An Interview with a Woman in Leadership | JAPAN

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Faith: “The first time I went to Urbana was in 1973 as a freshman in college. I don’t remember a lot of the details of how I got there, but it was just this thing that you did. And I remember Urbana being incredibly cold! That definitely stands out in my mind. But it was an amazing experience to be in this huge building with more than 10,000 people. They had speakers from all around the world.

I grew up in a missionary focused family and had a long history and expectation to go into missions. But what really stands out to me was the talk Elizabeth Elliott gave. It was so formative to how I viewed myself as a Christian woman interested in missions. At that point I was thinking I would go into medical ministry, hoping to be a doctor and I expected it to be a single’s lifestyle and that would make me live a “press on” kind of life. But, Elizabeth Elliott spoke about how we had value; that God called US, men and women. And the 70’s were an interesting kind of time in the world anyway. There was much more of a focus on women; holding an attitude of “You can do anything you set your mind to.” And when I heard Elizabeth Elliot talking about being called and being obedient to the call, I felt a great connection with who I was and who I was expected to be.”

Meg: It’s kind of cool for me to think that someone like Elizabeth Elliot would be speaking on women’s rights in ministry. She wasn’t growing up at that time or even in her early 20’s or late teens in the 70’s. She had already experienced an insane amount of history and loss; and doing that as a wife and then a widow, completely on her own. I imagine that she experienced a lot of hardship in ministry before the 70’s. So for her to stand up in that era and to say, so to speak, “You’re just as called as a man”, and to use her logic to touch and connect with the truth of emotions. So, I love that a woman who may not have experienced that motivation for women herself, was giving it to them in the 70’s.

Faith: Well, it was very interesting because one of the illustrations she used was that after her husband was killed, there were no other men who could communicate with that tribe. And so it was left to two women to go in to the tribe. She [Elizabeth] said ‘perhaps the logistics were to look for another man, but we were available and so that’s what we went and did.’

Meg: You said at that time you were pre-med, single, feeling called into missions, so after listening to Elizabeth Elliot, did any of those visions change?

Faith: I think it was a confirmation. That God had plans for me. That I was going to provide some significant contribution to the cause of missions, that it was part of how He had created me and I was just going to be obedient to that.  

Meg: So you’ve been to Urbana three times, right?

Faith: Yes, and when I went in 76 I was in my last semester at Wheaton College. I was, at a point, where I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life since my pre-med transfer had not gone well. So I was in a place where I wasn’t sure what was going on or what I was supposed to do, but still believing missions was a part of it. And there again, at Urbana 76, Elizabeth Elliot spoke. Her theme that night was: The Glory of God’s Will and the costs involved in obedience to God. She said we didn’t necessarily have to understand why, what mattered was obedience. And she used the illustration of Gladys Alyward, a strong, female missionary to China who was told by many agencies that they would not take her. So she saved up enough money for a train fare to China and there she lived and served. So in ‘76 when Elizabeth Elliot is telling the story of obedience she says that Gladys Alyward had met a married couple on the field and felt compelled to ask for a partner herself. So Gladys Alyward prayed that the Lord would call a man to China, propose to her and, marry her. Gladys never married but she is known for saying, “I believe God answers prayer. He called him, but he never came!” Sometimes it’s not that God doesn’t answer but that others aren’t obedient to answer Him.

Meg: I love her boldness! She asked the Lord for a specific prayer and then when that didn’t necessarily come true, she didn’t turn her back on God and say “Oh well I didn’t pray well enough or the Lord doesn’t want this,” she chose to trust the Lord instead of her own doubts.

Faith: So again it was a great talk. And I’ve listened to it multiple times. But there was another woman who spoke there, Helen Roseveare, who served in the Congo during the Simba Rebellion who told her story of being raped by rebels. And this was 1976. We didn’t talk about those sorts of things then so I was taken back, but it was fascinating to listen to her being obedient to God and how God even met her at the time she was raped. It was amazing to hear her confess that for her first few years, she believed she was better than the Africans. And then to come on to these other hardships. God changed her heart and she was able to see Him working His will out for her life. Both of those women stood out to me.

Meg: So you heard all these things in ‘73 and ‘76 and I heard you say you “knew what was coming next”. So when you left Urbana in ‘76, what happened?

Faith: I went back to school, got a job, and spent the next 6 years working my way from a clerk to a mid-level businesswoman in the Employee Benefits Industry. I chose that because I had a math degree and decided the only way I could get a better job was go on to grad school. The three companies I worked for paid for their employees to go to grad school. I was taking one class a semester for several years and got my MBA. But about a year and a half before I met Stan [her now husband], the Lord started speaking to me again. “This is not where you’re supposed to be,” And missions was put back on my heart again. I was single and thinking a lot of Christian mission organizations are not going to look at me because I’m single and female. And so I thought maybe some relief agencies would be more open to me joining in their work at that time with refugees in Southeast Asia. Then I met Stan in the spring of 1982 and he was just finishing his Masters at Wheaton in Radio, Television, and Communications. Stan had already spent a year and three months in Japan as a short-term missionary, part way through his degree, and felt God calling him back there. I felt God calling me to Stan, but again I wasn’t feeling like there was a connection or a place for me in Japan or missions. A lot of it was my pride and some of it was the era; how the people in Japan would respond to women in certain areas. But we married in 1983 and went to Japan in 1984 with Asian Access.

Meg: Wow. Talk about a whirlwind romance and transition!

Faith: Yeah it was rocky! And not ideal!

Meg: Japan in 1984. But you guys were there for quite awhile!

Faith: Almost thirty years. We left in 2013. We taught ESL in a church and Stan was the bait to get people in the church. Stan had been on two short term (1+ years) trips with Asian Access participating in friendship evangelism before we met and that’s how we ended up with Asian Access in 1984. It’s a good thing I was called to missions. Japan was not on my radar screen. I had no connection. My family had been in Brazil and that was my assumption of where I’d probably go. So I felt called to Stan and I felt called to missions but I did not feel called to Japan. That was where I practiced obedience.

Meg: It’s almost like it came full circle. That first time you heard Elizabeth Elliot spoke and you knew you were headed towards missions but just like you said, you didn’t feel called to Japan. So you didn’t go to Japan with a full heart, but an obedient heart. And I think that full circle is gorgeous.

Faith: That’s the whole point of following Christ to be obedient where He sends us. And in different capacities, I was illiterate for years in Japan. Although having kids helped my language immensely! But I still felt like “where do I fit in?” Because our organization at that time was mainly run by men and most of the women were busy being mom’s. The single women were involved in English programs, but even they got better training than I did. It was a long stretch, that first term. We had our first daughter there, and before the field term ended I became pregnant with twins. However, the twins did not make it. We didn’t know the problems I had so the boys were born prematurely and died that evening. So two weeks before our first Home Assignment we are grieving and making decisions parents should never have to make. By that time we had some very kind Japanese Staff that were incredibly helpful to us. But the act of leaving the remains of our children in Japan was incredibly difficult. The week before we left, we had the boys cremated, as is Japanese custom. We visited a park nearby with just our two-year-old daughter and us and we scattered the ashes in the park. We got out our Intervarsity hymnbook, the one handed out at the Urbana conference in ’73, and ‘76, and we sang strong songs of the faith. So we ended our first term as pretty broken people. It wasn’t until the start of our second term, after our second daughter was born in California, that I started seeing where God wanted me. I started noticing missionaries were not staying in Japan. Even our language-learning partners would leave and not return. And so that was a time for me to catch a vision that God had given me a heart for other missionaries. And that started me on my quest to Member Care.

Meg: Going through that first term, I can imagine, a newly married couple, no on-field mentor, and then losing children and still not knowing what God wanted for you; I think it’s incredible that you and Stan went back. Another step of obedience! Do you feel like the Lord used that time to help shape you for the member care position?

Faith: Absolutely. I don’t think I would’ve been effective at all before that first term. I had really been knocked down that first term. There was a point that I said, why am I even here? I just want to take my daughter and go! I was unhappy. But having those turning feelings and experiences allowed me to be much more sensitive to the needs and losses and concerns of people. I’m so very thankful for them. I wouldn’t want to repeat them [the painful times] but I’m very thankful for them.

Meg: So when did you first speak with SIM?

Faith:

In the fall of 2010, I came with three other people from Asian Access to visit SIM and two other mission groups. We were looking for an organization to partner with since we could no longer hold a good infrastructure ourselves. And we had known Bruce [SIM USA president] from previous years of ministry. In our minds, SIM was not who we expected to end up joining ranks with but when we got here, we saw that it was not just a bunch of ‘old people’ We liked that there seemed to be a lot of like-minded, forward thinking people, too. And there was just a very comfortable resonance. It surprised us. We had pictured it one way, and it turned it out to be completely different. So after we visited the other two missions, we decided that SIM was the one we needed pursue. We formalized the partnership in January 2011 and in January 2012, Stan and I were the first missionaries to transition to SIM.

After almost 30 years of obedient work in Japan, Faith and Stan moved back to the States and joined SIM. Faith is now the Member Care Director for SIM USA and Stan handles Church Partnerships in the USA office, focusing primarily on the churches in Charlotte. Faith brings a sense of peace to the USA campus one can only feel, not explain. And Stan, will always give a smile, a conversation or even a joke for anyone who will listen. Their story is incredible, as you can see, but it’s not over yet.