As I’ve mentioned in several of my last posts I was out of the country last week, but I don’t think I ever actually revealed where I was. I spent the week in Dubai with some friends of mine who now serve as church planters in Central Asia. The trip was incredible! In case you’ve never been to Dubai, everything is over the top and most of the residents are ridiculously wealthy–they’ve built islands in the ocean and one of their malls has an indoor ski slope. It’s seriously insane.
The region itself is quite Western due to all the visiting tourists, but it still maintains its Muslim principles. Everyday, 5 times a day, the Call to Prayer is blared across the streets and through the malls. All the local women dress in traditional Muslim garb, and the malls are filled with signs urging women to dress appropriately, “covering their shoulders and knees.” Because Dubai is a little more relaxed, you’ll occasionally see a Muslim husband and wife walking hand in hand, but more commonly you see the wife following a step and a half behind her husband, as expected.
As I absorbed the culture and heard about my friends’ time in an even more conservative Muslim country, I was struck by what a revolutionary message the Gospel is for women. Unlike the U.S. where women are free to go and do whatever they want–even free to objectify themselves–women in many parts of the world are still viewed as property. Arranged marriages and polygamy are common. In fact, some wives secretly hope their husbands will take another wife or two so that they aren’t as obligated to the husbands they don’t love. Another woman or two can help shoulder those undesirable wifely duties.
I heard one story of a man who’d been married to a woman for years and had multiple children by her. Then he met a 19 year old that he preferred and wanted to marry her as well. As he explained it to one of my friends, “Now I can be married to someone I love.” Meanwhile, the older wife could do his laundry and cook his food for him. Basically a free slave.
Here in the States we read books like Captivating and talk about the Father in Heaven who pursues us, a healing message in the face of the world’s rejection. This is indeed a crucial message for us women to hear and accept. However, I’d never given thought to what that message means for the rest of the world. Not only is God’s pursuit of us a wonderful alternative to a culture that devalues women, but it is radical! In cultures where women are little more than goods to be traded, the Gospel romance offers a startling paradigm shift.
The message of the Gospel does more than offer an encouraging word to women in cultures that oppress them. It offers a critique of the entire culture, as well as the religions that drives them. What to us is a splendid love story of a King and His precious daughter is a life-changing, bond-breaking message to women in other parts of the globe.
All of that is to say, women’s ministry is about more than propping up our self-esteem when the world tears us down. Yes, healing and wholeness are important, and God offers us a love that the world cannot. But women’s ministry should be more. Women across the world are being oppressed, used, objectified, and devalued, but the Gospel has a message for them! In cultures where women are not allowed to make eye contact with men, we can share the story of Jesus, who broke his own cultural norms to seek out women and care for them. Here, we’re used to men talking to women so we forget how radical an act that was. But it was indeed radical, and other women need to hear it!
The message of the Gospel, the romance of the Gospel, is revolutionary. Let us not forget the implications it has, not just for ourselves but for women around the world. And we need to bring it to them. The boundaries of women’s ministry must not end in our own churches and small groups. They should expand across every tongue and nation.
As you think about women’s ministry in your own context, I challenge you to broaden your scope. Don’t minister to women solely to benefit those in your immediate area of influence. Dream bigger. Our churches need to be hubs for sending women out into the community and the larger world with the transformative message of the Gospel. Women all over the world are aching for it. The brightness of its message will surely sparkle in the darkness. The women are ripe for harvest! So go and reap. Millions of women are walking a step and a half behind their husbands, but God wants to hold them in His arms. We need to tell that love story.
I just wanted to let you know that I sent a reply through the “Contact” part of the web site and I don’t think it followed through to you. It just posted on the website publicly. I think there may be a glitch in that area.
Do you find that these women are receptive to receiving these truths? I am curious how you approach women with Captivating-type lessons to those who have been so devalued for most of their lives? Any suggestions?
You know that’s a really good question, Nina. I think that someone who has done ministry more regularly in a Muslim culture would be best to answer that, so if any of my readers in that part of the world cares to comment, please do!
I CAN say that when I was in Africa (specifically, Cameroon) doing AIDS education, I tried to emphasize the message of God’s extravagant love to the women in the audience. I explained that God created them for a purpose and treasured them dearly, so they didn’t need to fill that need for love by having promiscuous sex with men, which subsequently made them more vulnerable to STD’s. The message was very well received. I can’t speak for the entire continent of Africa, of course, but I was surprised by how enthusiastically the women there accepted the message.
A friend of mine serving overseas asked me to post her thoughts since she has bad internet and wasn’t able to herself. I think she offers some great insights!…
I think you are absolutely right that this idea is at the heart of reaching Muslim women – actually all women. The point is that the very nature of the Christian God is different from the concept they have in Islam. He is a God that cares about women and would pursue them. A God who cares about the individual is absolutely radical and speaks right to the heart of not only these women, but all women coming to know the Lord. The difference for these women is that they don’t have a context for understanding what romance is at all. It’s through learning who He is that they begin to understand what a truly good marriage and father should look like. One of the things that truly reaches women and even men in this context is seeing a Christian pray. And what they are touched by is the intimacy of it – that we are talking to God like a father, a friend – someone who cares whether their kid lives, their husband leaves them, or just if they are happy. That we have a God who would think us valuable enough to listen to us and let us sway His actions through our prayers is absolutely radical to a woman who is taught that her only value is in producing children. But, though this message is radical and life-changing to a few, it’s difficult to understand for most. How do you overcome the lies you’ve been told your whole life? How does one person telling you about a God who loves you affect your mind after hearing your whole life that God wants you to be locked away in case you tempt a man? The message is true and wonderful and healing, but it’s being received slowly. Statistically, it takes at least 7 times of hearing the Gospel before a Muslim even begins listening. And the women are hard to reach because they are locked away and kept in “check” all the time by their society. It’s hard work, but yes, I think this is the message that these women are absolutely craving.
Sorry I couldn’t post it myself!