Ladies Missionary Meetings: A Relic that Needs to be Revived? :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Ladies Missionary Meetings: A Relic that Needs to be Revived?

Joanne Landon
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As my husband, Mark, and I drove through a tiny village of Scotland, I spied a second-hand bookshop—one of my favorite places to explore. “Oh look! I’d like to go there,” I said. I pointed to a quaint storefront with old books and a few antiques in the window.

Mark parked the car and decided to wait for me. I dashed into the store to quickly view my favorite topics—religion, Scottish history, and children’s books. One can’t really do justice to such interests in a hurry, but I tried in order not to tax the patience of my obliging husband. As I quickly scanned titles and authors, I found two books that promised to be a good read within my budget.

The Bookmark

At the counter my eye fell upon a pencil holder filled with old bookmarks. As my bill was rung up, I looked through the dated pictures and quotes on the bookmarks. “Those are all free and all from the books that have come in here. Help yourself,” suggested the shopkeeper.

“Really? How interesting,” I responded. I remembered interesting things I had previously found in old books—lists of facts (for exams?), hotel stationery with telegraph numbers, advertisements for books from another era, and book lice—just to name a few.

The shopkeeper, seeing my interest, continued, “I even have one with some hand-embroidery.” He reached over to a high shelf and took down a long red ribbon that was looped over the top of the shelf. He held out the ribbon to me. Receiving the faded antiquity, I saw the perfectly embroidered letters of “W.M.S.”

“Oh,” I smiled, quite intrigued, “that’s Women’s Missionary Society.”

“Then it is yours,” he said. “I thought it was someone’s initials.”

“Why, thank you!” I felt blessed to receive it.

On the way home I eyed my “new” bookmark with the embroidered W.M.S. It was a little voice from the past. I thought of the careful hands that sewed it and placed it in the Bible text to be shared at the next missionary meeting. I envisioned the faithful band of ladies who prayed for missionaries and sent out boxes of supplies (often homemade) to those far-flung regions of the world.

Christmas in July

I remembered my own home church (decades before), which held a “Christmas in July” for the missionaries. The ladies of that missionary society planned months in advance by sending out detailed forms to those serving on foreign fields. Each missionary family member even down to the pets was included on that list, and personal as well as ministerial needs were to be spelled out in detail: color, size, style, quantity, and gender. The ladies of that missionary society “adopted” families and made items or shopped for them. Then in July they had a wonderful display of gifts in the fellowship hall, complete with Christmas goodies, a decorated tree, and a special speaker who spoke on a missions theme. Then the boxes were packed up and shipped (by boat!) all over the world.

And every year a few weeks before Christmas, a large box or two arrived to bless our lives and ministry in Scotland. I can’t begin to tell you how encouraging it was to be remembered when living so far away from loved ones—and in a ministry with results so meager.

One year I received an extra thick robe, custom made for my taller-than-average body. Our son received a winter coat that he wore three winters in a row. It was a pilot’s jacket, which suited him perfectly. He’d been to an air show one summer to see the Red Arrows (an elite aerobatic squad) and came home with bomber posters for his bedroom and a US Desert Storm patch that an American airman gave him. To a little missionary kid, that’s the stuff dreams were made of. No, he didn’t become a fighter pilot, but he does teach about battles and peace treaties as a history teacher!

Times have changed

I know that missionary boxes are no longer practical in most places now due to the increase in postage, international regulations, and the global availability of online buying. But our family certainly did appreciate receiving items at that time. This was especially true when some items weren’t available on our field or were too expensive to buy—such as full-color Gospel tracts, inspirational books, or a beautiful sacred CD. What blessings for the ministry and our own spirits, especially during those long winter months of short, dark days here in Scotland (we are on the same latitude as Alaska). Times have changed, so I understand the death of a missionary box . . . but these are sadly mourned.

No more interest

On a recent furlough, when we visited a supporting church, I was told by a somewhat apologetic lady, “We no longer have a Ladies Missionary Meeting. There was just no interest. Here is our last gift card. You are the last one.”

“Why—thank you,” I replied. I received the $20 gift card with mixed emotions. It felt odd being the last one . . . like a dinosaur going into extinction.

No more missionary meeting—my heart echoed!? Now we certainly could live without generous Christmas boxes, but it was a blessing to receive all the same. But what about prayer? And concern? And knowing the heartbeat of those ministries that one supports? What about the praise of answered prayer? And the missionary hymns that help enliven a new generation of ladies? And then there is missions history with a whole realm of inspiring quotes and biographies. Those pioneer servants served unto death and have left dotted graves all over the world. With heart, hand, and voice, their stories are still there to inspire!

And, what about today’s missionaries—the wives, mothers, singles, and widows, as guest speakers at women’s meetings—sharing all those things that only ladies like to hear? Before being a missionary myself, those meetings fascinated me to no end and still do. I’d vicariously put myself in the lady speaker’s shoes, feeling her challenges and rejoicing at God’s undertakings. Those far off places and faces became fixed in my heart and mind, giving me a vision beyond my scope.

But now, there was no W.M.S. (Women’s Missionary Society). Just like my faded bookmark with the hand-embroidery—a relic from the past, unwanted, and unknown by the shopkeeper. What does this mean for the generation of women to come?

“Help those women who laboured with me in the gospel” (Philippians 4:3).