United Methodist Women of Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., open their umbrellas against human trafficking.
It was a stormy night in the year 1869 when eight women gathered to discuss how they could serve women in India who were prohibited from seeing male missionaries. These women created the first of the 13 organizations that became United Methodist Women when they decided to raise funds to send two women — one a teacher and the other a medical doctor — to India to work with women.
Over the years, we have grown in numbers and have discovered just how powerful women can be when we unite to put our faith, hope and love into action on behalf of women, children and youth. We have advocated for change in areas of education, child labor, women’s rights and healthcare, to name a few, and in the process helped some of the most vulnerable in the world that God so loves. Today, United Methodist Women is 800,000 women strong as we celebrate our rich history spanning nearly 150 years and counting.
It can be tempting to look at the foremothers’ remarkable feats as simply United Methodist Women history. However, while the foremothers made huge strides for women, children and youth, many of the injustices they fought to change still linger in society today.
Take Alma Mathews. In 1888, United Methodist Women member Alma Matthews helped women immigrants as they arrived in the United States. She lived in New York City and would make frequent trips to Ellis Island to find women who were traveling alone. She would bring these women to her house, give them a place to stay, food to eat, and support them while they found their way in the United States. Had Alma Matthews not helped these women, they would have easily been taken advantage of, and their lives would not have turned out the same.
Could anything like that happen today? Do immigrants face challenges when arriving to the United States? Are they taken advantage of? It may look a bit different in the 21st century, but it still happens.
In the 1950s, United Methodist Women played a role in educating society, including the Supreme Court, through a book published by lawyer Pauli Murray and the Board of Directors from the Women’s Division of Christian Service. United Methodist Women played an active role in advocating for the integration of schools.
Thankfully today, our schools are diverse, and segregation is no longer an issue, but don’t we still have struggles for racial equality? Unfortunately, the struggle has not yet ended, but as United Methodist Women, we continue to advocate for change. We march in protests. We educate our churches. We are a voice that is heard both locally and around the world.
This year, United Methodist Women launched a national campaign to bring attention to human trafficking happening right here in the United States. We held educational events, posted to social media, and we were a presence at sporting events that we know increases the space where human trafficking can happen. Thanks to United Methodist Women, more people are aware of and are watching for victims of human trafficking. Lives will be changed because of this.
Do women still need to organize for mission in the 21st century? Absolutely! Our mission is to carry out the work that was started by our United Methodist Women ancestors. Our task is to bring attention to the social injustices that plague our society today. As United Methodist Women, we are called to join our voices and shout for those who can only whisper.
What Can We Do?
How might this look to us? How can young women of the 21st century get involved in an effort to eradicate the injustices that rob others of dignity and worth? What can we do?
I believe that change happens through education. We live in the age of information. With the Internet literally at our fingertips, and social media as a way to share our findings, we have a way to bring attention to social injustices that the generations before us never even dreamed of. We can turn complacency into action by inspiring those who are browsing their Facebook pages to join our cause. We can invite others to come learn more, and we can host events to teach them. Just like the women in generations past, we can bring social injustices to the attention of others. This will inspire action, and we will be ready. We will lead the way!