Celebrating Women's History Month
Although Women's History Month is typically a celebration of women's right to vote in America and many achievements of women in the secular world, I thought it appropriate to take the opportunity to share with you a recent article in "The Global Advocate" (September/October 2020) written by Don Dennison, Church & Missions Consultant, about five women whose faith in action impacted their world in significant and eternal ways. The article will be published in several posts throughout this month. I am certain you will be as inspired as I have been in reading their stories!
Before It Was Popular, Part 1
by Don Dennison
Hebrews 11 identifies men and women of God from another era whose remarkable achievements paved the way for the early church. In describing the caliber of their faith and sacrifice, the author pens a simple but poignant phrase: “of whom the world was not worthy…” (vs 38).
What an apt description for exemplary impact! Those biblical words readily came to mind as I began the process of recounting the stories of five single, female veteran missionaries. Within the years 1937 to 1995, our denomination (and the Kingdom!) was blessed by having these stalwarts—Mary Hershey, Dr. Fidelia Gilbert, Rhoda Kauffman, Evelyn Shuey, and Lois Habecker—serving in key leadership roles in overseas missions.
Why tell their story? Certainly, their longevity counts for something but more so their exemplary leadership. Researching their stories confirmed what I had long suspected: that these five were multiplying disciples and leaders long before it became popular! They understood back in the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, etc. that the long-term effectiveness of the church depended on “…making disciples who make disciples” (2 Timothy 2:2). And they did it while giving themselves away to people groups who spoke different languages and practiced different customs than what they had experienced growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania or northeastern Maryland. In the process of giving themselves away, these five women set the bar high through their faithful service.
I had the privilege of knowing all of them and spent varying amounts of time with each of them. Only Lois Habecker was still serving in Haiti when I became Director of CGGC Cross-Cultural Ministries (now Global Reach) in 1995. But each encounter with these veterans shaped my understanding of sacrificial service and deepened my appreciation for the contribution each made to Churches of God missions in some of the most challenging places in the world.
It was through the encouragement of her parents and her pastor at Lancaster First Church of God (now Chestnut Hill Church of Lancaster) that Mary Hershey responded to God’s call to foreign missions. Her mother had dedicated Mary to the Lord to be a missionary when she was a child. Mary would eventually serve in India and East Pakistan in 1937-1964.
She was an organizing dynamo who supervised the mission schools, upgraded the curriculum, improved textbooks, and taught the Bible in English to the Bengali children. Mary implemented sports and scouting programs in the schools and guided the development of the Khanjanpur boarding school ministry which served 600+ students during her tenure. In her position as the school supervisor, she visited the home of every student to share the gospel and built lasting friendships with many of them. It was also through Mary’s encouragement that a Bengali native, Mr. Monoj Dewan, came to the States for studies at Temple University which would further equip him for leadership. In doing so, the Lord (and Mary) prepared him to take over the principal’s position of the Board School. Mentoring Monoj may have been one of Mary’s finest contributions to the work in (what eventually became) Bangladesh.
Mary was back in the USA caring for her ailing parents from early 1964 through 1968. When they passed, she still had a desire to serve the Lord overseas because she was only 56 years of age and in good health. She preferred East Pakistan but knew that Monoj Dewan was doing so well in his role as principal that she didn’t want to interfere. Seeing his great potential as a leader, she chose to serve elsewhere if she could. Mary subsequently offered her services to Project Help and brought her boundless energy to Haiti in mid-1969. She served there for the next decade (1969-1979) working initially with our Christian schools but soon developed three nutritional centers that addressed malnourishment needs by feeding children and educating mothers. The fact that Mary was willing to go wherever God needed was a tribute to His call upon her life.
Copies of the book may be ordered directly from the CGGC website at https://secure.cggc.org/missions?pagenumber=2; or email Kris Cupp at KrisC@cggc.org; or call Kris at 419-424-1961. The per book cost is only $6 plus shipping. [the price is intentionally low to get them into the hands of our people.]