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American Woman

The question has stayed with me for nearly three years. It pops up in my consciousness every now and then like a buoy, making me a bit uncomfortable. But I'm learning that's not such a bad thing.

When I first heard the question, I was in California visiting my friends Sandie and Estera, two women I'd met the year before at an overseas conference for women in Christian publishing. Since my friends were both missions-minded and poised at crossroads in their lives, I knew we'd enjoy stimulating conversation about life, purpose, and direction. I couldn't wait.

During my visit, Sandie gave a presentation at a nearby Christian college about the work she and her husband had done to combat the sex-trafficking industry during their recent ten-year missions stint in Athens, Greece. I sat transfixed as she explained the global phenomenon of women tricked, forced, or sold into prostitution. Staring at pictures of the hollow-eyed women Sandie had helped through her ministry, I wondered what I could do to help combat this evil industry.

The following day, I headed to the offices of Open Doors International to interview one of their directors for a TCW article. This ministry to the persecuted church worldwide had launched a sub-ministry five years earlier to serve the unique needs of women in the persecuted church.

As I listened to the director, Jane, describe female genital mutilation, incest, and denial of jobs, literacy education, or biblical teaching to women in different parts of the world, my heart felt as heavy as it had the day before when I listened to Sandie's presentation.

What struck me most was that one of Sandie's colleagues, a sociology professor, and Jane both posed the same tough question in our separate conversations. "Women in the U.S. today have more power and influence than women have ever experienced before," they said, "and the big question is, What are we doing with it?'"

Hearing this startling question twice in two days, I knew God was up to something, and I prayed for eyes and ears to catch it.

Since then, God has opened my eyes and heart to women's issues around the world. I read a recent e-mail newsletter from Sisters in Service that reported "34 percent of Egyptian women are assaulted by an intimate partner, and nearly 80 percent of women in rural Egypt testify that beatings are common and justified if a wife burns food, neglects children, answers back, denies sex, or wastes money." Recently I watched a documentary on women in Afghanistan, where in most places women still must wear a burka and can't travel in public without a male relative.

And I recalled a conversation with Daniella, a woman I met at the Christian publishing conference where I met Sandie and Estera. Daniella asked me to critique Leah, the Christian women's magazine she edits in Bulgaria. When we paused at one page toward the back of the magazine, she shared her difficulties in finding photos of women who look Bulgarian. She pointed to one photo and said the model's coloring was right, but the readers would know she wasn't Bulgarian.

"The colors she's wearing are too bright," she explained, indicating the woman's floral pants. "Bulgarian women wouldn't wear anything that bold." She paused and looked again at the photo, thoughtfully. "But mostly, her smile's too bright. She looks too free."

She looks too free. This one sentence seemed to capture the difficult life many of the women I met there still experience in the former communist countries throughout Eastern Europe. Time and again these women's magazine editors shared stories of their readers' struggles with rampant corruption, unemployment, depression, and alcoholism in their respective homelands. Yet these editors, in the midst of tough realities, have a passion to reach out to their countrywomen through the printed word and offer the only true solution: the hope of Christ.

Inspired by these courageous women of faith and motivated by that pointed question posed to me three years ago, I have a fresh appreciation of how blessed I am to be a woman in the West today. Sure, we have our own difficulties and devastations. But prior to my overseas experiences, I had no idea what a woman of privilege I am, what a precious gift we women in Western cultures posses. I'll admit, at various points the question about what I'm doing with my influence has haunted me, shamed me, or guilted me. But I love the moments when it empowers me—to pray for these women facing difficulties, to watch documentaries and sign up for e-mail newsletters so I'm aware of their needs, to say yes to a missions trip I'm taking next month to Cambodia.

With four other people from my church, I'll once again be training aspiring writers and editors in a country where Christian resources are scarce. A missionary who launched a publishing house there told me my status as a foreigner will grant me the respect my gender would deny me in the Cambodian culture. So I'm excited to work with Savy, a female editor there who's trained to teach writers but hasn't yet been able to put her training to use. I can't wait to lend her any credibility I can—and to visit the women who run a magazine called Precious Girl for the scores of female factory workers in Phnom Penh. I'm hoping my willingness to travel halfway around the globe to offer help and encouragement will somehow serve as a tangible reminder that God sees and loves the Cambodian women deeply—and that we women in the West are rooting for them.

Because as a woman of privilege, I want to be grateful for the gift entrusted to me, mindful of other women facing daily struggles, and prayerful that the God who loves all his daughters will help us find ways to build bridges of encouragement, hope, and love to one another.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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