Lutheran Women & Missions Around the World

Missionary Unity

A Yamu. Photography, n.d. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.

3-B Ninkama. Photography, n.d. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Nathan Hohnbaum

In 1984, the Woman to Woman Exchange Project brought twenty Christian women from Papua New Guinea to the United States to share their culture with the women within the missionary societies.1  The women left Papua New Guinea around the end of May 1984,2 and flew to Minneapolis, Minnesota.3  After spending a few days in Minneapolis, the women from Papua New Guinea traveled to Portland, Oregon where various women from the area hosted the visiting women from Papua.4  The coordinators of the Woman to Woman Exchange Project for the Portland area assigned each woman from New Guinea to a host family who provided lodging for the assigned woman.  For the next four weeks, the visiting women showcased their culture and faith to the members of the missionary society.5  A letter describing the event to the women instructed them to take with them “special crafts that are typical of [their] land, musical instruments, cloth or fabric that i typical of [their] people, spices if you wish to demonstrate cooking of some of [their] country’s food.”6  They participated in a variety of activities including small group activities, where the visiting women interacted directly with the local women, and large group activities, where the women presented various aspects of their lives, culture, and Christian faith to the women of the Pacific District, in addition to having several “rest” days, days with no planned activities so that the visiting women could refresh themselves, scattered throughout the itinerary.7  The Woman to Woman Exchange Project covered the food expenses and visiting women were also given five dollars every day as an allowance for them to spend however they pleased, with possible uses including but not limited to “personal items, mementos, and gifts to take home”.8  Before flying back to Papua New Guinea, the visiting women were taken to the American Civil Liberties Union convention in Detroit, Michigan.9

The Woman to Woman Exchange Project echoes the history of the various women’s missionary societies of which it comprised.  The missionary societies were formed from women coming together in the same way that the American women involved with the exchange project came together with the women from New Guinea.  In order for the exchange project to be executed, the coordinators required large quantities of money.  They raised significant amounts of money through seemingly insignificant contributions, but these contributions added up providing women with a significant source of power.10  Whether it be through religious conversion or through acts of goodwill, the women focused on using this power to help people in various parts of the world to achieve a better life.  Women’s missionary societies achieved their power through the unity of the women involved both within and among the individual missionary societies as well as with the women with whom the societies worked resulting in massive amounts of money generated through donations and fundraising, highly effective means of service and conversion, and a powerful force for social activism.

The belief of a universal Christian community that is spiritually connected played a key role in bringing many women into the women’s missionary societies.  A major source of the strength of the women’s missionary societies came from the strong bonds between the women of the societies.  The women of the missionary societies came together for a common cause: do the work of Jesus Christ.  Women believed that it was up to them to spread Christianity since Mary Magdalene, a woman, was the first person ordered to spread the news of Jesus’s resurrection.11  Their religious justification for spreading the word of Jesus provided a foundation for the women to come together and work toward a common goal.  Their unity gave them a source of power that attracted men to gain authority over the societies, but even when the men finally did gain “control” over the missionary societies, the societies remained highly influential and autonomous.12  During the Woman to Woman Exchange Project, the visiting women were eager to visit the United States and share their culture with the American women.13  In addition, the administrators for the exchange project put heavy emphasis on the importance of respecting rest days in their documents sent to host families and event coordinators.14  These factors, along with the variety of different forms of interactions the women from Papua had with the women from the United States, show that the women’s culture was not looked down upon in a minstrel show-like manner, but rather respected and embraced with an eagerness to learn about it.  The men absorbed control over the missionary societies because they challenged the patriarchy by empowering women,15 but the bonds between the women that brought them together for a common cause was too powerful to allow men to take all control away from the women of the societies.  This is seen through women’s presence in high leadership roles within these organizations despite being absorbed by churches run by men.

A key aspect in the influence of the Women’s Missionary societies was its ability to fundraise highly effectively.  Although the Woman to Woman treasurer sent $1,070 for backup funds in the event that the fundraising fails to cover the rest of the expenses, she also expressed confidence in the organization’s ability to raise the rest of the money and not have to depend on the emergency money, and the $1,070 would cover less than a third of the total expenses.16  The unity of the women within the missionary societies was a fundamental component to their ability to collect large amounts of donations.  Women who gave everything they could were highly valued.17  The paradigm of giving whatever money one could acquire successfully encouraged individual women to give small amounts of money, but accumulation of seemingly insignificant amounts of money contributed by individual members on a regular basis resulted in a large source of revenue for the missionary societies where the money accumulated allowing it to be used effectively by the missionary societies.  A significant tool for promoting the donations to the societies was “self-denial” offerings, where one puts their own interests aside in order to serve those in need.18  Their fundraising abilities drew the attention of men seeking to regain control over the women.19  Although men gained authority over the women, the experiences questioned women’s abilities to fulfil leadership roles within these organizations.20 She did state that there would be absolutely no problem paying for the event implying that the rest of the expenses were covered through fundraising efforts outside of the uncounted donations for the year.21  Her confidence in the fundraising efforts producing sufficient funds for the Woman to Woman Exchange Project reflects the high reliability in the fundraising efforts’ ability to cover expenses for projects without having to depend on what revenue is already known to exist.  The unity of women within the missionary societies promoted their fundraising abilities resulting in the missionary societies acquiring a source of economic power.

Throughout the twentieth century, the Women’s Missionary Federation used the unity of its members not only to rise large quantities of money for its charity projects, but also to impact many people around the world.  Women in these societies focused not on the money they raised, but on the lives they improved.22  Between 1897 and 1922, missionaries opened three hospitals, two schools, one for training nurses and one for educating young girls, and a home for unprotected women in India.23  In addition, Dana L. Robert claims that during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, missionaries coordinated with American churches to help refugees resettle.24  During the three years immediately following World War I, they built six schools, a hospital, and a dispensary in China, a church in Puerto Rico, and prepared to build a school for girls and a hospital in Africa.25  Their focus on projects that benefit women, such as schools for girls, reflects the autonomy the women retained and their pursuit of the goals of their unified missionary societies despite technically being under the authority of men.  The initial success of the women’s missionary societies forced men to reevaluate women’s ability to make good decisions about spending money they raised.26  In addition to large projects such as schools and hospitals, the women’s missionary societies also sent regular donations to missionaries as well as the people served by the missionaries.27  In 1953, the Women’s Missionary Federation was sending $2,000 per year to Papua New Guinea for medical supplies and $4,000 per year for books and school supplies for a girls’ school.28  The donations reflect a sustained interest in helping people in need.  The women of the missionary societies could not let their fellow women—with whom they saw a universal bond—to be oppressed by “heathen” societies, so they decided to take action and help the women who were suffering.  The missionaries within the Women’s Missionary Federation saw helping other people—not necessarily converting them although they did see converting people as a powerful way of helping them—as their main goal.

The women of the missionary societies played a powerful role in social reforms that took place during the twentieth century.  By 1953, the missionaries were beginning to achieve positive results regarding the treatment of women in India.29  In Africa, they used Christianity as a means of reducing the amount of physical abuse that took place within the marriages of the African women.30  It also improved the situation for women in China. One of their stories describes a Chinese Christian couple who had a baby girl, but they chose to keep her and accept her as part of the family instead of getting rid of her and trying for a boy.31  The missionaries’ focus on improving the quality of life for women around the world shows their desire to stand in solidarity with oppressed women.  Members of the Women’s Missionary Federation were also strong supporters of civil rights despite the majority of the women being white.32  Training programs for missionaries taught racial equality.33  The women believed that everyone was partially negro, and that small negro component of one’s blood was significant.34  The idea that everyone is at least slightly black reflects the belief that all Christians are united under Jesus.  It creates physical connections among all Christians to exist alongside the spiritual connections.  Furthermore, referring to the common physical connection as everyone being at least slightly black instead of everyone being at least slightly white shows the missionaries’ approval of people of color.  In her master’s thesis, Valerie G. Rempel said that after World War II, “Women wanted to unite and increase their work,”35 and the civil rights movement provided them with an opportunity to do so.  Their liberal (pro-racial equality) stance indicates their desire for all people to be treated as human beings.  Many events of the Woman to Woman Exchange Project also reflect the value placed by the missionaries on treating all people as human beings through a strong desire to ensure that the visiting women have positive memories of the trip to take away from the trip.  The Woman to Woman Exchange Project treated the women visiting from Papua New Guinea not as inferior beings, not as things solely meant to showcase different cultures of lesser or even equal value to the local women, but as human beings worthy of the same respect as the women in the United States.  They believed that they are all united under Jesus Christ and therefore have a responsibility to care for everyone.  Throughout the years of the women’s missionary societies, fights for social justice, both at home and abroad, helped to unite the women of the missionary societies.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many Christian women came together and formed missionary societies that provided them with a source of power only ever available to people who unite.  Their fundraising reflects the importance of even miniscule contributions to a team and how they can add up.  The missionaries all worked together to improve the lives of many people around the world by constructing hospitals and schools as well as promoting social reforms both at home and abroad.  The women of the Women’s Missionary Federation are a paradigm for all grassroots movements.  Their effectiveness comes not in concentrated power among a few people, but through utilizing the small amounts of power had by the individuals to promote a common agenda.

Missionary Unity

Footnotes

  1.   Yamu, Samarida E. “Letter to Church in Papua New Guinea.” Letter. 422 South Fifth Street Minneapolis, MN 55415, January 30, 1984. RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  2.   Yamu, Samarida. “Letter from New Guinea.” Letter. Women’s Office P.O. Box 80 Lae, Papua New Guinea, March 21, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  3.   Jensen, Bonnie. “Woman to Woman Exchange Program Letter Sent to Papua New Guinea Several Weeks Before Travel Containing Logistical Information.” Letter. American Lutheran Church 2617 2nd Ave. N. Seattle 9, WA, April 23, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  4.   Williamson, Janica. “Instructions of Responsibilities for Woman to Woman Cluster Area Coordinators.” Letter. 12276 Marine View Drive SW Seatt;e. Washomgtpm 98146, n.d.
  5.   Yamu, Samarida E. “Letter to Church in Papua New Guinea.” Letter. 422 South Fifth Street Minneapolis, MN 55415, January 30, 1984. RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  6.   Yamu, Samarida E. “Letter to Church in Papua New Guinea.” Letter. 422 South Fifth Street Minneapolis, MN 55415, January 30, 1984. RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  7.   Williamson, Janica. “Instructions of Responsibilities for Woman to Woman Cluster Area Coordinators.” Letter. 12276 Marine View Drive SW Seatt;e. Washomgtpm 98146, n.d.  Haatia, Lois. “Letter to Portland Area about Visitors.” Letter. 15123 S. E. LaMarquita Milwuakie, OR. 97222, June 5, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  8.   Jensen, Bonnie. “Woman to Woman Exchange Program Letter Sent to Papua New Guinea Several Weeks Before Travel Containing Logistical Information.” Letter. American Lutheran Church 2617 2nd Ave. N. Seattle 9, WA, April 23, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  9.   Jensen, Bonnie. “Woman to Woman Exchange Program Letter Sent to Papua New Guinea Several Weeks Before Travel Containing Logistical Information.” Letter. American Lutheran Church 2617 2nd Ave. N. Seattle 9, WA, April 23, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  10.   Bendroth, Margaret Lamberts, and Virginia Lieson Brereton. Women and Twentieth-Century Protestantism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002, page 215.
  11.   Woman’s Mission Board, ed. Woman’s Missionary Society. Chicago, Ill., 1927, page 3.  Document discovered and documented by Patrick Harding.
  12.   Bendroth,214.
  13.   Yamu, Samarida. “Letter from New Guinea.” Letter. Women’s Office P.O. Box 80 Lae, Papua New Guinea, March 21, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.  The letter thanks the Woman to Woman Exchange Project for the opportunity to travel to the United States and share the culture of Papua New Guinea with the American women involved in the Women’s Missionary Federation.
  14.   Williamson, Janica. “Instructions of Responsibilities for Woman to Woman Cluster Area Coordinators.” Letter. 12276 Marine View Drive SW Seatt;e. Washomgtpm 98146, n.d.  Haatia, Lois. “Letter to Portland Area about Visitors.” Letter. 15123 S. E. LaMarquita Milwuakie, OR. 97222, June 5, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  15.   Robert, Dana L. “The Influence of American Missionary Women on the World Back Home.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 12, no. 1 (2002): 59-89. doi:10.1525/rac.2002.12.1.59, 80.
  16.   Jensen, Bonnie. “Woman to Woman Funds.” Memorandum. 422 South Fifth Street Minneapolis, MN 55415, January 26, 1984. RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.  Jensen, Bonnie. “Woman to Woman Exchange Program Letter Sent to Papua New Guinea Several Weeks Before Travel Containing Logistical Information.” Letter. American Lutheran Church 2617 2nd Ave. N. Seattle 9, WA, April 23, 1984. Woman to Woman Project, RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.  Using the fact that the 20 women were given a $5 allowance per day and the fact that the women were in the United States for at least 33 days, one can set a lower bound on the total cost of the project at $3,300.
  17.   Tobiason, J.R. “Dear Board Member: (WMF),” n.d. Women’s Missionary Record, Box 4, File 6. Pacific Lutheran University Archives and Special Collections.  Document discovered and documented by Kaitlyn Gold.
  18.   Mrs. Clyde B., Johnson. “WMF Members Are ‘Strong Arm’ In Supporting Ministry of Charity.” n.d.  Document discovered and documented by Natalie Hull.
  19.   Bendroth, 214.
  20.   Bendroth, 214.
  21.   Jensen, Bonnie. “Woman to Woman Funds.” Memorandum. 422 South Fifth Street Minneapolis, MN 55415, January 26, 1984. RG 4a , Box 47. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  22.   Bendroth, 214.
  23.   The Woman’s Mission Board, ed. Woman’s Missionary Society Augustana Synod Calender No. 7. Chicago, IL, 1922.  Document discovered and documented by Ashley Walker.  Dr. Betty A Nilsson. “These Fifty Years: Foreign Missions The Mission Field in India,” 70–78. Chicago, Il, 1942.  Document discovered and documented by Liza Radford.
  24.   Robert, 78.
  25.   The Woman’s Mission Board, ed. Woman’s Missionary Society Augustana Synod Calender No. 7. Chicago, IL, 1922.  Document discovered and documented by Ashley Walker.
  26. Bendroth, 214.
  27.   Marshall, J. E., L. L. Belk, and Hedwig D. Moehl. “Women’s Missionary Outlook May, 1953.” 57 East Main Street, Columbus 15, Ohio, May 1953. Pacific District ELC, Box 14, File 4. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.  The section about Papua New Guinea criticizes women for improperly sending gifts (failing to comply with regulations).
  28.   Marshall, J. E., L. L. Belk, and Hedwig D. Moehl. “Women’s Missionary Outlook May, 1953.” 57 East Main Street, Columbus 15, Ohio, May 1953. Pacific District ELC, Box 14, File 4. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.
  29.   Marshall, J. E., L. L. Belk, and Hedwig D. Moehl. “Women’s Missionary Outlook May, 1953.” 57 East Main Street, Columbus 15, Ohio, May 1953. Pacific District ELC, Box 14, File 4. Pacific Lutheran University Archives & Special Collections.  “The education of girls is recognized as a need and the age-old hardships of women are ‘softening.’  The Bible Women are largely responsible for the impact of Christianity.”  The above quote appears in the monthly update for India.
  30.   Mrs. Elmer R. Danielson. “What God Hath Wrought in Africa: Home and Family Life.” In These Fifty Years. Chicago, Il, 1942.  Document discovered and documented by Liza Radford.
  31.   “What God Hath Wrought in China.” In These Fifty Years. Chicago, Il, 1942.  In Chinese culture of the time, boys were much more valuable than girls. Document discovered and documented by Liza Radford.
  32.   Schueneman, Mary K. “A Leavening Force: African American Women and Christian Mission in the Civil Rights Era.” Church History 81, no. 4 (December 2012): 873-902. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed May 3, 2017) pages 896, 899.
  33.   Schueneman, 866.
  34.   Mrs. Clyde B., Johnson. “WMF Members Are ‘Strong Arm’ In Supporting Ministry of Charity.” n.d.  Document discovered and documented by Alexa Sharp.
  35.   Rempel, Valerie G. “”She hath done what she could”: the development of the Women’s Missionary Services in the Mennonite Brethren Churches of the United States.” Master’s thesis, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, 1992, 163.

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