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Happy 25th Birthday to Women’s Ministries!
November 06, 2020

 The year 2020 marks the 25th year of women’s ministries as an official department of the General Conference. From 1995 to 2020, women around the world have faithfully served in women’s ministries and used their gifts to bless those around them. 

 Women’s ministries actually began in the days of Ellen White. In 1899, Mrs. Sarepta Henry promoted women’s ministries with the encouragement of Mrs. White, who was in Australia at the time. She received these words from Mrs. White: “I have thought, with your experience, under the supervision of God, you could exert your influence to set in operation lines of work where women could unite together to work for the Lord. . . . Believing the teachings of Christ, that through you, the human agency, He communicated His light, His truth, you are the frail instrument through whom the hidden power of God does work, that His strength may be perfected and made glorious in your weakness.”  Using the leadership skills learned from instituting the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Sarepta Henry worked with a consecrated group of educated women with Christian characters. They were tireless, energetic, enthusiastic, and hardworking. 

Every week in 1899, the Review gave Mrs. Henry a page, entitled “Woman's Gospel Work,” which she filled with Bible studies, poetry, letters, and practical advice. That year, she traveled 9,000 miles (which wasn’t all that easy, given that the mode of transportation was a horse and buggy) and spoke 214 times, encouraging women to use their spiritual gifts to serve God.  Unfortunately, in 1900, Mrs. Henry died suddenly of pneumonia brought on by overwork.  

A nine-member committee continued her work for a short while and then disbanded.  By June 1901 the women’s column disappeared from the Review and Herald.  The committee became discouraged without their strong leader, and women’s ministries ceased as a department of the church, although individual women continued to work for God in many ways. The organized work of women’s ministries came to a standstill.

At the Dallas General Conference Session in 1980, President Neal Wilson, recognizing that the majority of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is female, called for the Church to unleash the potential represented by the God-given talents of women. This appeal set in motion a number of actions that resurrected women’s ministries from its 80-year slumber.

Much work was done between 1980 and 1985, when the Annual Council of the General Conference established a women’s ministries advisory committee.  Betty Holbrook was its first chairperson.  In 1988, Karen Flowers took over and formulated a mission statement for women’s ministries. In 1990, the Annual Council of the General Conference elected Rose Otis to be the director of women’s ministries, followed by the granting of full departmental status at the General Conference session in Utrecht in 1995.

In 1991, seven divisions started up the work of women’s ministries. The Northern Asia-Pacific Division (formerly known as the Far Eastern Division, then Asia Pacific Division) was among the first to initiate the work of women’s ministries. They elected Dr. Nancy Bassham, a Thai educator, as its first director. Dr. Linda Koh, an educator from Singapore (currently director of the GC children’s ministries department), succeeded her in 1994 and served until 1997 when the Asia Pacific Division was divided into the Northern and Southern Asia-Pacific Divisions. Dr. Mary Wong, another educator from Singapore, took over as director when the Division office moved to Korea. She served until 2003, and Mrs. Young-Ja Nam, a dedicated leader from Korea, was elected as director. She served until 2005 and was followed by another educator from Singapore, Dr. Sally Lam-Phoon, who served for two terms. Dr. Lisa Clouzet, the current director, was elected in 2016. Mrs. Nilde Itin-Lust served as associate director from 2015-2018.

Although women’s ministries has had a history of more than 25 years, we are proud to celebrate the 25th birthday of women’s ministries as a full department and to continue to answer the call with “I Will Go!”

Adapted from an article by Sally Lam-Phoon published in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of News & Views