The roles of women in Christianity have long fascinated me. Growing up in China and seeing the roles of women there but knowing that Jesus loves men and women equally, I remember asking, "Daddy, why didn't Jesus have any girl disciples?"
My missionary father answered, "Why, of course he did." Then he showed me some of the gospel passages in his pocket New Testament about the "girls" and women who followed Jesus.
He read Matthew 27:55: "Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs." Then he turned the pages to Luke 8:1-3: "Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means."
"See?" he told me. "Jesus had many women followers and disciples."
Several years later, not long after my family escaped from China because of the Communist takeover, and settled safely in Taiwan, I saw a picture of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" painting in a magazine. I rushed to Dad and said, "Look, why aren't there any girls at the Last Supper?"
He answered, "The women were likely there. They just aren't shown in this painting." He didn't try to explain centuries of church theology and tradition. Instead he patiently showed me in the gospel accounts how the women were with Jesus and his 12 closest male disciples right before and after the Last Supper.1