Women in International Development

In what ways have women contributed to development within their society and/or community?

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Short Biographies of Women in International Development

Compiled by Editor, Nov 01, 2016, from the WCIU Press book, Agents of International Development and Shalom

See additional articles on the topic of Women Missionaries here.

1. My Journey as an Agent of International Development and Shalom

May Nor Clara Cheng, Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies, William Carey International University


I would like to share with you the story of what led to my ministry in person-formation. When I was studying at my first seminary, I was trained to be a local pastor. I was not equipped to be a cross-cultural worker. After having pastored a local church for four years, I joined an international agency and was sent overseas cross-culturally for five years. By the end of my first term of service, I was badly burned out.

My personal experience in this first cross-cultural assignment was like a bottle of water with a layer of mud at the bottom. The layer of mud was the damaged emotions I carried from my past to the country where I was serving. It handicapped my cross-cultural adjustment and also my social wholeness in dealing with my assigned roommate. When the bottle was standing still, the water was clear. As it was shaken up from being transported, from challenges and frustrations, the water became muddy. It took much pain and time to filter the muddied water.

It is out of this background that I was motivated to devote myself to advocating preventive care for cross-cultural workers. Ten years after the burn-out, I underwent a thorough process of personal counseling during doctoral studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. When one of my professors, Dr. Edgar Elliston, and I were discussing what I would like to focus on in my doctoral research, we coined the term “person-formation.” A definition for person-formation, extracted from my dissertation, states that “person-formation” is the development of people, in this case [cross cultural workers], in the well-being and wholeness of their hearts. It is the process by which people gain spiritual, emotional, and social strength and maturity.

To enhance the process of the … students’ person- formation … trainers incorporate in their training program a deliberate effort of spiritual formation in the students’ development of intimacy with God and sound spiritual wholeness. They aim at equipping prospective [workers] to lead their social life with cross-cultural skills and personal security by enhancing the awareness of their own national character and integrating spiritual and emotional wholeness in their social life (Cheng 2001, 12).

After doing these studies I rejoined the agency I had worked with before and I was assigned first to the Philippines and then to Taiwan. In both countries, I taught person formation to national and international students who were engaged in cross- cultural work. I also observed how my sending agency conducted international development in those two countries. I continued to grow in maturity in my spiritual life, as an international worker who had to adjust to various living environments. From time to time, I offered an intensive course on the subject in my home city of Hong Kong. Eventually my health condition did not allow me to be on the front lines anymore. I started to be concerned about who would continue to teach my material in person-formation. I returned to the U.S. and joined the faculty of William Carey International University. I am very privileged to have this unique opportunity in contributing to the nourishment of international development workers in a much more permanent form through the university. It is my aspiration to help students mature in their spiritual, emotional, and social wholeness (Cheng 2001, 6).

Cheng, Clara. 2001. “Person-formation of Chinese Cross-cultural Women Missionaries from Hong Kong.” PhD diss., Fuller Theological Seminary.

2. God’s Image-Bearers as Agents of Transformation: How God Shaped My Thinking

Lois Ooms, Consultant and Trainer for MTW

Many people have asked me how I came to the thinking in my workshops in which people from over 20 countries are discovering a biblical worldview that offers them the hope and dignity to find for themselves solutions to their problems. It has been a process spanning over 25 years as the Holy Spirit has shaped the thoughts of people who have interacted with me during the workshops or individually. The process continues on as each time I lead a workshop or class I find new insights to add.

This process has deep roots in my early years being taught a biblical world and life view, even though I didn’t “understand” what it meant in the messy reality of life. The roots began to grow while I was working in the inner city in the mid 60’s during the race riots—seeing people respond to the Gospel as we built relationships with their children—giving them an opportunity to enjoy and hope for something more than the dangerous streets of the city.

By profession I am an “antique” Biology and Chemistry teacher—studying as DNA was being discovered. After teaching in rural Kenya for 8 years, I began working with young people. Later, when a health center was started in 1980, I found that the women with whom I had worked as young people were spending scarce finances on health care for preventable sickness in their children. I began leading a small group, teaching them the importance of washing their hands, building pit latrines, and using safe drinking water to prevent 70% of the sickness with available resources. As I taught I discovered that many of the “unhealthy” practices were not the result of “ignorance” but were deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and worldview that had to be dealt with before seeing real change. The neighboring villages began to ask that I come to teach their women and by 1985 I was committed to community development.

I took a few seminars on Community Health Evangelism from MAP (Medical Assistance Program) and Life Ministries, learning some of the basic principles. As I tried to implement, I found some things didn’t always work so well. One of my mentors, Dr. Roy Shaffer, said, “Change it so it works.” I enjoyed creatively modifying programs to fit the situation as well as holistically integrating Scripture and health lessons. I continued learning with summer courses at Wheaton College Grad School and a multicultural one that was held in Nairobi.

My biblical understanding of holism and development deepened as I began to see the implications of man created and crowned with honor and dignity (Psalm 8) and how that affected my approach to change—focusing on people and their resources rather than “needs” and programs. I continued learning how to give people dignity by involving them in making their own decisions, designing their own programs, and implementing them in their own way.

Slowly, I put together some simple lessons to train Kenyans to carry on the work. In 1995 the pieces were in place, and I left Kenya and moved to Eritrea to begin again in a community that had more than doubled in size with refugee camps of those returning after Eritrea won the war for independence from Ethiopia. In that context, I found that training for Reproductive Health Assistants (formerly Traditional Birth Attendants) was crucial among women with very low self-esteem.

After two years the government asked us to leave Eritrea but I was invited by Litein Hospital (an all-Kenyan Hospital of the Africa Inland Church) to pick up the pieces of four community programs that “died” when the finances and leaders left. They asked me to design a program that they could carry on without outside resources. Joshua Tonui, the Kenyan hospital director, became a mentor to me on sustainability. After five years of trying, adjusting, changing, seeing how at the end of the day “incentives” greatly hinder sustainability, etc. Joshua was confident they could carry on the programs on their own. After that, the Africa Inland Church Kenya asked me to be the director of community development with the goal of multiplying what had happened at Litein to health units all over Kenya. As HIV/AIDS issues rapidly increased, the program shifted to HIV/AIDS prevention, and home care for the sick, orphans, and widows. In the process, Kenyan church planters discovered transformational development was a great tool for planting churches. I continued to learn. The Chalmers Center in Chattanooga Tennessee taught me about micro finance from the same biblical perspective I had. Micro finance savings groups became a powerful tool in giving hope to the hopeless.

Attending the consultation on Health and Wholeness for the 21st Century in Thailand in 2003, I met nationals and ex-pats from more than 15 countries using the same approach.

Reflecting on Darrow Miller’s and Vinay Samuel’s talks on the biblical basis for holism, implications of being created as image bearers of God, and the challenge to deal with worldview, I adapted my teaching to these new insights. I found people responding and implementing on a deeper level.

As missionaries saw what self-sustaining programs looked like, I began receiving requests to travel to neighboring countries. At the same time a team of Kenyans began taking “ownership” of the material, growing in facilitation skills as they taught the basic training material to others.

In December 2007, the time came for me to leave Africa, with the blessing of my Kenyan colleagues, to explore multiplying the model to other countries in Africa. As I write this there are people trained in more than 17 countries of Africa, as well as S.E. Asia, and Central America. A new challenge is emerging – how to apply the principles in North America on Native American reservations, in deteriorating and changing neighborhoods, refugee resettlement programs and among upper middle class people. Each place has a unique story of how the Lord opened the door.

The Kingdom continues to grow in ways that I never imagined. My thinking has been profoundly molded by my African colleagues as well as learning from mistakes. I am deeply grateful for the Lord’s forgiveness. The Kenyan team has adapted the workshop material to work toward peace and reconciliation between warring factions of the post-election violence and between tribes that are traditional enemies. A colleague is exploring palliative care and transformational development in a sensitive area. Kenyan missionaries are adapting the principles to church planting. In Lesotho pastors/farmers are incorporating biblical concepts in their sermons about farmers. Their people have filled in huge gullies and found ways to prevent erosion with “Farming God’s Way.” In Madagascar a team is working with University students of the Christian Union, broadcasting lessons on the radio, training groups to go into unreached areas. A team in a creative access country is exploring teaching English using the principles of transformational development. A couple of churches in the U.S. are asking the question, how can this material help in dealing with an entitlement mentality?

My thinking continues to be shaped by interacting with people in new areas of the world: discussing the theological foundations with Gerrit and Judy Veenstra; reflecting on the challenging “how’s” of John Rollo, my supervisor at Mission to the World; learning from Margaret LeMaire, who kindly volunteered to help with editing and insights from her experience in Africa and the U.S.; being challenged by Eleanor Protheroe who helped to clarify thinking for those who are beginning to understand the concepts and got me focused on teaching others to facilitate; gaining insights from Judi Troutman and her passion to see dependency unraveled and transformation thinking applied to institutions like Bible Schools, hospitals etc. People like August Basson and his Basotho pastors taught me how to integrate transformational thinking with “Farming God’s Way.” Brian Fikkert and those at the Chalmers Institute taught me micro finance. Then there are the whole “cloud of witnesses” that are not aware how a small remark or question has opened new reflections.

All glory and honor belong to the Lord as we are all His Image Bearers, reconciled to Him through the blood of Christ and led by His Holy Spirit who molds our thinking.

3. An Autobiographical Sketch of my Works as an Agent of International Development and Shalom

Lois Semenye, Kenyan Scholar and Educator; Board member, International Council for Higher Education

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14).

Immediately after coming to know the Lord while I was in high school, I became interested in teaching Sunday School. In the process, I noticed the need for relevant and authentic Christian materials that would address the needs of my Kenyan students. Specifically, the illustrations in the materials were foreign and difficult to understand. Sometimes it was easier to just explain the Bible passage without the foreign illustrations. I knew I needed more education to be able to help in this.

I was very fortunate that some missionaries decided to invest in my education and helped me secure a sponsor who paid my way to a Christian University in the USA. At Covenant College, I further developed my love for teaching felt a strong desire to promote Christian education in my home country. Upon my return to Kenya, I helped set up a Christian Education department in a local church. The more I taught and train others the more I felt the need to further my education. In 1980, I joined the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson Mississippi through the help of the missionary organization. I was awarded MCE in CE in 1982. This opened up more opportunities for me in Kenya. I was not only serving in a local church but also I was asked to help in developing a Christian University in Kenya.

At the University, I was able to promote Christian education and particularly the integration of faith and learning and living. Again, I felt the need to pursue further education, so between 1987 and 1990 I attended Biola University and I was awarded PhD. Upon my return in Kenya, I continued to teach at Daystar University. As the head of Education Department, I was able to conduct seminars for faculty that encouraged integrative teaching of faith, knowledge, and living. However, the need to develop relevant Christian curriculum for our churches was still there.

In 1997, Christian Learning Materials Centre (CLMC) invited me to head the organization and oversee the development of Christian materials across Africa. CLMC is a project of Association of Evangelicals in Africa that produces Christian materials that are relevant to the African culture.

Besides production of materials, there was also a great need to train the teachers on how to use them. This made me trek across Africa training teachers and holding seminars for Sunday School teachers and pastors to challenge them to take children’s ministry seriously. I wrote a book targeting the pastors on children’s ministry—Let the Children Come. The book included the following chapters:

1. Introduction
2. What the Bible says about Children Importance of Children’s Ministry Defining the Child
3. Social Factors Influencing Children Characteristics and Needs of Children Organizing a Children’s Ministry in Church Teacher Commitment
4. How to Teach the Children Who should Teach Children Teaching Methods Teaching Aids
5. Recruitment of Children’s Teachers How to Lead a Child to Christ Discipline
6. Characteristic of Children Living in Poverty Characteristic of Children Living in Affluence

I was able to hold seminars in different churches and denominations and in some of these churches the ministry to children increased dramatically. In 2003 I joined the faculty of International Leadership University where I taught in the department of Christian Education and Formation. God was able to use me to influence a number of pastors to invest in children’s ministry. I can think of one who started a ministry to children in a slum in Nairobi. This pastor was so motivated that he did not only improve in teaching children on Sunday in the Sunday school but also started a primary school where he engaged Christian teachers to teach the pupils. The ministry is growing and the children are learning to fear the Lord.

I have been presenting papers and writing articles in the area of Christian education including, “The Theological Context of Children in Africa Today,” “Christian Worldview: Implication for Educational Curricula,” “The Challenges of Christian Higher Education in African Context,” “Spiritual Formation of Christian Leaders,” “The Challenge of Literature in Africa: Analytical Study of the Production, Distribution,” and Effective Use of the Written Word in Evangelism and Missions in Africa.” I was among the 72 African Theologians to contribute to the African Bible Commentary. I wrote an article on Christian Education in Africa and wrote a commentary of the Book of Esther.

These papers and articles have given me platform to speak to various leaders and consequently influencing them and in return they influence their own constituents to the glory of God. I have been discipling, mentoring, and coaching many young people throughout my Christian faith. Some of those I have mentored have even named their children after me. Wherever I am I believe I should have a young Timothy that I am mentoring in the importance and methods of Christian education.


4. Alem’s Story

Told by Carolyn Klaus, M.D., Hope in View, Ethiopia

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).

Alem is a volunteer in our child sponsorship program here in Addis Ababa. By day Alem sweeps streets with a broom and picks up garbage, 7 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a job for which she gets paid the equivalent of $40 per month. With this and a bit more when her husband can get work as a day laborer, she and he support two children. She is not exactly on the highest rung on the social status ladder.

By night she mentors a group of 21 people, all living with HIV, all of whom must attend the group as a requirement for their children to be sponsored in our program. It is a job for which Alem has never been paid a birr. She began working with some of them more than 10 years ago when Genet, the leader of her basic discipleship group and our child sponsorship social worker, taught her and her friends that to follow Jesus is to serve people in need. Little by little, thanks to Genet’s example as minister to people living with HIV and her personal mentoring, Alem has picked up leadership skills. For the last 4 years she has met with this group every other week, coaching them on how to parent well, how to stay healthy, how to maintain good hygiene, how to handle money, and how to love each other. Though they are all from non-Protestant backgrounds, she has also taught them to learn from the Bible together and pray for one another. Between meetings she walks to visit up to 9 of these families every week in their homes to see how they are really doing and encourage them personally. When she has left-over cleaning supplies from her job she breaks them down into small parcels and shares them with the group members. Following her example, the group members now visit one another regularly, providing food or money or childcare or transportation to the hospital or simple camaraderie when one of them is in difficulties.

In 2013, under Genet’s tutoring, she began to teach her group to save money together. Each time they met, every person would contribute five birr towards their group savings plus one birr to meet social needs of the group. Gradually the money accumulated. Over the past year six of the group members have taken small loans from this fund, from which all six have started profitable small businesses. All of these loans have been or are being paid back on time with interest. The others all want their turn to get loans now. She told us today that their attitudes toward work have changed drastically. “They want to work hard and produce their own income, rather than get handouts—and they believe they can do it!”

They have also become healthier. Alem attributes this to five things (none of them, I notice, medical): Their previously dirty homes are now clean. They know and are practicing good health habits. They are far less stressed, knowing that if they die, their children will continue to be sponsored. They love one another deeply. And they pray for one another.

And oh yes, Alem has a third job: in her spare time she’s attending a distance-education program to enable her to complete 9th grade.