USFW History (Seasons of Change) by Mary G. Hadley
Jeremiah 6:16 says “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” I think Jeremiah was trying to say that the right path for living is the one of old that God has marked out. Many times USFW has come to crossroads and had to determine which road to take that would fulfill God’s purposes through them.
We are gathered to celebrate a special milestone in the life of the USFWI. I wonder if Eliza Armstrong Cox could be here tonight what she would say about the USFW as we know it. USFW didn’t just happen even though in our lifetime it has always been in existence. Eliza Armstrong Cox became the agent of change among Friends women. Apparently the Great Commission was not a teaching of Jesus that had been emphasized very much. But Eliza Armstrong Cox held the conviction that Friends women were to be involved in evangelizing the world. Jesus’ words to go into all the world and make disciples were meant for Friends as well. It seems that British Friends did have some involvement in carrying the Gospel message to other parts of the world but if an American Friend felt the nudging of the Spirit, they had to communicate through British Friends. Eliza Armstrong Cox discovered that the Methodists had a Women’s Foreign Missionary Society and there were some Friends women who were joining those groups. Obviously, that must have meant there were American Friends women interested in becoming involved in missionary work but there was no outlet within American Friends. The concern lay heavy on her heart. Why couldn’t Friends women start some missionary groups? She decided to put out some feelers and discovered that there was another lady who had already gathered a group of Friends women in her church. Surely this was a leading of the Lord.
Remember in 1881, there were no telephones, rural mail deliveries, typewriters, automobiles or paved roads. You had to be very creative to communicate to others the conviction you were acting on. But by September, 1881, there were 8 local societies in the western part of Indiana. This was change. When Western Yearly Meeting met that year, the ladies met informally in the park to talk about this concern. And when the women met in session while the men were in their session, with enthusiasm it was endorsed that they should organize as the Women'’ Foreign Missionary Society. By-laws and officers followed. The women didn’t bother to take the matter to the men as they were supposed to do. This was a case where they just “did it all by themselves”. Things were happening so fast that it was hard to keep up. It was time for another change. They needed their own newspaper to keep women informed. The Friends Missionary Advocate came into existence in 1885. They were venturing out on uncharted territory but it was like touching a match to dry tinder because by 1888, all existing yearly meetings at that time had seen the need to participate in evangelizing the world and had organized groups within their churches as well.
Women are great networkers and they weren’t satisfied just reading from the Advocate. They needed to gather together from across all of the yearly meetings to get together where they could pray together, counsel one another and enter into a living bond of sisterhood.
By 1888 the first gathering of the Women’s Missionary Societies met in Indianapolis. Women were there from ten yearly meetings. They met for five days. They “ranged in age from ripe 70s with mature judgment, experience and deep spirituality to those of 30 or younger whose zeal and enthusiasm overbalanced wisdom at times”. In greeting the women at this gathering, Eliza Armstrong Cox made two very important statements. She said, “While God calls upon women to go to the foreign field, He also calls upon women at home to combine for their assistance.” Then she said something very important, “New methods must be found suited to new conditions.” In other words they could not become stagnant but they had to be open to change to meet any new conditions that arose. It was decided to hold another conference in 1890 in New York where it became fully established. The organization was given the name of Women’s Foreign Missionary Union of Friends in America. Their primary goal was to promote the cause of missions. In fact there were women who came forward feeling called to serve on the mission field and women came forward to support them.
But there were handicaps to overcome. They had no models to learn how to effectively promote missions even though their hearts were very tender that the world should meet Jesus. The term missionary was relatively new. There were no returned missionaries to help them know how to support and provide for their needs. They had so much to learn. They turned to the pioneers of the modern missionary era—people like William Carey, Robert Moffat, Adoniram Judson, David Livingston and others. Through them they learned what it meant to be a missionary. As they learned, they wanted all the women to become informed so they began to prepare uniform programs for use in local societies. Literature became a department within their organization.
They discovered there was a Scriptural method of giving that they needed to follow to provide financial support for those called to serve. Stewardship became a department within the organization.
They wanted to make sure that children and youth had the opportunity to know the full meaning of the Great Commission and that they had an obligation to reach the unevangelized world. The department of Young People’s work was added.
In 1917, the name was changed to Women’s Missionary Union because they wanted to include both home and foreign missions.
By 1927, their mission involvement was in ten different countries. Their major task was to educate and inspire women and children within the home field. They also paid salaries for Esther Baird serving in India and Alice Kennedy in Jamaica.
By 1948, the name was changed to United Society of Friends Women as they accepted new challenges to provide for mission needs together.
In 1950, Quaker Men organized.
Things were ever changing. As women were still gripped by the vision of Eliza Armstrong Cox, they also knew they could not stagnate. They said, “We still grow, altering our methods to fit the times, but nourishing the seed as it grows.”
By the early 60s, USFW groups were formed in East Africa, Cuba and Jamaica. Somehow, there needed to be a way to include them fully so in 1974, International was added to the USFW (USFWI).
Other doors of opportunities were opening to the USFWI. In the year that American Friends women gathered across yearly meetings for the first time, John Sarrin was born in Latvia (1888). He became acquainted with Friends in Detroit at the age of 19 when he came to this country and was employed by the Packard Motor Company. He was a lonely person, never married, and apparently made little effort to seek opportunities to socialize but he did like to read—Quaker classics, the Bible and several Friends publications including the Friends Missionary Advocate. Because of a very arthritic condition, he retired to Arizona. An article written by the Stewardship Secretary in the Friends Missionary Advocate got his attention. It was written about the importance of Christians making out their wills and including the Kingdom of God in their wills. As John Sarrin thought about his will, his mind turned to the USFW women whom he felt he could trust to carry out his wishes. An interesting relationship developed between him and the USFW became incorporated so they could receive and administer gifts and bequests. In 1971, the assets of the John Sarrin Trust became available to the USFW as Trustee, to be used for scholarships within the provisions that John Sarrin had envisioned many years before. The first scholarships were awarded in January, 1972. To date, a remarkable number of Friends men and women across the world have been assisted in their education and through them, John Sarrin has reached the world in sharing God'’ message. The USFW women stepped right up to the plate to administer this money as wise stewards of God.
The USFW were instrumental in Friends becoming involved in the work of Belize in the early 1970s.
Our board has become very international as we have a Jamaican and a Kenyan represented on it. Their input is very helpful and insightful. And in 2010 Triennial, we will be hosted in Kenya.
As you look over the history of USFW, the vision that Eliza Armstrong Cox shared continues today. Women have had to make adjustments with the changes in seasons but they have never lost their purpose. Change comes to each of us and through those changes, we are made stronger.