At the beginning of 1981, I became invisible. The occasion for this strange phenomenon was my return to New Zealand, with four young daughters, after the death of my husband when we were missionaries in Nepal.
As I moved through grief, I wanted to contribute in church. Although my church was kind to us, I could not be seen when there were tasks to do, even though at least three things should have made me visible: I was a high school teacher which was considered a welcome resource person for preaching in my church. Yet, I was invisible. A missionary would often preach within two weeks of returning. I was again invisible. A person with Bachelor of Divinity or Master of Theology—that too meant nothing in this circumstance. I still was not seen.
I knew well what was going on, since I had grown up in that church. Women should be seen and not heard (although it was only explicitly said about children). But now I was 37 and wanted to use my training. I puzzled over the church culture. Should I just give in and be quiet?
Someone invited me to a study where they would discuss Genesis 3, but I was suspicious and did not go. I’d read the interpretation that Eve sinned because she did not ask her husband’s advice before making her decision. “So what hope is there for me a widow?” I asked. “I shall immediately fall into sin, and I shall have to raise my daughters knowing they urgently need some Prince Charming who will take over and run their lives to keep them out of sin. What rot!”
This was my intuition, but I needed more than intuition. I came across books by Alvera Mickelson, Gretchen Gabelein Hull, and Catherine Clark Kroeger. Later, I read works by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. Yes, the books had reached all the way down to the South Pacific by 1983, exactly when I needed them! Phew! I could look myself in the face as a Bible believer again. I could believe the Bible and believe God had a role for women to minister to anybody in the church.
I had a few ups and downs after that, but I had lost the doubt. In a different church, I became visible again and learned to contribute up front. Years later, I was delighted to accept an invitation to preach in my previous church. Eventually, I raised my family, gained experience in writing, returned to mission work in India in 1996, and later completed a degree in preaching.
But it took until August 2005, in Philadelphia, for me to experience the surprise and pleasure of meeting those women who had saved my self-esteem, and my faith, 24 years earlier.
Gretchen’s husband was there. Catherine and Alvera were all smiles and encouragement, and Mary welcomed me and my friends from India as her house guests. What a treat to be able to thank those pioneers of CBE for their significant roles in my life years ago. I thank them and I thank God.
A Thank You to the Men
One thing that stood out for me at CBE’s 2005 conference was the easy-going attitude of the men. By this I don’t mean they were careless about the cause of women’s equality. Far from it! They were as involved as anyone else. They were simply past any self-consciousness about their participation.
At times, I have seen Christian men appear embarrassed that others may label them “hen-pecked” for supporting equality. I have seen other men visibly respond at gatherings like CBE’s conference in one of two ways: they have too much to say because they are “the experts in Bible exposition,” or they have nothing to say at all, as if they have turned off their own power of thought. Neither attitude seems natural or helpful.
In contrast, the men at the Philadelphia conference were matter-of-fact and part of the team. The attitude seemed to be, “This gender discrimination is silly. I’m perfectly happy to work along with anybody else, men or women, to get rid of it.” I like that. Thank you, brothers in Christ.