In September 2009, my husband handed me a New York Times review of a newly released book authored by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and husband/wife team, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. A quick online visit to amazon.com, a couple of mouse clicks, and in a matter of days I was pouring over Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. It was a watershed moment for me.
Half the Sky is a disturbing exposé of the world’s dark and largely forgotten underbelly where the misery and abuse of women and girls break the scales of human suffering. If you haven’t read it already, it belongs on your reading list. Sex trafficking, female genocide, genital mutilation, and honor killings are but a few of the atrocities against millions of women and girls that the book brings to light.
These may not be normal topics of polite conversation or suitable bedtime reading, but Kristof and WuDunn fearlessly identify a battlefield of epic proportions that the civilized world needs to engage. Here evil has gained the upper hand and countless souls are trapped, helpless to break free without significant outside help.
Although I was already becoming aware of this global tragedy, the book still shocked me in many ways, including a stubborn thread of hope that ran the full length of the book—a thread I didn’t expect to find that surfaced in unbelievable stories of women who have been beaten down but are fighting back and courageously advocating for others.
But I am at a total loss for words to describe the feeling that swept over me at the end of the book where, while recognizing that Christian organizations are deployed in this fight, the authors threw down the gauntlet for the rest of the church to step up to the plate. I was jolted to read, “Americans of faith should try as hard to save the lives of African women as the lives of unborn fetuses.”
What troubled me most about this open challenge to the church was that Christians are not the loudest voices to sound the alarm, nor are we the most visible at the forefront in addressing this humanitarian crisis. As I wrestled with this question, I recalled that historically, Jesus’ followers have been known for their ministries of compassion and justice.
In the fourth century the Roman emperor Julian wrote with amazement that Christians “support not only their poor, but ours as well.” In the early centuries Christians were renowned for their active opposition to infanticide. They scoured dung heaps for baby girls who had been thrown out to die, took them home, and raised them as their daughters. I also remembered stories my mother told me when I was a little girl.
Over a hundred years ago (in 1903, to be exact), an earlier version of Half the Sky was published. Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India was a compilation of letters that a Christian missionary named Amy Wilson-Carmichael wrote to tell her supporters back home about atrocities against women and girls, which she was discovering as she visited villages and attempted to evangelize.
This excerpt is reprinted, with permission, from Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Woman by Carolyn Custis James (Zondervan, April 2011). For more information visit www.whitbyforum.com or www.zondervan.com.