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Published Date: November 17, 2021

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It’s Time to Empower the Mighty Gideon-Women of Ministry

Editor’s note: This is a CBE 2021 Writing Contest Top 15 Winner!

My oldest daughter is turning eighteen this month. These past few years, as I have affirmed her gifts and encouraged her to dream of a career, I have realized how profoundly the lack of affirmation and career direction in my own life has affected me. I cannot remember a single incident during my education when someone named my gifts and encouraged me to pursue a career. As I have sat with my grief that it has taken me until my forties to own my gifts and to build a role from them, my mind has sought to justify those teachers and pastors who did not affirm me.

Then I remember the story of Gideon.

Gideon was hiding in a winepress, threshing grain, when the angel of the Lord found him and greeted him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon’s reply, paraphrased, was, “How can you say God is with us when so many evil things are happening to us?” The Bible says that the Lord himself—rather than the angel of the Lord—turned to Gideon at this point and told him, “‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’” Gideon responded, “Pardon me, my lord, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”1

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Gideon, like me, was a frightened, insecure young person when the angel of the Lord found him. He too had grown up amidst severe oppression and saw no future for himself. Yet someone else imagined more for him. Someone else saw a mighty warrior in him. This young man was hiding, but he was hiding to prepare and protect the grain his family and his people needed to survive. Despite the sheer weight of oppression he faced, he was taking positive action.

When I look back at my younger self, I can see that there were signs of a potential mighty woman of ministry, even in the insecure, traumatized young woman I was. Despite growing up as the scapegoat in a deeply misogynistic, complementarian family who never cared about my grades because they believed I was designed only to be a wife and mother, I worked hard and had top grades. I earned a BA and an MA.

“Go in the strength you have”

There were signs that I might become a mighty woman of ministry, but no one named those gifts in me. Whenever I volunteered, I was used as an able body, but not seen for my able mind. After I wrote a college paper on a potential career in missions, no one helped me consider career possibilities in the field. When a nearby seminary recruited me, they invited me to take classes to learn more about a subject which interested me, yet neither my recruiter nor any professor actually spoke with me about a potential career.

While I was at seminary, there were other women studying with me. I used to watch them and envy their certainty, passion, and drive. Once, one of the other women students told me that I was hurting their cause by being there. She was referring specifically to my habit of cross-stitching (with permission) in class, combining Mary and Martha, but I think it was more than that. The other women did not see me as a real candidate for ministry any more than the men did, and neither did I.

Then graduation arrived, and suddenly, my seminary professors were asking what career I would be entering so they could announce it on graduation day. I had no answer. All I knew was that I wanted to serve in ministry. I had worked sixty hours a week to pay for my studies, completed all the course work, and earned a master of arts in religion, but I still doubted that God had a place for me in ministry, because I was woman.

I think of the seminary as the winepress/threshing floor in Gideon’s story. There were so many people there (from faculty to fellow students with whom I’ve maintained relationships for years) who could have named my gifts or encouraged me in other ways—but they did not.

“Am I not sending you?”

When I agreed to marry my husband, I knew he was headed to the mission field. He knew I wanted to serve in ministry but that I doubted I belonged. He promised that wherever he served, he would ensure there would be a role for me as well. He kept that promise, and I have now been a missionary for twenty-one years—but my former mission organization continually credited my work to my husband. I remember writing an email to a teammate to address a longstanding conflict. Our supervisor wrote my husband an effusive letter of praise for “his” deeply pastoral letter. When my husband replied that I had written it, our supervisor replied only to my husband, “What can I say? You make a good team.”

I tried repeatedly to demonstrate my gifts to the mission organization, hoping someone besides my husband would notice, name, and utilize them. Instead, they told me that if I were godly, I wouldn’t mind my hidden, subsidiary role, in which I worked equally with my husband, but he received the credit for both of our work. One teammate, an alumna of the same seminary, asked me, “Isn’t your husband providing the affirmation you need? Why do you need it from the team?” She was missing the point.

Finally, I told my team, “I have these specific gifts. I think I could fill this specific role.” Another alumna from my seminary pulled me aside, “Beth, you can’t name your own gifts. You have to wait for someone else to name them.” I had been waiting for more than two decades; I was tired of waiting.

“I will be with you.”

When my husband and I had applied for our role in ministry, we were initially placed on probation because the assessors at the mission organization were uncertain I belonged. At one point during the assessment, we were assigned to role play new Christians. I asked a hard question, similar to Gideon asking the angel of the Lord, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” I asked, “How can Psalm 23 comfort an abuse victim? Merely telling her God is with her in her abuse is inadequate when what she needs is rescue.” One of the assessors exploded up from his seat, “What is wrong with you?”

When I later began speaking up about abuse in the mission organization, a male alumnus from my seminary messaged me to let it go and move on. Because I was struggling with the real emotional pain from repeated abuse, he told me my “discouragement” was driving God away. “You need to get to where God can get to you.” When I told him his words were harmful, he never replied. The story of Gideon has taught me that God can “get” to us anywhere—even if we’re hiding in a winepress.

“Peace! Do not be afraid.”

God saw, called out, and reassured the mighty warrior in Gideon when no one else did. Throughout the Judges account, Gideon needed continual reassurance from God, and God was gracious with Gideon’s insecurity. Yet Gideon was also brave enough to ask the hard question of the immensely powerful God, and he courageously took on the overpowering army of oppressors with only a few men, lanterns, and trumpets.

Likewise, God has continually reassured me as I have learned to embrace my gifts from him. Everywhere I go, people open up their wounds to me, saying that I am the only person they trust to treat their stories with grace rather than condemnation. This made me realize God was naming my gifts. I finally believe in my calling, a calling to minister to the wounded in the church.

Today I look around, and I see that now is the time of reckoning for abuse in the church. We have too many powerful church leaders condemning abuse victims rather than confronting abusers. Consider how many abused women are courageously stepping forward with lanterns in hand to shine light on the problem, becoming a trumpeting voice for this time!

As we consider the question of why there are not more women in ministry, let’s ask ourselves whether we have been ignoring the very women we need for this moment. I call on all of us to do better. Let’s seek out the Gideon-women. They may seem insecure and inadequate at first glance, hiding in the winepress, but let’s look again. Let’s name their gifts. Let’s affirm their calling as mighty women of ministry. The Gideon-women are here for such a time as this.

Notes

1. Paraphrased from Judges 6:11–15.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.


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