Tag Archives: discipleship

Women in Ministry Series: The Unseen Servants Among Us

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Today Erin Raffety brings an international perspective to the Women in Ministry Series along with insight into those we overlook every day all around us:

Sometimes when I read the Bible I’m astounded by how little Jesus’ disciples seemed to understand—they bristled at the outcasts who came to Jesus, they quibbled over who was the greatest, and in the end, some deserted and betrayed him. Sometimes when we read closely, these twelve followers end up looking more like a motley crew of misfits rather than winning evangelists.

I don’t say these things just to be provocative (okay, maybe I do), but also to draw attention to the way in which power and position often mystify humanity. Perhaps we like the idea of the disciples better than who they really were, and we can be blinded by their official roles, their seats at the table beside Jesus, and their exaltation.

I was blinded by the men who inhabited the official roles in ministry around me, so much so that I often failed to see the women in the background. But while the men were the ministers, women were ministering. My mom, for one, took my sisters and me down to the homeless shelter where we played cards with the men who came in off the streets, and we learned not to be afraid of people who looked different from us. While a man stood in the pulpit on Sundays, it was the women, the mothers of my friends, who taught us about Jesus in the church’s basement classrooms.

It was my college roommate who encouraged me to go to seminary, a gutsy Catholic woman who taught me the discipline of centering prayer, and my sisters and my friends who have taught me what it means to be a woman of God. When I met men in college who didn’t believe women should be pastors, I dug into the Bible to see what Jesus had to say about it, and felt not only a conviction toward women in ministry, but also a personal call in the process. Was it possible that God didn’t just want women to be pastors, but God even wanted me?

I don’t mean to downplay the men who also taught me along the way (of which there were many), but precisely because of their non-ordained, unofficial status, and their place in the background, these women taught me something valuable and different—namely, what it means to be a servant. This is why I left college in the summer for the slums of Washington D.C., the borderlands of Mexico, or the barrios of Puerto Rico, because I’d seen women quietly and effectively giving their lives in service to Christ and others.

This lesson in servanthood begins with my mother, who selflessly gave up her career for her children. It extends to women on the border who bravely led families while the men migrated for work, and the women I recently lived alongside in China, who foster orphaned and disabled children despite the great costs. Before coming to China, I’d worked in a multicultural congregation of immigrants in the U.S., and I’d struggled with how I might serve God in a nation where official ministry would be tricky.

Despite the lessons of my own journey, I’d become distracted with what it means to possess a platform, power, and a title, and I’d questioned what God could do with me without one. But I felt God’s presence perhaps more palpably than I’d ever felt it in China, and God brought budding women leaders and pastors in China’s growing churches to my doorstep. I had the incredible opportunity of encouraging them to follow their calls, affirming their gifts and talents, and exploring their questions and concerns. Their witness, together with the foster mothers I studied not only made me feel like a flailing, misfit disciple with all my doubts, but also reminded me of all the other humble women who had directed my path along the way.

I don’t mean to romanticize or idealize the sacrifices that women make, or the real barriers to ministry and the injustices that still exist. In fact, I hope because of women such as these, subsequent generations will go on to practice servanthood in preaching and teaching and leadership.

But I call attention to these servants because they did great things from humble places. I call attention to them, as Jesus did, because “they are the greatest among us,” without whom I would have an impoverished understanding of leadership, and with whom, my own call is forever intertwined, whatever titles and official roles may become me. And I tell their story, because Jesus says, after the disciples have come and gone, the Pharisees and the leaders and the powerful, “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).

About Today’s Guest Blogger

erin RaffertyErin Raffety holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Davidson College, an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is certified to receive a call with the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at Princeton University, where her interests include kinship, foster care, and domestic adoption in China, and theology and anthropology. She has worked in Asia, along the US-Mexico border and Puerto Rico, and in Washington, DC on international poverty and hunger with Bread for the World and The ONE Campaign. Erin recently returned from conducting her dissertation fieldwork in Southwest China, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her husband, Evan. You can reach her via her blog, Little Sacred Space.

About the Women in Ministry Series

The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:

  • Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
  • Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed. Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.

Next Week’s Blogger: Jenny Rae Armstrong

First Draft Father: When You Finally Break

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Ethan’s first three months of life reached a shrieking crescendo last weekend.

He grew increasingly restless throughout his third month. Naps became shorter and shorter. He became harder and harder to put down for a nap, often crying uncontrollably for a stretch before either wearing himself out or being jostled enough by our bouncing and rocking.

Last Sunday we finally hit the point where I could do nothing to comfort him. I’ve had long stretches of crying before, but I could usually figure out a way to comfort him, even if it was to hold him until he gave up. Something was different this time.

I could sense this clutching for control inside of me. I just wanted him to stop. Why couldn’t I stop him?

Resigning myself to the crying, I forced myself to let go, telling myself, “OK, he’s just going to cry. He’s not going to die. He’s just sad.”

I swept the floors with him strapped to me.

I swept. He wept.

Then I started to swiffer the floors.

Red faced and screaming, he writhed on.

Figuring things couldn’t get any worse, I laid him on our bed.

My nerves were so mangled by that point that I almost missed what happened next. He stopped crying, staring up at the ceiling fan with a scowl and tears pooled up around his eyes.

Seizing this moment, I finished cleaning amid this tenuous cease fire, resolving to tackle my next project… which happened to be putting the sheets back on our bed.

Shoot.

I had to move him.

You can guess what happened next.

As bad as that day was, something changed after that. He crossed some unperceived developmental barrier where he started to nap better, receive comfort easily, and require little coaxing to fall asleep.

It was like everything was building up to that moment where I couldn’t control his behavior and I had to let go, broken and frazzled.

Things have been so much better lately. I’m finally getting to some long-neglected work even if my inbox is still a mess. My quality time with Ethan is so much better now that he’s resting well during the day (don’t ask his mother about the evenings…).

There are a few things that babies and writing projects have in common. Sometimes you need to hit that breaking point.

There were plenty of points where I was either writing a book or pitching a book where I felt completely undone or unable to move forward. I know that I always need to hold on and to keep at it, but it never gets easier to face that moment where you’re stuck and helpless to see the next step, unable to imagine how things could possibly get better.

Sometimes you need to break first before you can see how it all fits together.

Creativity Calling: OH NO! God Made Me Creative!

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There’s this moment where creatives need to “come out” to their friends and families. While not as charged as a discussion about one’s sexual orientation, there are situations where I can imagine a parent gasping and wondering, “Where did I go wrong? Why couldn’t he be a doctor, lawyer, or architect?”

And even for “practical” folks like doctors and lawyers, they may find fulfillment in their careers, but in the evenings they experiment with torching a crème brulee, smudging pastels on a canvas, or writing novels about a doctor who fights crime on his smoke breaks. They may hide these side hobbies, worried what people will think of them.

It took me so long to accept the possibility that no other career felt right to me because God created me to be the freewheeling creative type.

Three weeks as a temp in a mortgage company’s South Jersey office was enough to drive home my need for a different kind of job. Endless days in a sea of cubicles and that one guy whose only conversation topic was the company softball team… it was like living in that movie Office Space. I knew I wasn’t cut out for that kind of job, but then what?

Write books?

Can’t be that…

My practical side kicked in when I bumped into my creativity, devaluing it:

What can you DO with this creativity?

It’s like creativity becomes a liability, a waste of time, and, worst of all, a selfish pursuit that pulls us away from more important tasks.

There are ways we can misuse our creativity, but it need not be a liability. In fact, when we bump into that side of ourselves, we can re-ask that question with a different spin:

What CAN you do with this creativity?

My suspicion is that God isn’t running around in heaven with his arms in the air shouting, “Oh no! Ed found his creativity!!! What will we do with him if he doesn’t become a lawyer now???”

My creativity is a gift from God. So is yours.

We sometimes divide the world into people who are creative and people who aren’t, but the truth is that we all have some kind of creativity that stirs within us. We just think of ourselves as practical or write off creativity as something for kids.

This gift of creativity is something God intended us to use.

It would be a tremendous tragedy if my friends who are passionate about teaching children didn’t take jobs in elementary schools.

It would be terrible if my friend with a passion for new technology didn’t launch his own company.

It would be tragic if someone passionate about understanding the complexities of our world didn’t earn a PhD.

And lastly, it would be tragic if those called to write, paint, compose, or perform ignored those gifts.

It’s all the same in God’s eyes. All are gifts, and we can use them in any variety of ways. Some will experiment with our creative gifts on the side, while others will hone their arts full time. There isn’t a clock where you need to punch in a certain number of hours in order to legitimize your creativity.

When you have a creative gift, it’s yours to use and, and this is important, to practice.

God isn’t surprised like our friends and family by our creativity. He’s delighted that you have talents and gifts to share with others. And perhaps the greatest challenge is believing that we’re not being selfish by using them. We’re answering a holy calling.

Women In Ministry: Rethinking the Silence of Women in Church

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Today’s guest blogger Deborah Berruti has some fresh insights into women in ministry that she gained while serving as a missionary…

I don’t work in a church. I was never ordained. I’m not a Bible scholar. Not even a Sunday School teacher. No. I am an Occupational Therapist; I serve in a hospital at the southern edge of the Sahara desert.

And I’m a woman in ministry.

Upon first seeing our village, visitors often gasp “This must have been what it was like when JESUS was on earth!” Usually I chuckle “Well, I’m sure if Jesus came to Galmi today, He’d say ‘This is what it was like when MOSES was on earth!’ Minus the motorcycles, cell phones and plastic bags, of course!”

So much of the backdrop of my new life resembles The Holy Bible: Pop-Up-Book Edition. Women gathered around the well, drawing water. Boys racing donkeys down the road. The sandy, rocky terrain speckled with mud-brick homes lacking electricity. Men congregating to sit and discuss while women busy themselves with the responsibilities of the house. Children gathered at the place of worship, memorizing verses of their holy book. Men marrying multiple wives, and in turn, jealousy and competition within the family.

I look outside my window and the cultural context of the Bible walks by.

It’s been over a decade since I completed a year of Bible school. It was an institution that prided itself on the depth of its fundamental tradition and literal translation of the Scriptures. A place where the most common pick-up line was “You’re going to make a great pastor’s wife!”

Here, I was taught that a woman’s role in ministry was not based on gifting, but rather gender and marital status. Aspiring to be a children’s Sunday School teacher earned an ‘A’, but to set ones sights high and snag a Man-in-the-Ministry, well, that was the gold star. Because, after all, that is the roll to which God had called us women: silent service.

By the end of that academic calendar, 1 Corinthians 14:34 was my arch nemesis. This verse had been used against me countless times: you must be silent.

But I’ve never really been one to do what I’m told . . . so I went into “full-time ministry”. I signed up with a mission and moved to Niger, the forgotten place on the map. But it is here where the context of the Bible came alive.

Living outside of my own culture has reminded me that we each examine the Word of God through our own lens, and making a home in Niger has only magnified mine.

Several months ago, our hospital’s HIV/AIDS Clinic held its first community education outreach. The chiefs and influential women of several villages were invited to come and learn about how this deadly disease is transmitted and can be prevented.

The chiefs occupied three short benches off to the left, the rest of the room was crowded with older women. These ladies out numbered the chiefs about 5 to 1, and apart from the obvious inequality of the demographic, what hit me hardest was that so few of the women were listening.

They seemed to be huddled in groups, whispering. Some women were perched, showing their back to the speaker; others fiddled with the hem of their dress while listening to a neighbor chatter instead of the man providing the education.

I was standing in the back of the room watching this scene unfold, when another missionary leaned in and said “If you ask me, this is what Paul was referring to.”

I stared blankly at her. She elaborated, “When he said women should be silent in the church; sitting and listening is a new skill for these women. They don’t know how to sit and be silent. It was the same way in the Bible. The men attended the synagogues; the men were educated. Women were home, talking as they worked together.”

As an educated woman from the West, I had never thought about like that. In this context, girls didn’t go to school. Women didn’t attend services.

When examined from that perspective, I saw that Paul was offering a social commentary, not about a woman’s role in ministry, but rather that women should show respect for the teaching of God’s word. He was suggesting that during the service was not the time for women to discuss amongst themselves, rather each should ask her husband. He would have been learning in the synagogue his whole life. But, just as they do at church in Galmi, women would have been seated separately from the men, so she’d have to wait to ask until they got home.

And through this lens, I also see that Paul was offering a revolutionary counter-cultural idea: women were not just welcomed in the church, they were encouraged to come and participate.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

deb.berruti2Deborah Berruti is an Occupational Therapist working at the SIM mission hospital in Galmi, Niger Republic, where she has trail blazed the new department of rehabilitation and is implementing auxiliary services such as a prosthetics clinic and center for the fabrication of post-burn compression garments.  She is passionate about serving the poor, photography and a great cup of coffee.

Deb keeps a record of her many misadventures on her blog, Avec Deux Mains(www.dberruti.blogspot.com) and can be followed on twitter, @DebBerruti.

About the Women in Ministry Series

The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:

  • Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
  • Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed.Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.

Next Week’s Blogger: Micha Boyett

Jesus Loves Failures: People Who Are Doing It “Wrong”

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In my most cynical days after seminary, I spent my time picking apart everything about Christianity. I still catch it creeping in some days.

I used to get critical about everything from sermons, to worship songs, to service projects. Some things weren’t authentic enough. Others were too judgmental or uptight. Still others were a little too over the top.

In our sarcastic times, it’s hard to resist a chance to mock something or someone that strikes us as ridiculous.

Can you imagine what the internet would do if we all found out that someone had, in the name of Jesus, used up $50,000 to buy an extravagantly expensive bottle of perfume to dump on someone’s head?

This is prime blogging fodder.

Can you imagine the orphan homes you could build with that kind of money?

Think of all the families that could be made into stable farmers.

Think of all the young women who could be saved from sex trafficking.

Even if it was a modest $30,000, you could do quite a bit with a year’s wages.

The interesting part of the story about the woman who poured perfume on Jesus is that his disciples who criticized her had a valid point. You can do quite a bit with a year’s wages. If she had sold the bottle of perfume and given the money to the poor, she would have been doing the very thing Jesus had told the rich young ruler to do.

They had actually caught on to a teaching of Jesus. There’s no doubt that Jesus would have welcomed her if she had sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. However, the disciples were missing something.

There wasn’t one correct course of action. There rarely is one correct way to serve God or one another.

Jesus determined whether the woman was prompted by love. He didn’t pick apart her actions. He saw the genuine love and received her beautiful gift.

I imagine myself in the company of disciples who thought her gift was a waste.

It’s easy to make ourselves feel better about our own choices by condemning the supposed foolishness of someone else.

I don’t like the idea of Jesus welcoming someone who I perceive as foolish and commending him/her based simply on meaning well.

True, there are foolish ways we can simply waste money on our own goals that we have baptized and tried to make holy. However, anything done truly for the love of God and for others has value—even if it looks to many of us like a fail.

This is an inconvenient story for the cynical and the practical. And yet, I can begrudgingly admit that I’m glad it’s in the Bible because there may come a day that I’ll do something foolish for God, and he’ll gladly receive it because I did it with a great deal of love.

Jesus Loves Failures: Why We Need a Doctor

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I know who the wrong people are based on what I find in the Bible.

I could make a list of the people who are categorized as being on the outside of the faith.

There are sinners and heretics who are banished in all manner of ways. Some are sent out of the church and others are even “handed over to Satan.”

We all have our lists of who is on the outs with God.

And we have to admit that sometimes it almost feels good to find someone who is so obviously wrong because these people remind us that we’re on the inside. It’s always comforting to find someone who is worse than us, especially when we have the Bible resting comfortably on our laps.

 

The Samaritan woman at the well was the wrong person in almost every way. The disciples could have hit Jesus over the head with chapter and verse, not to mention the cultural customs of the day. She had all of the wrong things going for her according to their scriptures:

Adultery? Check.

Foreigner? Check.

Unclean? Check.

Social outcast? Check.

Unfit for one on one conversation with a holy man? Check. Check. Check.

Jesus could have hid behind any number of barriers from this woman. From social conventions to biblical precedent, he could have turned her away, chided her sinful ways, or ignored her—each approach finding some biblical grounding.

Instead of talking about laws and standards with the woman, he spoke of a field with his disciples. He saw people who were on the brink of turning to God.

When I see that Jesus didn’t live by chapter and verse but by God’s vision to reach as many people as possible, I see something bigger than chapter and verse and simple, black and white commands in the Bible.

Perhaps the Bible works a bit like medicine sometimes.

Medicine can bring tremendous healing given at the right time, in the right dosage, and for the right condition. In other words, if you want to apply medicine effectively for healing, you need a doctor who knows what he’s doing.

We don’t always know how to use the medicine of scripture, and that’s why we need Jesus to give us a prompting—he did compare himself to a doctor after all.

If there were bloggers around during the time of Jesus, I’m certain they would have picked apart his ministry for ignoring the clear commands of the scriptures and going soft on sinners. Rather than upholding the “biblical” categories and divisions of his day, Jesus showed a reputation-killing tendency to seek those who were most lost and to use the words of scripture to bring life and healing.

I can use the Bible or social standards to create barriers between myself and others, forgetting that the Bible is intended to cut to my own heart rather than cutting me off from those who need healing.

If the words of scripture have the power to heal like medicine, it sure looks like I need to spend more time with doctor so I learn how to use them.

Women in Ministry Series: Giving Voice To Silence

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I admire Mihee Kim-Kort because she has a pretty fascinating book on the horizon (see below for more), but even more than that, she writes and ministers while raising twins! Oh, and she has another one on the way. She literally has her hands full, and so I’m grateful that she’s taken the time to write this guest post:

Silence.

It’s a universal expectation for women – lauded by men and if absent, it is criticized by both men and women. For some reason, it’s an easy attribute to embrace and cultivate, and that makes sense because to raise one’s voice, whether in response to some injustice or simply to clarify or honestly express one’s feelings…it requires more than breathing from one’s diaphragm to get some good volume and project. Something much deeper needs to be coaxed out.

Growing up in a Korean home I saw my mom raise her voice – to me when I tortured my brother too much, to my father when he did or said something to make her frustrated, to the dishes when she got so sick of everything. But this was the only time. And it was the only time I really saw any Korean woman speak up and out.

I’d never seen a woman preacher in the pulpit in real life, and even cringed at the thought of it. My home church was Presbyterian, but a traditional and conservative community. Women could sing solos, but not read Scripture or offer the congregational prayer on Sunday mornings.

And even now, post-seminary, post-ordination, post-years-of-ministry-under-my-belt, although I have seen many women preachers, I have only seen one Asian American woman preach from the pulpit, and that was my current mentor, Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, an associate professor at Moravian Theological Seminary.

I’ve always wondered if something about my relationship with my mother was a key to this lack and struggle.

One of the first heart-to-hearts my mom and I had was on a road trip she and I took together alone while I was in seminary. My parents were living in South Dakota at the time, and I had to go to my home presbytery for a meeting. It was about a six- hour drive from where they were in Sioux Falls, and we decided that we would do it together so I would not have to make the trip by myself. My father could stay and go to his own meetings.

We started off. Soon we discovered we had been going the wrong way for a good hour, so we had to turn back around. This stressed me out. I cannot recall what triggered it, but we had an argument where we were full- out shouting at each other.

I honestly do not even remember what we were yelling at each other. I had never responded to her in that way. For a moment, I heard her in my voice— that loud, harsh Korean woman screech.

After we had calmed down and apologized to each other, we began to talk about what it was like for her in the early years of her marriage, and it all came spilling out. Stories about her original plan to come to the United States to become an art teacher and get her elementary education certification, her sisters convincing her to get married first, her excitement and fear of having children so quickly after their marriage . . . and how she had to put all her plans on hold when they first got here.

They never got a chance to leave the ground.

Though she may periodically have regrets, she has said she is thankful that she poured all she could into us so that we could live happily and healthily. After all, someone did have to stay with the kids, keep the house clean, and have the meals ready.

Someone had to give it all up. Someone had to give a story and a dream to me.

When I was in seminary, I reflected often on her story, which is inextricably tied up in mine. And the more I thought about the struggle of being an Asian woman in North America, particularly the US, the more I wanted to give voice to it. I wrote the following for a paper:

paper margins

before beginning the lesson on America’s story
the teacher called attention to the class
and held up a piece of yellow construction paper
next to the soft underside of her arm
and said, “See, she’s not really yellow.”

according to the teacher, the white teacher
says this model girl is not really yellow
just similar to yellow they say

this model I suppose for all minorities
so the other minorities end up hating her
she’s not a model for the majority
since she sits somewhere in the middle
the very middle of the class
her last name is Lee or Kim
she is always in the middle somewhere
surrounded by people

and yet, inside she feels like no one is familiar
everyone else is foreign
but she knows she is really on the margins
these same notebook paper margins
on which she doodles with a
bright crayola absentmindedly
daydreaming not about paper cranes or ghost tigers
but about Johnny Depp, bicycles with pink streamers
and the Smurfs and the Brady Bunch

when the teacher is reading from
some book about the history of the people around her
something about pilgrims, slavery, wars, the Great Depression
it is supposed to be her history, too
but no one looks at her and thinks that
this yellow girl belongs in the same story
this story of America.

this not- really- yellow girl is not really anything
and it is worse because not only is she yellow
she is a girl, so that both the yellow and white
and other crayola- colored people tell her
how to be a girl

a girl is this and that
and sometimes it sounds the same
for the yellow girl and the white girl
the brown girl, the black girl
sitting next to her in class but mainly
in this story she hears a girl
is not better than a boy
like when she was born some wished
she was not a girl but a boy
but since you are here anyway, okay
these are the places for the girl:
be in the kitchen, in the garden, at the piano or violin and
in front of the washer and dryer, you girl are
a baby- machine, too
did I mention in the kitchen?

not really barefoot because
your feet are in bindings
not just your feet but the world inside you
but then, wait forget the kitchen
until you are married, here in America
you, yellow girl, go to an Ivy League
do math and business
become a doctor or lawyer or engineer

and prove yourself our little
yellow girl, prove to us that you are a model
human being
that you belong in this story of America.

This felt like a beginning – for me to discover my voice in this struggle, and a chance to live into it – live into my voice, live into the shared struggle of Asian American women’s silence, and live into the vocation of not only speaking up and out, but also preaching and proclaiming God’s justice and grace in the world.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

MiheeMihee Kim-Kort is an ordained minister in PCUSA. She has served two congregations as an associate pastor and is currently a full-time mother to toddler twins (with one on the way) and a part-time staff person for the Presbyterian collegiate ministry IUKIRK. She blogs at First Day Walking (www.miheekimkort.com) and tweets @miheekimkort. Her first book, Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology is due out in November 2012.

About the Women in Ministry Series

The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:

  • Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
  • Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

Contributions Welcome: Contact Ed to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences.

You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed. Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.

Next Week’s Blogger: Deborah Berruti