BAYANKHONGOR, Mongolia (Mennonite Mission Network) — In February, Kwai Lin Stephens took on the role of executive director of Joint Christian Services International. In doing so, she became the first woman and the first non-Western person to lead the Mongolia-based Christian consortium.
In spring 2007, many at JCS began urging Stephens to consider succeeding interim executive director Marlow Ramsay. Her initial response was, “No way! I can do anything, but not this one!" she recalled.
However, several experiences led her to believe God was calling her to accept.
At first she challenged her sense of God's call, protesting, “I cannot do it. I am an Asian [and] JCS is an international organization. Furthermore, I am a woman!”
She put off the decision until the August JCS retreat. God’s call intensified through several scriptures and spiritual visions shared by others at the retreat.
One woman offered this vision: “I saw a woman of Asian origin doing embroidery. It was beautiful. When she finished, she hid it in a drawer.”
Stephens had possessed a youthful talent for needlework, once creating a tablecloth chosen for an exhibition in honor of the king of Malaysia. Nobody at the retreat knew this about her past.
“I felt the Lord was saying, I have given you gifts and yet you hide it,” she said.
On the last day of the retreat, the speaker told the story from Exodus 3 about Moses resisting God’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God eventually assuaged Moses’s fears, and in the same way Stephens heard God speaking through her doubts. She heard God saying, “It is I who made you Asian and I know you are a woman.”
Like Moses, Stephens finally said yes to God’s call.
“I am just giving myself to [God] for his use, that the church of Mongolia may be built on the ancient, aged, old foundation of Jesus Christ, the rock of ages,” she said.
Stephens’ vision for JCS involves “challenging JCS to live as a community in unity, to live to our full capacity as an agency rich with personal resources.”
According to Ramsay, who is supported by Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Stephens brings ample experience and skill to the leadership role.
“After nearly 14 years in Mongolia, Kwai Lin has a good handle on the language and culture and she knows a lot of people,” said Ramsay.
He also noted that leadership from an Asian woman will benefit and challenge JCS in new ways.
Ramsay thinks Stephens’ ethnicity, gender and background will provide JCS with a new, creative perspective. He also acknowledges that some in JCS’s diverse constituency will find it challenging to adjust to a leadership style that is neither male nor Western.
Stephens compares her position, with all its challenges, to that of the disciple Peter.
“Jesus knew that one day Peter would be a great leader, but he must follow his Master’s call and plan. In a similar way, my ability to lead is dependent on my ability to follow [Jesus].”