Friday, October 25, 2013

Family and Personal Vision: On being a woman in the "missions" world

In a week I will be done with full-time, out of the house, paid work for the indefinite future. I'll be a stay at home mother.

This has been the plan. We were going to move overseas and I was going to be at home with the kiddos, continuing my outreach in the community but with kids in tow. It's easier to do that overseas, where children aren't quite so segregated out of adult society.  Isaac would be the breadwinner with the externally recognized job. Although I seem to have this ever-strengthening feminist side, I've been fine with that because Isaac has been at home with Judah full-time for nearly three years. It's my turn.

But still, back in January some job opportunities for me threw me again into some wrestling with what my place is in this whole equation. As a woman. As a mother. As me, an introvert. The "missions" world reflects the evangelical church as a whole, and the place of women tends to be pretty traditional and the community tends to be patriarchal. Sometimes some of the answers people have given me as I wrestle with this have just made me mad.

A man that I deeply respect sent me an article called "Points of  Engagement for Women in Church Planting" by Ronda Trotter. These quotes put into words some of what I've heard and felt myself. 

Female missionaries with whom I have interacted want to pursue excellence. No matter the season or phase in a woman's life it has been my observation that most women come to the mission field to live eternally impactful lives....
Most women I know don't want to take over from men and they don't have a feminist agenda, but they do want to be able to use their gifts and abilities for His glory.

 That's the thing. I come in just longing to be used, to be meaningful, to have a vision and work hard towards it, things that we expect of men. It is a little shocking to get responses that encourage you to sit back and not worry about those questions. This woman was quoted in the article:
I came to the field longing to be used of God. However, whenever I want to discuss the possibility of getting further training and being more intentional in how I spend my time here, I get such confusing messages from women in my missions organization. Another female missionary corrected me for wanted more than just being content to support my husband's calling and to see him fulfilling God's leading on his life. I passionately love my husband and kids. But somehow this either/or paradigm of ministry doesn't feel like what God called me to when we both came to the field.
 To my organization's credit, when I started wrestling with my specific vision for my role overseas, all I received was positive feedback. Top to bottom. I went to our supervisor in the city, the manager over the region, the person coaching us in our onboarding process.... everyone answered with enthusiastic support for me developing my role. The organization as a whole requires each person working overseas to do a bi-annual day of reflection and prayer that combines a sort of "job review" with the spiritual side of things, going over your recent work and setting into place goals and plans for the next six months. They were specific, though, in saying that they expect both spouses to do this, not just the husband, because they expect both spouses to be intentional in their pursuit of the plan of God in their life and ministry. I love that.

There's full support for women who intend to have their focus primarily in the home. One woman in the article I quoted above pointed out that the compartmentalization of the role of mother and ministry is really a false dichotomy anyways. Life is integrated. That reminds me of my reading and review of the book Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James.

I go home today ready for a stage of being focused "at home" as I have a baby and go through a cultural transition with two little ones. But ultimately I believe my other work continues, in a greater way, and I DO have a vision and an actual plan for what my part will be in our work overseas. I've grown increasingly confident in this, though I might still feel quite quite insufficient in my own abilities within that plan and calling!

1 comment:

Jen said...

I'm so glad you've found a good mission organization fit! I am envious of that. I hope you will continue to write about your role, especially as you experience all the changes of not working outside the home, two kids, and then being on the mission field. I am especially curious to know about the mission community you will be entering. This has been my biggest struggle here that I am one of VERY few missionary wives who wants to be involved in my own vocation outside the home and not simply be here to support my husband. No one seems to know what to do with me that 1) I don't have kids and 2) I want to work. Thank you for sharing about your wrestling. The evangelical world and mission world can be such a confusing place!