With the publication this week of the 2021 spring issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, “Women and the Missio Dei in China,” we are reminded that this is not the first time that we have looked at the role of women in China. Almost twenty years ago, in the summer issue of 2002, we took our first look in “Issues Involving Women.”
When it comes to the church in China, it certainly may be said that women hold up more than “half the sky.” From a long tradition of “Bible women,” to the present-day role of female evangelists and pastors, women have figured prominently in the growth and development of China’s church.
This prominent role stands in stark contrast to their traditional place in Chinese society, which has long viewed them as second-class citizens. Despite advances in the status of women in the years since 1949, women in China continue to suffer discrimination and injustice, particularly in China’s rural areas. The widespread practice of selective abortions and the relative lack of opportunity afforded girls and young women in many parts of China are symptoms of a lingering belief that women are somehow less valuable than men.
How fitting, then, that God should choose those shunned by their own society to play a prominent role in building his church in China. As Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:28, “He has chosen the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” American writer and counselor John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart, provides an unlikely source for some insights into the role of women in the church in China. Although writing primarily for and about men, Eldredge makes the observation that women have been created with three fundamental needs: a need to be wanted, the need to be part of a shared adventure, and the need to be delighted in.
Applying Eldredge’s analysis to China, one can see how the church has, for many women, helped fulfill needs that would otherwise go unmet. In a society where girl infants are routinely abandoned or given away and young women are valued only for the price they might command as unwilling brides, the call of a loving God who wants a relationship with his children has an understandable appeal. Many Chinese women, in answering God’s call, have found themselves partners with him in the greatest adventure of all and become some of the most zealous and effective evangelists the church has ever known. Finally, listening to the testimonies of these dedicated servants, one notes that the feeling of rejection so common among many rural women has been replaced with the recognition that they are indeed beautiful before God, for he delights in them.
The lack of male leadership in many parts of the church is certainly cause for concern, and the current situation of women in the church is by no means ideal. However, we can see how that, in the unique circumstances of China, God has met them at their point of need and gifted them for extraordinary service. We have much to praise him for, and also much to learn, as we consider our sisters in China who hold up “more than half the sky.”
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio
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