Awakenings / Witness

These Women Played An Enormous Role in Shaping Christianity—Do You Know Their Names?

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The following is adapted from a presentation by Amy F. Davis Abdallah, Ph.D. given on Saturday morning’s plenary session at Missio Alliance Awakenings 2019. You can pre-order all conference audio here.


I recently heard the story of a small church with a female pastor. When the kids “played church” downstairs, the girls wouldn’t let the boys preach. The teachers had to tell the kids that though they’d never seen it, boys could preach too!

Even as adults, it’s challenging to imagine doing something that we haven’t seen done by someone who looks like us. People of color who have only seen white leaders wonder whether they have something to contribute. Women who have only experienced male pastors find it challenging to envision themselves as pastors. People who have never witnessed women and men partnering together in ministry or beheld cultural boundaries being crossed in ministry will understandably question the viability of such partnership.

Yet books could be filled with stories of spiritual leadership by people of color and women and of multicultural and cross-gender partnerships for the gospel. And it is precisely because many of us have not witnessed them in our own lives that we must faithfully tell the stories.

Would you allow me tell you about some of them, in the tradition of Hebrews 11 and 12? 

The Great Cloud of Witnesses

By faith, Lydia prayed with the women by the river at Philippi, where the Lord opened her heart to the preaching of Paul and Silas. She was their first European convert. By faith, she opened her home to them and hosted Christian gatherings. She joined them in preaching the gospel to all.

By faith, Priscilla joined her husband Aquila and Paul in the business of making tents and making disciples. She taught Apollos, and by faith, she was still teaching when she was martyred.

By faith, the apostle Junia preached far and wide alongside her husband Andronicus. By faith, they continued to preach and then suffered martyrdom.

By faith, Lois and Eunice taught Timothy to follow God.

By faith, Phoebe served the church as a deacon. Paul entrusted the letter to the Romans to her because of her faith. By faith, she was a benefactor of many, including Paul.

By faith, Thekla left her family and fiancé to follow Paul and his teachings about Jesus. She committed herself to celibacy, the performance of miracles, and serving as the apostle to Iconium and other lands. By faith, she escaped multiple attempts on her life, was hidden in a cave, and is finally remembered as the first martyr and equal-to-the apostles.

By faith, Perpetua confessed Christ and was imprisoned. She refused to worship the emperor, an act that would have freed her. By faith, she received visions that encouraged her, Felicita, and their companions as they bravely faced martyrdom in the arena.

By faith, Marcella founded a convent and wrote to Jerome to challenge and hone his biblical scholarship. By faith, she replaced Jerome in his absence from Rome and taught men—including priests.

By faith, Monica earnestly prayed for her son Augustine and tearfully interceded for him with church leaders. God answered her prayers offered to him in faith and her son converted. His writings changed the world.

By faith, Hildegard of Bingen received mystical visions from the Lord which she recorded. By faith, she led her order and was commissioned by the Pope to preach and teach. She composed music, poetry, and medicine that is still studied today. Her faith gave her the honor of the title, “Doctor of the Church.”

By faith, Argula von Grumbach studied scripture, corresponded with Luther, and wrote an impassioned letter on behalf of Lutheran university students. By faith, she faced persecution, threats, and rejection by her family.

By faith, Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and returned nineteen times to the south to deliver three hundred fellow slaves. By faith, she listened to God for each route north and “never lost a passenger.” She is known as the “Moses of her people.”

By faith, Lottie Moon preached the gospel and served the people of China. By faith, she called on others to give to the mission—and she still inspires people to give today.

By faith, Catherine Booth wrote an apologetic for a woman’s right to preach the gospel. She then became a powerful preacher and ministered to many through her faith. She is known as the Mother of the Salvation Army.

By faith, Theresa left her homeland and settled in Calcutta. By faith, she founded The Missionaries of Charity and dedicated her life to serving the poor and abandoned. She opened homes for the dying and believed in human dignity for all. Her faith was internationally recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize.

By faith, Dora Yu, though Chinese, preached the gospel in Korea to Korean women. She returned to China and gave up her medical practice so she could concentrate on revival preaching. Her faithful evangelism converted Peace Lin and her son, Watchman Nee. She was the main speaker at the British Keswick Convention in 1927.

By faith, Rev. Ana Maria Falcon-Garcia paved the way for the Iglesia Cristiana Pentecostal to ordain women as clergy. The church’s constitution was changed as a result of her faith and today, male and female clergy work side by side.

By faith, Pandita Ramabai was a social reformer in India. She worked for the emancipation of women and education for all. She also became a Sanskrit scholar through her faith.

And what more shall I say?  I don’t have time to tell you about Mary, Mary, and the other Mary, Joan of Arc, Clare of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Katie Luther, Sojourner Truth, the “bible women” in China’s church history, María Vicenta Rosal Vásquez of Guatemala, Rani Maria Vattalil of Kidangoor, India, and other saints.

Some were called apostles and sent by Jesus. Some taught the church. Some were writers, some prophesied and received visions, some were burned at the stake. They left home and family, abandoned hopes of motherhood, lost their children to disease, prayed for and healed the sick. They were destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.

All these were commended for their faith when they died, and together with them we press on to receive the prize.

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off the idea that men make history and don’t partner with women. Let us release the entanglement of male-only leadership. Let us actively remember the influence of female saints on our Christian history. And let us run as partners the race marked out for us.

Let us—together—fix our eyes on Jesus, who also partnered with women and finished his race so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

Surrounded by such a great cloud of women witnesses, let us remember the influence of female saints on Christian history and run - as partners - the race marked out for us. Click To Tweet
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