Eileen Stewart-Rhude is a Canadian leader who has worn many hats, including leading
roles in women’s ministry at the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), The Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada’s (PAOC).
In her years of varied ministry Eileen has witnessed the power of the Church and its incredible potential for changing the world. She’s also spent a few days in the dark valley of doubt. She shared some of her thoughts in a special interview with Karen Stiller of Faith Today.
FT: There is a lot of talk these days about discovering God’s “purpose” for our lives.
Eileen, you have worn so many hats in your life and ministry. How did you figure out God’s purpose for your life?
Eileen: I think God’s purpose for my life and my ministry would be leadership, looking back now. I didn’t know that then. I didn’t start out saying “Okay, my purpose is to be a leader.” As we are faithful in little things, He will give us bigger things. When I became a Christian as a young woman, the Word of God became very real to me. I couldn’t get enough of reading it. The Word tells us to seek Him. My life began to be shaped into the way He wanted me to go. I look back now and realize that’s what was happening to me. The more I was into the Word, fellowshipping with other Christians, praying and asking God’s direction, the more He showed me His purpose. It was never hard. If He speaks to us and calls us to follow Him, that’s His purpose.
In Psalm 139 David says, “Every day of my life was written in your book before I lived one of them.” God knows the details and all of our personality. Don’t get caught up in “What is my purpose?” We follow Him day by day in obedience and that brings us to His purpose. When opportunities have come along to me I’ve thought “Oh my goodness, this is a great risk. How can I do this?” Often when we think it’s a big risk it’s because we haven’t done it before. But God has spoken to me and said “Eileen, this is for you.”
FT: You were a pastor’s wife and a mother of four children. Then you had your own ministry to women. How did you do it all?
Eileen: My main mission field in my life was my family. If I couldn’t lead and direct my family how could I do it in a bigger field? Some people may get confused and feel a calling to leadership at the expense of their families. If young women have young children, I tell them to wait.
FT: You actually tell them to wait?
Eileen: Yes I do. I work with Women Alive [a Canadian non-denominational ministry] in leadership training and I’ve worked with the EFC and [currently direct] the WEA’s women’s commission. I would say if people are really anxious to do God’s work and really seeking help and direction, they will receive it. And they can put it on hold a little while. And it will still be there. The home is the training ground. So maybe someone needs more training.
At the same time it’s so important to encourage people. When I was a much younger woman called into national leadership at the PAOC, I felt I couldn’t do it. But my husband said, “Of course you can.” My kids said, “Go for it.” My family was behind me. I didn’t believe them fully, but I felt a burning desire within me that God put there that said, “Yes you need to do this.”
My trusted friends said, “God will equip you.” I had to have those kinds of people around me who said, “I believe you can.”
FT: Women still face what some would consider to be obstacles to leadership positions in some organizations, denominations or ministries. As a leader who is a woman, and not just a leader of women, how do you feel about that?
Eileen: Jill Briscoe’s husband, Stuart, once said that if women are not allowed to minister with the men, the Church is having only half the impact it could have. They’re only going to accomplish half of the mission God has called them to. The Church loses half of its workers when the women are not allowed.
The feminist movement really did us in, you know. Women are not trying to usurp the place of men. They are saying “This is a ministry that God is calling me to do. I can bless in this area. Will you let me minister in this area?” We do not usurp. We do not bang on doors. We just go in with the Spirit of God and offer our gifts where they will be received. It is a sad thing when they are not accepted.
FT: Part of your work now is with women in the global arena with the WEA. What are you
seeing internationally? What’s happening?
Eileen: As executive secretary of the WEA and director of the global council of its women’s commission, I have a big job . bigger than I’ve ever had. The issues are very different in the various nations and regions of the world. But the desires are similar.
The leaders in these other regions are longing for the women to be taught, to be educated. Education is not there for many women in these other countries. In Canada the EFC has been working the past 10 years on networking women in ministry and leadership, encouraging them and providing resources. Women Alive has wonderful leadership training in Leading Edge retreat seminars. Next Level leadership does a similar wonderful thing. The other nations are saying, “We want that.”
The women around the world are rising up and they’re going to be educated. Each of these women trained in these nations goes back to her community and teaches more women. It’s partly education about AIDS and health issues, social issues and abuse . that abuse is not acceptable. These women are going back to their churches and being welcomed because they have proved they are blessing the Church. They are helping it.
FT: Has your national and global vantage point impacted your definition of what an
Eileen: I don’t worry about trying to define an Evangelical. I certainly don’t think an Evangelical is a Pentecostal or a Baptist only. The evangelical Church is much broader than that. The EFC for instance has many affiliates and they aren’t all Baptists or Brethren. There are marvellous Anglican churches for example. And the walls have gone down as far as dividing charismatics from Evangelicals. There are evangelical Roman Catholics too. We are not fundamentalists.
FT: Have you seen a change in the evangelical Church in terms of its concerns about social issues?
Eileen: I don’t think an overwhelming concern for poverty has always been there. It may have been in some people’s minds. But I believe God is bringing us to see the scripture in Micah that we are called to love mercy and act justly. That is what we are called to do. There is a moving towards those major things. I can’t give you a really educated answer as to why that is. Perhaps we have been so excited about our evangelism that we have not looked next door or wherever. We’ve just been enjoying our good land and our good country. But God has certainly opened our eyes and has raised up organizations like the Micah Challenge. It is encouraging.
FT: Eileen, you are involved with so many interesting things and God has clearly used your passions and gifts for the kingdom. Sometimes we put people like you who seem so “together” on a kind of spiritual pedestal and assume you’ve never had any doubts or
valleys in your faith. Yet we know that can’t possibly be true.
Eileen: My husband died in 1993. He had been ill for almost 10 years with a stroke. I had been a caregiver for some years and I was in the dark valley sometimes. I wondered if there was a light. Sometimes I would pray and think God wasn’t even there. I couldn’t feel Him. I would try to read my Bible and it was like lead in my heart. It didn’t minister to me at all. I would say, “Lord, where are you? I can’t hear you, or see you, or feel you.” The perceived absence of God is the worst part. When it seems as if God is not answering. But you come to a place as I did when I said, “God, if I never hear your voice, if I never see you in my spirit again, or hear you, I will trust you.”
It is a decision you make. And then you cope.
I came to a place where I said, “I know you are there because you have proven that to me over the years.”
With blind faith I would go on day to day. Then I saw a little light after several years. I knew He was going to reveal His light to me, which He did. God is sovereign. We have to trust Him even when we don’t know His purposes. He gave me a verse in the Song of Songs, Chapter 2, that says: “See the winter has passed. The rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth. The season of singing has come.” That jumped out at me. I hadn’t been singing for a while. My situation didn’t change but the hope was there. The winter was past. I could trust. I could begin to sing. It was absolutely beautiful. It was God speaking to me. That is something to hope in.
FT: What strikes me is that in your dark times you kept reading the Bible, you kept praying. It sounds like spiritual disciplines kept you anchored.
Eileen: Reading the Word. Prayer. I would say something that has been very strong in my life has been meditation on and memorization of Scripture. And just contemplating. Not always doing all the talking in prayer. There are times we need to be quiet, times to really hear Him speak. I love to go to church. I love the worship. The Church is important. The Scripture says to assemble together. I take notes during sermons and then go over them.
FT: Do you ever feel you are too busy?
Eileen: It’s wonderful to be busy. To be doing whatever God wants you to be doing . that’s the joy of life.
FT: Thank you Eileen.
Karen Stiller of Port Perry, Ont., regularly writes feature articles for Faith Today, where she is also associate editor.
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