Modern-Day Marys: Women on the Front Line of Mission

by Jeff Ritchie

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. 
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me.  (Luke 1:47-48)

Last Sunday I sang a hymn that paraphrases the “Magnificat” of Mary, the praise she offered in the presence of her older cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. “Canticle of the Turning,” as the hymn is called, is a stirring text that God is about to turn the world upside down through the one born of Mary. The lively Irish tune and the hymn text communicate the hope that God is going to intervene and that he is using this servant of the Lord to accomplish his mighty acts. Here is a link to “Canticle of the Turning.”

With this hymn going through my mind in the past few days, I began thinking about modern-day “handmaidens of the Lord” who are on mission with God to make a difference in the fields where God has placed them. Let me share three of them with you, commending them for prayer and to emulate as you go about the missions to which God has called you to.

Sue Kinsler (center) in North Korea.

Sue Kinsler (center) in North Korea.

Sue Kinsler is a woman on a most unusual mission. A South Korean by birth and an American Presbyterian missionary for decades, she dedicates herself in “retirement” to support persons with disabilities in North Korea. This month she will be visiting North Korea for the fifth time in 2016. Her mission is to provide opportunities for education, employment, and participation in society for persons with disabilities. This school for children with mental disabilities is just one of the many ministries in which she is involved. 

Because Sue gets to North Korea so often, she knows about events in that country that many of us do not. This summer, for example, over 600,000 persons were adversely affected by flooding in one of the North Korean Provinces. Knowing this, Sue brought enough clothing on her August 2016 trip for hundreds of disabled persons who were impacted by the flooding. In small but significant ways, this humble servant of the Lord looks at her work as a contribution to the eventual peaceful reunification of North and South Korea, for she engages South Koreans, North Koreans, Americans, and others in a common ministry to “the least of these.” One cannot help but detect the “fragrance of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15) in the ministry of Sue Kinsler.

Raimundo and Valdivia Couto in Northeast Brazil

Raimundo and Valdivia Couto in Northeast Brazil

About as far away in the world as one can get from North Korea we meet Valdívia Couto in Northeast Brazil. Valdívia and her husband Raimundo have been missionaries of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil for 18 years. During that time they have started three churches in the Sertão, the Brazilian equivalent of Appalachia, a left-behind part of Brazil that is poor and under-churched with many social problems. It is a difficult mission field, full of “thorns,” as Valdívia puts it. Yet in their recent ministry update she says, “We are able to see a flower blooming among the thorns!” 

One of the ways they have seen God at work is through a group Valdívia initiated, “Women in Action.” This group engages women, both believers and non-believers, in relationships through which they can discuss what really matters to them – their personal issues, their families, and their faith. Anyone who has met Valdívia sees in her a model of what Raimundo and she hope for all in their church: people who have their identity with Christ and a commitment to their neighbor. Valdívia is a modern-day Mary, a humble servant of the Lord who is amazed that God is using her for his purposes.

Directly across the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil is the country of Ghana where the Rev. Gladys Lariba serves as a pastor in the northernmost presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. The Rev. Lariba never shies from difficult tasks. 

Gladys Lariba in Ghana

Gladys Lariba in Ghana

For years she served a community of women cast out from their villages as “witch doctors.” She worked with them and their former communities to reintroduce them to their homes. 

Now Rev. Lariba is pastor in charge of several churches in the Upper Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana. One of the least-developed regions of Ghana, with large numbers of Muslims and adherents of traditional African religions, Gladys Lariba shares the Good News with people as she goes from one place to another by motorcycle. 

A Korean, a Brazilian, and a Ghanaian – each one a modern-day Mary offering herself to God for his purposes as Mary did in the presence of the Angel Gabriel: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). May each one of us go and do likewise during this Advent season.

Jeff Ritchie
Associate Director for Mission

The Outreach Foundation