Bible Study

Bright Hope for Tomorrow

United Methodist Women’s legacy informs our past, present and future.

Bright Hope for Tomorrow
Former leaders of United Methodist Women are presented during opening worship of the 2010 United Methodist Women's Assembly in St. Louis.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of response.  

Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.
—Matthew 28:19-20 (CEV)

“Go to all people”—the Great Commission— has inspired generations of Christians. In each of the Gospels and the Book of Acts Jesus’ commission is equally clear: Go preach, go baptize, go teach, go tell everyone, go everywhere, and remember, “I am sending you.” The call of the Great Commission is not limited to those professionally trained to preach or for mission service. It is for all Christians.

Clementina Butler and Lois Parker, serving in India as wives of Methodist missionaries, heard this call as they saw the life-settings of women and children. They became the moving force in founding the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston in 1869. Miss Isabella Thoburn, a teacher, and Dr. Clara Swain were the society’s first missionaries who likewise responded to Jesus’ call. Preaching and baptizing would not be an option for women for another century, but teaching and healing were their forte, as both a tiny school and medical clinic opened in 1870. Bible pictures, a prayer at mealtime, Bible stories at bedtime and printed Bible verses neatly folded into medicine packets were powerful proclamations. Isabella Thoburn College and Clara Swain Hospital are 21st century expressions of their call.

Women in the other churches of the United Methodist tradition also heard “the call” and founded homes and foreign missionary societies, sending missionaries to Sierra Leone in Africa, to China, to South America and eventually dozens of countries. “All nations” was frequently interpreted as “foreign countries,” but women at home worked as deaconesses and home missionaries addressing needs of immigrants, newly freed slaves and persons in remote geographic areas.

Questions for reflection

  • How do members of United Methodist Women share the gospel today?
  • Have you ever felt called to a task?
  • How did you respond? Pray for the outreach ministries of Isabella Thoburn College and Clara Swain Hospital. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all who have answered a call.

Go out in faith

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.
—Hebrews 11:1, 8 (CEV)

Abraham had faith and obeyed God. He was told to go to a land that God had said would be his, and he left for a country he had never seen. 

Hebrews 11, sometimes called the great faith chapter of God’s people, recounts the faith of many biblical heroes— Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham and Sara. The New King James Version translates verse 8 as: “He went out not knowing.” That is the story of our earliest women mission leaders, missionaries and deaconesses. Those who were the organizers of local church societies went out beyond the comforts of home. Others ventured into new neighborhoods, learned new languages and encountered new customs. Single women challenged traditional roles by speaking and working in public, traveling alone, asserting leadership. Their faith was sorely tested. Going to a country you have never seen or accepting a task not knowing has also been the story of decades of United Methodist Women members who individually and organizationally picketed for women’s suffrage and prohibition, organized to outlaw lynching, supported the Equal Rights Amendment, voted for the Charter of Racial Policies, confronted human trafficking, taught at Mission u, accepted the office of secretary, made an oral report for the first time or challenged hateful and hurtful language.

Questions for reflection

  • Have you ever accepted a task “not knowing?”
  • Did a particular Scripture or hymn strengthen your faith?
  • Recall other issues or times when United Methodist Women members have stepped out in faith. Give thanks for all who have “gone out not knowing.”

Surrounded by witnesses

Such a large cloud of witnesses is all around us. So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won’t let us go. And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. —Hebrews 12:1-2a (CEV)

Faith and hope sustained our foremothers. Thousands of women have provided significant leadership through our predecessor organizations. Their names are often lost to us even as their accomplishments are known.

In 1919 members of the Woman’s Missionary Society of the Evangelical Church learned of “the impoverished people of the Southern Highlands (Kentucky).” With no money they established The Faith Fund in faith that “money would flow in” and God would show them where to establish a mission. They prayed fervently for teachers, nurses and ministers. Today Red Bird Mission offers a variety of ministries among people of an isolated, economically deprived area in Appalachia.

In the late 1930s, as Methodist Church union approached, women leaders of seven separate women’s groups from the three uniting churches struggled to create a single women’s organization, which became the Woman’s Society of Christian Service and Wesleyan Service Guild. Internal disagreements and external pressures drove the women to prayer on numerous occasions. Their mantra became, “We cannot go farther until we go deeper.”

Mrs. L.W. “Lizzy” Glide built, furnished and donated Mary Elizabeth Inn to the Woman’s Missionary Council as a residence for young women in San Francisco. Brooks-Howell Home for retired deaconesses, home missioners and home missionaries is named for Mabel K. Howell, Scarritt College teacher, and Laura Jean Brooks, the second national president of the Woman’s Division of Christian Service. Harford School for Girls School in Moyamba, Sierra Leone, honors Mrs. Lillian Keister Harford for her 50 years as a volunteer, editor, staff member and eventually national president of the Woman’s Missionary Association. Harriett H. Brittain was the first Methodist Protestant woman missionary to Japan in 1880. Cotilde Falcon Nanez, with her mother Elida G. Falcon, translated the Woman’s Society Program Book into Spanish for 26 consecutive years. Willa Player became president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, as the first African American female president of a fully accredited four-year college. And Dorothy Tilly, who later became a jurisdiction secretary of Christian social relations, worked 10 years to personally collect on-site investigations of lynchings to document details for organized opposition.

Prayers for reflection

  • Name the women who constitute your “cloud of witnesses.” Pray for each of them, their influence and contributions.
  • Pray for those who have established and maintained United Methodist Women in all parts of our country.
  • Pray for the people and places touched by United Methodist Women today.
  • Pray that strong women will continue to respond to their call.
  • Prayerfully read the hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal, no. 712.

The Legacy Fund

As United Methodist Women approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019 it is appropriate to remember our founders, the women whose pioneering efforts shaped who we are today. History records that they were women of faith motivated by the gospel and carried forward by prayer. They gave their substance and their service.

How will we be remembered? Is our faith as strong as that of our foremothers? What is our legacy for the women of 2019, 2069 and beyond?

The Legacy Fund is one part of our 150th anniversary celebration.

The fund is a permanent endowment, investing current gifts that will grow for use in coming decades to continue support of ministries with women, children and youth. Each member is invited to give $18.69 for each of the five years of the celebration in addition to her pledge. March 23rd is our birthday! We “party” each year with a Day of Giving when hundreds and hundreds of members are encouraged to make an electronic contribution to the Legacy Fund all on the same day.

United Methodist Women activities personify faith, hope and love in action. Today we are in ministry with untold millions of women around the world. The Legacy Fund is our promise to continue that ministry tomorrow!

Pray for United Methodist Women as we remember the past and anticipate the future.

Closing prayer

“For all the saints who loved your name, whose faith increased the Savior’s fame, who sang your songs and shared your word, accept our gratitude, good Lord. For all the saints who named your will, and showed the kingdom coming still through selfless protest, prayer and praise, accept the gratitude we raise.”
— “For All the Saints,” The Faith We Sing, no. 2283

Barbara E. Campbell is a retired deaconess residing at Brooks-Howell Home in Asheville, North Carolina. She was formerly a staff member of the Women’s Division.

Posted or updated: 3/9/2018 12:00:00 AM