It was my good fortune to grow up in a home where my father felt that girls could and should do everything they could and wanted to do, as long as it was in good taste. Thus I learned early to change fuses, fix the iron, saddle the horse, and drive the tractor. When I was 12, my father had me memorize a filmstrip script, showed me how to use the projector, and went with me while I gave Bible studies to a neighbor. When I was 16 he helped me with the props when I directed a dramatic presentation of the The Other Wise Man. I grew up feeling that the sky was the limit to my aspirations. Seeing my mother teach, preach, and administer many aspects of family life helped confirm my confidence.
Then I met my Chilean mother-in-law. Besides rearing eight children, all of whom are currently working for the church, she formed the first junior youth society in her church, directed a little Dorcas Society, taught the children's Sabbath school, kept up-to-date on nutrition and health, and ran a productive farm for years.
My mother-in-law and other women have not wearied in well doing. I have observed women in many parts of the world who have given themselves to their family, to the church, to the world in an effort to improve society and fulfill the Lord's command to do His work.
One of these ladies was Geronima Suarez. She lived with us in Uruguay the year I was 9. We shared a bunk bed. I would wake up in the night to find her on her knees, repeating the memory verse for the next day's Bible class, trying to keep from falling asleep before her task was done. But she knew how to smile. And how she could work! When her childhood sweetheart dropped her for another, she smiled and worked harder. A good cook, she learned to administer the academy cafeteria and went on to work in a hospital diet department. She mastered the skills of directing food production and learned basic therapeutic dietetics. Only last year she retired from a long career in hospital food service in Paraguay and northern Argentina. Geronima was a woman of mission, one who did not weary of doing well.
Surveys of woman denominational workers
Two surveys of unions and divisions in the world field, made a year apart, reveal that it is not an oddity to find women treasurers and department directors.
We learned, among other things, of women on union executive boards; of a "top colporteur and soul winner" who directed the literature evangelists in the East African Union; of seventeen managers of Adventist Book Centers, some 182 school administrators, and twelve editors. In addition, we read of the activities of Pastora Nellie Salvan in the Philippines, whose pastoral district totaled eight hundred members in four teen congregations; of Junelyn Picacha, the first and only woman to graduate with an M.D. in the Solomon Islands, who codirects (with her husband) the Atoifi Adventist Hospital; and about Daisy Ardley, an Australian housewife who has a regular radio program representing the Adventist Church.
Further, we got names and addresses of twenty-three women employed as leaders of congregations. Letters to these ladies brought a fascinating response—a picture of active, dedicated, and happy local pastors. One of these, Ernestine Rabesalama from Malagasy Republic, reported that not even her seven adopted children could keep her from the ministry she chose "because of the feeling of happiness in knowing Jesus and His love ... and making it known to others." She noted, "To be able to nourish someone from the Word of God and to have that person convinced, and above all converted, makes me overflow with joy."
When asked about their outstanding women, the unions nominated various ladies: Mrs. M. A. Pires, a successful lady evangelist in Portugal; Sheree Nudd, who received the Philanthropy Award from the General Conference for raising $3 million for Huguley Memorial Hospital; Margit Suring, a Finnish lady directing the seminary at Tiovonlinna Junior College in Finland; Phoebe Asiyo, a member of the national assembly in Kenya; Dr. Lucette Rakotoson, professor of medicine in Madagascar; and others.
In short, the picture of a worldwide church, full of active sisters was very clear. Not all had the same talents. Not all were educated. But all shared a vision of service and a spirit of devotion.
In eight division headquarters we have reports of twelve ladies directing or assisting in directing departments: Education, Sabbath School, Child Evangelism, Health, Welfare. One division has a lady director of their Home Study Institute. Two divisions have women as assistant treasurers. I know one of these. She serves in the Far Eastern Division. And when someone cannot understand a statement, or there is some question about policy, the general reaction is: "Ask Rowena [Rick]. * She'll know. " In May, Miss Rick came to the Philippines on division business. We talked about many things, including women in church service. She told me that some times when she looks back and sees how far she has come, far beyond her wildest dreams, she can hardly believe it. Incidentally, the FED is the division that reported the most lady workers—a total of five in leadership positions.
The number of ladies serving in union offices is larger only because there are more union offices. Fifty-seven ladies serving at union headquarters were reported by the fifty-nine unions or detached fields that responded to my most recent survey. Of the union ladies, the largest number, twenty-four, direct child evangelism. Eight ladies serve as assistant treasurers. Five direct elementary education, five are assistant education directors, and one is director for education in her union. Five direct the union correspondence school. Four are assistant literature evangelism directors.
Again the number of ladies serving in the same kind of jobs in conference, mission, or local field offices, is larger; a total of 127 are reported. This figure is incomplete because of the number of unions that did not report and because not all unions reported every lady working in a local conference, field, or mission. The areas in which they are most active are education (eight education directors, twenty-one assistant education directors, four directors of elementary education, a total of thirty-three), child evangelism (twenty-four), literature evangelism (twenty-two), and health/temperance/welfare (nineteen).
The Far Eastern Division reported two ladies currently presiding over junior colleges: one in the central Philippines, the other in Korea. We have reports of five academic deans, of three college business managers. At the secondary level, there are twenty-two lady principals and three business managers. Women elementary school principals are reported to number 308.
Under the category "others, please specify" we had reports of health educators, trust officers, and in the Chile Union, a director of the Area Femenina, Mrs. Lidya Justiniano, who is now serving in the South American Division office. While in Chile she described her work as follows: "We attempt to meet the needs of the women in the SDA Church in Chile. We are especially interested in the pastors' wives. At workers' meetings we have special workshops for them; we publish a journal in which we share ideas and comments; we visit all the pastors' wives because many of them are isolated and feel lonely; we prepare materials they can use in their work. We especially work with them in the areas of child evangelism, Sabbath school, nutrition and health, and giving Bible studies. In order to extend the effectiveness of the union office, we have local chapters or sections where the ladies can get together to help each other.
"I feel very strongly that when God calls to the ministry He does not only call the man; He calls the couple. Too often ministers' wives are not prepared to do their work well. We want to equip them and help them feel they are an important part of the team. There is for me no greater joy than seeing people come into the church to prepare for heaven. I am happy to assist other women in being more effective in winning souls."
Women in hospital leadership
In the medical area we found ten lady hospital directors, two hospital personnel managers, one director of development and public relations, four chaplains, and seven clinic directors. To these one should add the nursing directors, mostly women, in hundreds of Seventh-day Adventist institutions worldwide.
Representing Adventist women in the medical professions is Hilda Rainda, who was the medical director of Sopas Adventist Hospital in Papua, New Guinea. Her testimony is thrilling. She states, "I was in private practice in Canada when I received a call to become the medical director. I knew I could never do that. I had never administered an institution, and I was not a surgeon. My husband and I prayed about it. In all our devotional reading we seemed to read clearly that we were to go. Finally I decided I would read The Great Controversy. Surely there would be no message there about going to New Guinea. Was I ever surprised to read the following: 'It is God's plan to employ humble instruments to accomplish great results. Then the glory will not be given to men, but to Him who works through them to will and to do of His own good pleasure.—Page 171. Well, that did it. We went. Until I arrived at Sopas I had never cut an abdomen. During my four years there I operated on every organ of the human body. I spent as much time on my knees as I did operating. God did it all. I did not.
"After leaving Sopas, I was called to be the associate director of the health department in the Australasian Division. My specific responsibility was nutrition and health education. But after only a few months the director left, and I was asked to hold the fort for three months. I had just come back to Australia after four years in New Guinea, and I really did not think I could do it. But again, God did. "
In response to the question of how she mixed medical work and parenting, Hilda replied, "It was not easy. Sometimes I took the kids with me. Sometimes they had to stay alone. But my son who is now in medical school got his first experience in the operating room—at Sopas when he was 14!"
In Nepal, we recently spent a few days with Drs. Leo and Myrtha Vigna. Myrtha had just finished her medical course when Leo accepted a call from the River Plate Sanitarium in Argentina to Scheer Memorial Hospital in Nepal. On arrival there, Leo discovered that there was no one to do the anesthetics for surgery. Would Myrtha do them? Recently arrived in a strange country and not knowing very much English, Myrtha spent three months in Kathmandu learning how to give anesthetics. Last year the husband-wife team performed 350 major operations. "Surgery is not my first love," she told me "I like to deal with people who are awake and able to communicate. But I just could not let them die. I had to learn to give anesthetics."
Women editors, pastors, Bible instructors, teachers
Our first survey showed twelve lady editors. This year there are only four reported. Whether there was a sudden change of profession or eight of them came to retirement age at the same time, one will never know. Likewise, the number of ABC managers is reduced to one-fourth of what it was last year.
The feminine pastoral staff reported is small: thirteen pastors, eight assistant pastors, and sixty-four Bible instructors.
The North American Division—although its report is incomplete—has the largest group of ladies in ministry: three pastors and thirty-three Bible instructors. The Far Eastern Division reports four pastors and seventeen Bible instructors. The Euro-Africa Division reports three lady pastors, four assistant pastors, and six Bible instructors. A total of eighty- five ladies are reported as being paid for full-time activity in pastoral and soul-winning activities.
From Spain, Mrs. Ines Posse, who has completed thirty-seven years of denominational service, reported, "My husband and I have been teaching at the Adventist College in Sagunto. In addition to that, we spend weekends, vacations, and every other possible time training 'monitors' which is the name we have given to laypersons in the churches who have received special training to teach in and out of the churches. Each team has three monitors: one specializes in nutrition, another in child development, the third in outreach. These teams work in the churches doing seminars and workshops. Training these people is a way of extending the influence and effectiveness of the college.
"Being a teacher has great rewards. I like to see people learn. I am especially happy when they learn the way of salvation. If all of us would use our talents, we could share that joy too. Women can!"
Not all women need to be professionals. In the Philippines, Sharon tried to think of some part-time work that would fill her need for creative expression. Her Sharon's House of Cards now produces greeting cards made with Filipino motifs and materials. The cards are sold in Manila and the United States. The last time I saw her she shared her delight. Now twelve girls are earning their entire way through Mountain View College working on the project.
As Adventist women around the world doing our best to serve God, we will be joining a select group of women of all times who have been active and committed—Deborah, prophetess and judge (Judges 4); Esther, queen and liberator of the Jews; the nameless women who supported Jesus and the disciples (Luke 8:1-3); the Marys who ministered to Christ in death; Priscilla, a fellow worker of Paul (Rom. 16:2); Phoebe the deaconess (Rom. 16:1,2); and others whose names and activities we do not know. To us, as well as to them, I think Paul would be pleased to say, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9).