Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Dr. Cynthia Hester. She contributed her expertise on women’s history to the book 40 Questions about Women in Ministry Leadership. Today she’s sharing with readers about the remarkable women in ministry leadership in China and Cambodia.
God chose to work largely through women to found and establish the Christian church in China and Cambodia. Nineteenth-century pre-literate Chinese women, evangelized by Protestant women missionaries, were taught how to read Chinese characters, which enabled them to teach from the Mandarin Bible. These ‘Bible women,’ such as Dora Yu (1873–1931), publicly shared the gospel and taught the Bible to mixed-sex groups. Peace Lin and her son Watchman Lee, who later were instrumental in forming churches across China, came to faith through the ministry of Dora Yu.
Although the ministerial influence of Chinese women has waned in recent decades due to tightening restrictions, beginning in the mid-1800s, women pursued educational and ministerial opportunities. Subsequently, scores of women engaged in pastoral, evangelical, and mission society leadership. Female leadership in the Chinese church was both considered acceptable and vital to the gospel mission.
Celebrating 100 Years in Cambodia
Delighted to hear my voice when I called her long-distance, my Aunt Marlene said, “Oh yes, let me tell you about the ‘Bible women!’” Given how much I admire the faithful work of our Chinese Christian sisters, I was delighted to discover my own connection to Bible women through my maternal aunt, Marlene Westergren. From the mid-1950s–1990, Marlene and my uncle, the late Cliff Westergren, served in Cambodia and then in Hong Kong as missionaries with the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA). The year 2023 marks the 100thanniversary of Western missionaries’ arrival in Cambodia. Marlene’s oldest son Steve, and his wife Mary, former missionaries to Cambodia, attended the 100th anniversary celebration (see photo). I asked my aunt to share her experiences with Chinese Bible women.
Meet Co-Pastors Anna Lau and Miriam Hoh
My aunt described a substantial Hong Kong church co-pastored by two Bible women: Anna Lau and Miriam Hoh. Trained as nurses, both women left nursing to gain biblical and theological training in Hong Kong. Lau and Hoh graduated from Wuchow Bible School and Alliance Theological Seminary. In the twentieth century, many Bible women served in Chinese churches as pastors or co-pastors, some, like Lau and Hoh, after obtaining seminary training. Mrs. W.H. Holton, a female missionary, described Lau and Hoh’s ministry in Pnom Penh: “They visit in rotation all church members and inquirers… I have seen them bend over their Bibles with country women with the same zeal and kindness they would have shown in the most cultured Chinese homes.” Holton concluded, “These two Bible women have been tested in soul, body and spirit and have come forth in victory. For all that God has accomplished through them and for the ladies themselves we thank God.” My aunt explained that she and my uncle often brought pastors they were mentoring to visit the church co-pastored by Lau and Hoh because of its pastoral and administrative excellence.
Chinese Women Served in Ministry Leadership
In addition to shepherding, women established mission organizations, evangelized, and planted and led house churches. A woman named Mary Stone (1873–1954) co-founded the Chinese Missionary Society and the Bethel Mission in Shanghai. In 1924, “five Chinese women were ordained as local preachers in the Foochow (Fuzhou) and Kiangsi (Jiangxi) Conferences.” From the house church movement in the 1980s through the 1990s, the church membership was predominately women, and most of the pastors and evangelists were women. During a mission-related trip to China, my relatives stayed overnight at a Bible woman’s home, which served as the meeting place of a house church she led. As my aunt explained, this was a secret location because at that time Christian house churches were illegal in China.
In an article titled, “The Remarkable Story of China’s ‘Bible Women,’ author Alexander Chow noted that the story of Christianity in China cannot be told, “without acknowledging the female evangelists and pastors who built the Chinese church.” God chose to work through ‘Bible women’ to found and establish the Chinese church. Thanks be to God.
Dr. Cynthia Hester teaches, writes, and speaks on topics of faith and women, both women in the Bible and church history. A graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry (DMin, 2022), Cynthia writes at cynthiahester.com and is a contributing author to the book 40 Questions About Women in Ministry (Kregel, 2023). She has also written articles published at Fathommag.org, Parker County Today, heartstrongfaith.com, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In 2021, Cynthia founded Theology of Women Academy.® In this online academy, she teaches Christ-followers, including ministry leaders, the spectrum of orthodox views on women and the church to equip them to develop their beliefs—their theology of women. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
 Mrs. W.H. Holton, “Anna and Miriam—Two Faithful Women,” The Alliance Witness, Dec. 1959.
 Alexander Chow, “The Remarkable Story of China’s ‘Bible Women,’ Christianity Today, March 16, 2018, 3, accessed May 11, 2022, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2018/march/christian-china-bible-women.html.
 Chow, “The Remarkable Story,” 4.
 Chow, “The Remarkable Story,” 2.