Print Version    Email to Friend
Am I being unfair to you?

World Day of Prayer celebrates the dedication of women to being involved in the mission of God in the world

HONG KONG (SE): A 90-year tradition that began with an initiative by women in the Americas calling people of Christian faith around the world to pray was marked for the 91st time on March 3.

World Day of Prayer has its origins in the 19th century when women in the United States of America (US) and Canada initiated a push to give women a more significant role in the mission of Churches both at home and in other parts of the world.

The theme of the prayer focussed on the needs of women and children and, in addition to praying, women’s groups were organised to document and articulate appropriate ways to provide support.

Naturally there was strong resistance from the all-male mission boards, but in 1861 women began founding a wide variety of boards made up of women only for foreign and home mission that allowed them to work directly with and for women and children.

Since 1812 women have encouraged one another to engage in personal prayer and take leadership in communal prayer within their mission outreaches and associations, and this emphasis on prayer led to annual days and weeks of prayer.

In 1887, Presbyterian women called for a Day of Prayer for Home Missions and Methodist women called for a Week of Prayer and Self-Denial for Foreign Missions.

A Baptist Day of Prayer for foreign missions began in 1891. In 1895, a day of corporate intercession for mission was initiated by the Women’s Auxiliary of the Anglican Church of Canada.

That was seen as essential to their exercise of mission. By 1897 the women of six denominations had formed a joint committee for a united day of prayer for home missions and in 1912, the Woman’s Boards of Foreign Missions called for a united day of prayer for foreign missions.

Following the Ecumenical Missionary Conference in New York City in 1900, women organised an inter-denominational Central Committee for United Study that prepared publications, summer conferences, study days and courses so that women could become informed about the lives of women in other parts of the world and could study biblical foundations and issues related to mission work.

They were effective and cooperative. For example, in 1908 women founded the Council of Women for Home Missions that took responsibility for joint work with immigrants and other social issues and for preparation of the joint day of prayer.

Between 1910 and 1911 women celebrated the 50th anniversary of women’s missionary activity by organising a series of speaking engagements across the US that provided women with a powerful experience of what they had achieved in ecumenical cooperation, local and global linkage, in prayer and information sharing, and in biblical reflection.

After the devastation of World War I, women incorporated the conviction that world peace was intrinsically linked to world mission and resolved to renew their efforts for unity.

The prayer for this year was written in The Philippines around the theme of creation. It begins, “As in the beginning, God created from chaos. But everything created found its place in creation—all were related to each other.”

It then points out that there was goodness in the interrelated system of relationships, but what was essential was commitment to care; an area in which we know well today that we are failing.

The prayer calls attention to the need to bring a strong voice to the need to care for creation, which it notes at a time when 180 countries have signed up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is an area in which we should be able to do much better.

It continues, “Prayer is rooted in listening to God and to one another, and through worship we listen to the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic people of the Suriname.”

It points out that everyday life is woven into a prayer and all that surrounds them reflects the goodness and beauty of God’s creation.

It then looks at a Jesus who saw no problem in giving equally, but some workers complained when they thought they should have got more than others.

The prayer says that this begs the question, “Am I being unfair to you?”

It then presents victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking, migrant domestic workers and survivors of economic disasters caused by environmental or unsustainable development practices as groups about which this question must definitely be asked.

“How can we hear these stories and not realise the sinfulness of structures that consolidate economic wealth unequally?” the prayer asks. “We are called to confess and take on our ethical responsibility to answer God’s call to justice.”

The World Day of Prayer finally became a consolidated practice in 1927 and has been marked every year since that date choosing themes each year that are of particular challenge to the times.

More from this section