Not long ago, I saw a brief note about Jaqueline Huggins, the first African American woman ever to complete a translation of the New Testament. I was very excited about this, because it happens that as a child, I was Huggins’ neighbor in the Philippines, where my parents were colleagues of hers. She was always “Aunt Jackie” to me. This little note reminded me how privileged I was (and many of us are) to be surrounded by women making history. And often, we have no idea.
Aunt Jackie’s house was across the field, past the basketball court, and just out of sight beyond the gravel pile. She was just a neighbor. I saw her all the time—at church, at our little store, and whenever we randomly crossed paths. I have a vague memory of going to her house and licking stamps for her once to raise money for a school field trip. I had no idea that as I licked stamps, she was over at her desk making history.
And Aunt Jackie wasn’t the only woman I knew who was changing the world. When my parents were in diapers, Aunt Viv was a young woman sailing across the Pacific from her home in rural Minnesota to her new home in the rural Philippines. Leaving behind family, friends, and the American ideals for women, she instead obeyed God’s call to missions. In a remote part of the Philippines, she and another single missionary woman settled down among the Tboli people and began to serve their new community. Years later, when I was in diapers, Aunt Viv was still there, still serving. By then she was working alongside a different mission partner, Aunt Lil, herself a strong leader with a brilliant mind. Later still, when I moved back to the US as a teenager, they were still there, still serving.
Tboli Bible Dedication Ceremony. Photo credit Ron Krueger
Because these women were obedient to God, thousands of people can read the Bible in their own language—a language that previously had no written form. As a result, a people came to know Jesus, a minority language (and history and culture) was preserved, and its speakers learned to read. Once bullied and manipulated by wealthy, powerful lowlanders, the Tboli gained the political and economic clout to stand on their own. Their story has led other Asian countries to send representatives to learn how to replicate the political, social, economic, and agricultural success of this indigenous people group in the southern Philippines.
Tboli Preacher Speaks During the Ceremony. Photo credit Ron Krueger.
Theirs is a story of what can happen when God goes to work, but it is also a story of how God uses women. While Christians in America quibble over definitions of modesty and argue over whether women can find fulfillment outside of marriage, I laugh even as I groan. Because I know that all over the world, women like Aunt Jackie, Aunt Viv, and Aunt Lil (and I could name many, many more) are out there making history.
The history of missions is full of courageous and brilliant women. In 1932, after all the missionary sending agencies turned her away, Gladys Aylward spent her life savings to book a one-way train ticket to China. She became a Chinese citizen, worked to end the oppressive practice of foot binding, and led orphans to safety in the mountains when Japan invaded China in 1938. A few decades earlier, another young woman, Amy Carmichael, left her native Ireland for India where she spent decades rescuing girls from temple sex slavery.
It is right that we remember women like Gladys Aylward and Amy Carmichael, but it is not enough. For every great woman whose name we recognize, there are countless more whose names and work go unrecognized, but who have changed the world for the better.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was women like these–women who I just thought to be ordinary neighbors—who taught me that women can do anything in God’s service. Their lives testify to the powerful ways God uses the leadership, initiative, and courage of women—with or without men—to make the gospel known in every corner of the world.
You’re probably surrounded by women who are making history in one way or another, and you might not know it, because of course, they won’t talk about it. They’re too busy loving their neighbors. I’m fairly sure that most of these women are content to be forgotten by history, so long as God is remembered.
I believe, though, that God wells up with pride when servants of the kingdom are honored. So, even though Women’s History Month has come to a close once again, let’s not forget the women making history every day, all around us. Let’s honor them in any way we can.