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Why Cannot You Do It?


I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said, “Feminism is simply the belief that women are humans.” My passenger thought it silly; of course, women are humans. And I thought, no we have had generations that thought women were chattel and some cultures and communities still do. 


Women have been essential to the development of our cultures and societies, and yet we have only recently written about them in our histories. We have to be intentional to lift up their accomplishments because it still doesn’t come naturally. 


I look back to Carolyn Neville Pearre who helped a community of women create the Christian Women’s Board of Missions (CWBM) in 1874. When the missionary societies of the day were struggling to fund their mission to Jamaica, she was asked if the women could help, and I love her response. After time on her knees in prayer what she heard was, “Why cannot you do it?” So she did. 


She gathered her women together and organized a grassroots organization intended to serve women and children worldwide. CWBM’s first mission was in Jamaica, but India and then China became the major focus of CWBM’s overseas efforts, which included evangelistic efforts focusing on women and children, as well as building a variety of social service facilities, such as schools, hospitals, and orphanages. The organization was particularly effective, both at home and abroad, in reaching women and children in settings where it would be difficult or impossible for men to go. CWBM, a female-led organization, built the College of Missions, and by its golden anniversary had 431 students who served over 13 counties. 


I look at Jessie Trout. In the 1940s, she was the National Secretary of World Call, the magazine of the United Christian Missionary Society, the successor to the Christian Women’s Missionary Society with other partners. In January 1946, she became the Executive Secretary of the Department of Missionary Education; in that role, she oversaw a large field staff and worked with 5,000 organizations throughout the United States. From 1950 to 1961, she was Vice President of the United Christian Missionary Society in Indianapolis, the first woman to assume that position. Trout worked for the Division of World Missions as a field liaison. Over her career, she traveled to 35 countries. 


Trout helped co-found Christian Women’s Fellowship in 1950 and served as Chief Executive of Christian Women’s Fellowship. Throughout the United States and Canada, there were about 250,000 members in more than 4,200 groups. This was a significant effort to organize the efforts of women and make their efforts more meaningful during a conservative period when women’s leadership roles within the Christian Church were limited. It merged local women’s guilds and missionary organizations. She founded the International Christian Women’s Fellowship (1953). 


The legacy of Jessie Trout and Carolyn Neville Pearre along with the many women of the Christian Women’s Board of Mission is still felt in our congregations and our general church today. Whether it is a Disciples Women’s group, a CWF group, or the independent Christian Churches in countries around the world like the Congo, or Disciples Home Mission and the Division of Overseas/Global ministries of the General Church, these women’s vision and hard work are still felt. They were willing to step out of their expected roles and into the calling God had for them and they created amazing ministry around the world. 


These are women I look up to as role models. When I read the details of these women’s ministries, I was even more impressed at the challenges they had to overcome and the significant ministry structures and funding they created. They knew that relationships and inviting people to give from their gifts collectively could do amazing things and they did. 


It has been a joy to be able to use the gifts God has given me to serve the church. Gathering women, and men too, together to step into their gifts and watch them flourish and their ministries grow is the blessing of my life. I don’t hear it as often as I used to, but hearing people say to my face you cannot serve God because you are female is still a challenge. 


So, I am thankful for the many women who have gone before me and walked with me, who have stepped over the challenges in their way like Carolyn Neville Pearre and Jessie Trout to use their gifts and make a difference for our God in the world. They are two of the reasons we need to remember the women of our history. 


 

Rev. Susan Gonzales Dewey received her BA in Religious Studies from Cal State Fullerton and her Master of Divinity Degree from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. Susan was ordained into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1989 in La Mesa, CA. Susan served congregations in Castro Valley, El Sorbate, La Mesa, and Ventura until called to serve as Co-Regional Minister of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Christian Church until retirement in 2019. Susan is married to Don Dewey, and they have two children: Noah and Leah.

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