A missionary’s what?: updated

The following was originally posted March 2009. An update has been added to the end.

We were laying on sleeping bags looking up at the stars. Miles away from the nearest electric light, the stars had no competition and dazzled us with clarity and brightness we never experienced at home. “Do you think women can be pastors?” someone asked.

On a mountain in Panama, a diverse group of students from a southern Baptist college were pulled from the never-ending sky into a black hole of controversy.

Years before, I was pulling weeds that had grown through the concrete of a church parking lot. My church youth group had traveled a considerable distance to sing some songs and assist a small church as it struggled to care for its property and minister to a changing neighborhood. So I pulled weeds.

It was satisfying work, grabbing hold and removing the menacing plant from the ground. One of the trip sponsors looked at me and stated, “Jennifer, you’d make a good missionary’s wife.”

Missionary’s wife? Did such a thing exist? Weren’t women married to missionaries typically ALSO missionaries?

His well-meaning compliment stuck in my side like a thorn from one of the weeds I pulled. Though I had grown up in a Southern Baptist church and had a general understanding that women as Pastor were frowned upon, it was an issue that stayed hidden — somewhere back in a broom closet in the “old part” of the building that winded like a maze on the second floor. This was the first time anyone had ever suggested that there was a career I couldn’t have because of my gender.

That next year, I announced to my youth minister (they were “ministers,” not “pastors” in my home church) that I intended to follow in his footsteps. “I think I’m called to youth ministry,” I suggested. He smiled, “I think you will marry a pastor.”

My parents had always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. Were they wrong?

On the mountain in Panama, my fellow students were divided. “I think women can be in church ministry roles, just not THE PASTOR,” stated one. “What if that is God’s call for her?” asked another. “Didn’t Paul say that women shouldn’t be leaders?” responded a third.

The conversation stayed at a discussion tone, but the answers to the question were deeply important for some: the one female pastoral studies major, for one. And while I was no longer focused on youth ministry, I still had that nagging question in my head.

As my understanding of Scripture expanded, I found that women leaders are sprinkled throughout the Bible. My question has faded, but as Pastor Nadia points out, many women (and men) are still being left to answer it. “There is something unusual about serving in a profession where there are entire institutions in America where women are not allowed to do my job,” she wrote.

Isn’t it about time we allowed our daughters and sons to focus on more important things — like the stars?

Update: Turns out, there is such a thing as a missionary’s wife — and it looks like I will be one. Allyn is currently in discussion about an urban ministry role that will give him the title “missionary.” Just in case it hadn’t already been proven, God has a sense of humor. Luckily, so do I!

(photo credit)


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