Women Who Changed the Course of Church History: Mother Teresa, Lottie Moon, and Mary Slessor

Throughout this month, Ruth and I will be writing about various women who have made a GREAT difference in Church History!  The following is part of a paper I wrote for my Church History class. 

If I were to ask someone to list some influential men in Church History, I’m sure I would hear some popular names, such as: Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, Saint Augustine, or Saint Lawrence. However, if I were to ask someone to list some influential women in Church History, I’m sure I would hear Mother Teresa if I was lucky.  I’m not sure many of us could think of women who made great contributions to the Church.  The truth is that there were several women who made a difference in missionary journeys, writing, and theology, but unfortunately they are a well-kept secret, and frankly, I’m tired of them being a secret.

First, let’s start off with the one woman everyone knows: Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Macedonia.  Mother Teresa received her calling to serve at the young age of 12.  Six years later, she joined an Irish group of nuns.  One year later she was sent to Calcutta to be a teacher at an all-girls school, where on the weekends, she had her students serve the poor.  In 1948, she stopped teaching and left the convent and started to work solely with the poor and dying in Calcutta.  In 1950, Mother Teresa started the Missionaries of Charity, and she worked there until her death from a heart attack on September 5, 1997.

However, Mother Teresa wasn’t the first of women to serve as a missionary to those less fortunate. Several years before Mother Teresa, there was Lottie Moon.

Lottie Moon

At a young age, Moon was declared defiant, and she used that defiant attitude to make great strides for women in the Church and in Ministry. Moon went to China in 1873 teaching at an all-girls’ school.  She felt this job wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life, so she asked to be reassigned to planting churches.  When they refused to support her, Moon decided to go on her own to Ping-tu without the church’s support.  Moon did a variety of work throughout her life: evangelism, training of missionaries, wrote to Baptist Americans asking for support, organized relief work after disease and famine, and started a Christmas fund that still continues today.  Unfortunately, Moon fell into depression, stopped eating, and died, Christmas Eve in 1912.  Today, in 2015, we wouldn’t think much of the work Moon did as a woman, but in her time, it wasn’t work thought of as highly for a woman to do.  Her ministry was flat out radical!

Mary Slessor was also a woman who made great strides for the Church.

Mary Slessor

Slessor had grown up poor and she was often left to provide for her family.  God took that devastating childhood and used it for His good.  Slessor bravely went where her counterpart men wouldn’t even go in fear for their own safety!  Slessor lived in a mud hut and did several different tasks while in Africa: supervised education, adopted several abandoned children, and evangelized to villages.  She lived over two decades in rat and bug infested huts, endured boils and other bad conditions, adopted seven abandoned children, and escaped death that was practiced in a way that whenever a man felt like killing a woman, he simply could.  Slessor died in 1915.

A situation that has arisen in the Church has been to overlook the important roles women play/have played in the church due to gender roles, whether this is in regards to women as missionaries, women in pastoral office, or women’s public Christian activities. Several churches are seeing a need to liberate women and empower them to do great things, because of what assets women have been to the Church in the past.  Throughout the centuries women have done great things for missionary work and working cross-culturally, as well as during the Middle Ages, the women were important to the building, learning, and teaching theology.  Also, as we look throughout history, it is far more likely for women to be involved in ordinary participation of Church and its activities.  Women are absolutely vital in the Church and have helped kept it going throughout the centuries!

I’m sure there will always be those like Mark Driscoll, John and Stasi Eldredge, and John Piper who will want to see traditional gender roles continue in the Church, but one thing that is becoming apparently clear: although men have been highly regarded with Church History, they have also contributed to a lot of violence, fighting, and hatred as well.  Just because a person is a male doesn’t mean he’s the best person for the job.

Something that is vital for us to acknowledge is that it is important to give credit where credit is due, and to understand that not only have men played a valid and important place in history and in the church today, women have had an equally valid and important place in history in the Church as well. Both are absolutely vital!  We would not be where we are today if it hadn’t been for BOTH the men AND women of the past working throughout Church History.  ALL people are needed equally for God’s glory!

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