disadvantage – perhaps increased fear of attack, or simply that they’d either distract some of the men, or themselves get distracted by getting married before they’d translated the New Testament.

It’s not an objection to women in ministry that seems to be raised as much today, but even among those whose theology doesn’t bar women from certain roles there is still often a sense in which women can participate as long as they can do so as if they were ‘honorary men’.

Back in the 1930’s Florence and Eunice lead the way for other women to enter the field of Bible translation.

By 1940, there was no mention of gender in any publicity material and by 1944 two thirds of Wycliffe members were women.

Elsewhere in mission circles and in the wider culture of many countries  things were also changing but greater prominence also resulted in greater opposition in some circles.

I’m currently undertaking an MA in Contemporary Missiology and for an essay looking at missiological documents from the Lausanne Movement I chose to explore the development of the role of women.

The first Lausanne Congress took place in 1974, organized by Billy Graham and Britain’s John Stott. It was foundational for many agreements and initiatives and the start of greater collaboration between mission agencies.

The Cape Town Commitment of 2010 affirms that men and women are “equal in creation, in sin, in salvation, and in the Spirit,” but also concedes that there are still “different views sincerely held”, with respect to roles in the church. (Capetown Comitment section IIF.3)

Often those views are polarized into egalitarian and complementarian, the former stressing equality, the second stressing difference including difference in roles. Debate includes the level to which gender differences are post fall or part of God’s original design. Both sides agree sin compounds injustice, power, oppression, violence and abuse.

Some fear that this is a battle between traditional interpretation of the Bible and a changing culture without always recognizing that their ‘traditional interpretation’ was influenced by their culture.

My own essay is available on request (and I’ll put it online when I’ve made a few more edits) but I’m pleased to see that Redcliffe is now offering an entire module in Gender and Mission this Summer. I’d like to think that would be an equal mix of men and women taking the course but somehow I doubt it.



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