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.