I am a bit of a history nerd. My favourite corner at the PAOC International Office is in the archives. You could lock me in there for days, and I would not complain. (Just remember to bring me the occasional sandwich…oh…and Starbucks coffee please.) Recently, with the help of our PAOC archivist, James Craig, I started to explore the history of women in PAOC. I had begun to lead the National Women’s Network and firmly believe that we cannot know where we are going unless we understand where we have been.
Oh the places PAOC women have been!
Did you know that PAOC women began to organize in 1915? (Let me do the math for you…that is 101 years ago!) That means that women began organizing within our movement before we even officially became a movement. Under the direction of Mrs. A. H. Argue, a Women’s Missionary Society group was established in the Winnipeg congregation. Their purpose was to sew for local and District needs as well as overseas missionaries. As members moved out of that church to other places in Canada, they would set up similar groups. Ethel Bingeman, who was the first National Women’s Ministries director appointed, under the general supervision of the Missionary Secretary, George Upton in 1944, wrote in her records “women were busy about their Father’s business, serving as a great blessing to the local churches. They were all busy assisting the many home mission’s churches as well as overseas missionaries.”
Under the leadership of Mrs. Gladys Lemmon in the 1950s, "... thousands of our Christian women are praying, visiting hospitals and shut-ins, doing house -to-house visitations, wrapping thousands of pounds of literature, distributing thousands of tracts and standing back of all our Christian workers at home and abroad." Mrs. Elma Scratch, the fifth National WMC leader, activated PAOC women to "get the vision" that the mission field was the whole world including their homes, neighbourhoods as well as the far off reaches of the world. She said, "I would love to see Christian homes by the thousands across Canada get that extra room set up, move over and include the lonely, lost child at our table and in our hearts." PAOC women have a long history of Spirit-empowered, outward-focused, fruitful mobilization!
Vitality defined is “the capacity for survival or for the continuation of a meaningful or purposeful existence.” If we are honest, in many parts of Canada, WM has lost its vitality. Women’s ministries “ain’t what it used to be!” Programming that “worked” a generation ago is no longer proving effective. It would be easy to despair and give up, but I believe that PAOC women still have an essential part in God’s story. Our form may need to change, but our function has not changed. Alan Hirsch states, “We must remain committed to constant critique of the structures and rituals we set up and maintain…”
The National Women’s Network (made up of District Women’s Leaders) engaged in this critiquing process last fall. Celebrating the past, with anticipation for the future, we together discerned our mission, as leaders of PAOC women.
We determined that: we exist to empower, activate and mobilize, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every PAOC woman into the mission of God, here in Canada and abroad.
Let’s unpack it a little further.
- By “Empower”, we mean that we equip women with what they need to move forward and thrive in the Mission that God has for them. This equipping includes skills training, resources, and opportunities. We believe in women and let them know that through God, “they can!”
- By “Activate”, we mean that we love action! We ignite and spur women on to great things.
- By “Mobilize”, we mean we gather teams of women around shared vision and goals, preparing them for purposeful action.
- By “Every PAOC woman”, we mean every woman connected with PAOC (including those traditionally outside the “WM sphere.”) This includes every age group and every cultural group (including women from the 37 distinct cultural groups represented in PAOC). We recognize and value the unique contributions of all.
- By “Mission of God”, we mean God's mission to reclaim the world and reconcile everything and everyone to Himself. As “sent ones,” we are invited to participate in His mission.
- By “Power of the Holy Spirit”, we mean that we are not about “good ideas.” We are Spirit-led, rooted in prayer so that we can together discern “God directives” that come from the very heartbeat of God.
- By “in Canada and Abroad”, we mean the mission of God is all around us…both in our neighbourhoods and around the world.
It is a big dream! How will we begin to live out this mission? There are a couple of ways that we have already started…
ZOE Projects – ZOE Projects, an initiative of PAOC International Mission, connects Canadians with the work that our PAOC Global workers and National Partners are doing with women around the globe. We work in four keys areas: Health, Human Trafficking, Economic Empowerment and Education…all with a heart for spiritual transformation. ZOE Projects educates and offers tangible avenues to get involved.
ZOE Discipleship - We believe that every woman is given a unique "deposit" of gifts and passions that God wants to use for His purposes! Through ZOE Leadership, we empower, activate and mobilize everyday women to respond to the nudging of God.
Are you interested? The story of PAOC women is far from over!
Check out our website (www.zoenetwork.ca) and look for us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.