If I were to ask you as a church leader, “What are some of the issues and challenges that the women in your congregation face?” What would you say? At General Conference Women’s Ministries we have identified six main challenges that our sisters face in their daily lives. As I travel the globe I have found that these challenges exist in every country, in varying degrees, but they do exist.
Social status, education, financial status, culture, race, first world, developing world – neither of these hinder the existence of these challenges. They are real, they decimate the lives of their victims and their families, and they are unstoppable. These challenges are:
• Threats to Health
• Lack of training, mentoring and educational opportunities
Let me share a brief description about each of these challenges.
1.THREATS TO HEALTH - Women’s health includes her emotional, social, and physical well-being and is directly affected by social, political and economic factors. The quality of a woman’s health directly impacts her life and well-being, her family and society.
2. A WOMAN’S WORKLOAD - Women around the world and in all cultures face the problem of work overload. Many women are faced with the challenge of doing 90% of the world’s agricultural work which includes long work days, small salaries and then the additional hours of housework and childcare with limited access to basic necessities. On the other hand are women who deal with the balancing act of societal expectations for maintaining an intact and healthy family while achieving in a highly competitive work environment resulting in long days, limited rest and recreation, and little time with God.
3. POVERTY- The UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) report “Progress of the World’s Women 2005” notes that “despite parity in primary education, disparities are still wide in secondary and tertiary education—both increasingly key to new employment opportunities.”
4. LACK OF TRAINING, MENTORING, AND OPPORTUNITIES- Education for all is a basic human right. For women to achieve better health, nutrition, and quality of life for themselves and their families they need equal access to education. Lack of education results in women being trapped in a cycle of poverty with limited options for economic improvement which results in sentencing their children to chronic poverty and limited education.
5. ABUSE - Domestic violence, incest, rape, and battering are all too common burdens that women carry. Physical, sexual, and psychological battering happens to small girls, adolescents, single, and married adult women, including elderly women. No stratum of society is immune from the epidemic of violence and as a church we believe that tolerance of abuse is a denial of Christ.
6. ILLITERACY - There are nearly one billion people in the world who are illiterate, one-fifth of the world’s population. One out of every three women in the world cannot read and write. Statistics show that two-thirds of the world’s non-literate population and one-third of all heads of households are women, yet they carry out two-thirds of the world’s work.
I know this information seems a bit overwhelming and as you read you are thinking about your country and if these problems really exist. Let me assure you, they exist. These are real challenges that our sisters deal with not only in the community but also within our church walls.
So how can we, the church help? Is there something that you as a church elder can do to help with these problems? Yes there is, and I’m so glad you asked.
The first thing you can do is to create an awareness of these problems in your church. Do an assessment of your church, talk with the pastor, church leaders and some of the women in your church. Ask them which of these problems they think are challenges to women in the church and in the community. Why the community? Because the problems of the community are also the problems of the church. Baptized members don’t leave their social challenges and issues behind when they get baptized. They bring them into the church and they need to be acknowledged and then helped.
But the greater challenge for us as leaders is not only to help those in our pews in need but reach out to “Tell the World” about Jesus.
What was Jesus’ mission to the world? These prophetic words about the Messiah found in Isaiah 61:1- 3 reminds us,
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound… To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…”
But what method should we use to touch the lives of those in need? Ellen White is very clear on the method.
“Christ’s method ALONE will give true success in reaching people. The Savior mingled with [people] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. THEN He bade them, ‘follow Me’.” Ministry of Healing, p. 143 (Emphasis mine).
Did you see it? Don’t miss what Sister White is saying in this quotation – Jesus dealt with the needs of the people first, their challenges, their social issues, and THEN He told them to follow Him. First He met their needs, He touched them where it hurt the most, He dealt with their issues; then He gave them spiritual food.
Dear Elder, can we do less? God has called us to lead by His example. We, the women of your church and your community are waiting for a touch of love from God, and that means from you.
For more information: Department of Women’s Ministries General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 USA - 301-680-6608 - [email protected] http://wm.gc.adventist.org
Heather–Dawn Small is the Director of General Conference Women’s Ministries.